You can't help but feel the music. The music
is in the air. Better still it's at every street corner and
under ever store awning. This is not canned. It's for real and
it's coming at you loud and strong.
Bands of every gender and ethnic mixture and every age
group are playing straight from their heart. This is the sounds
that make the Mississippi Delta so special. It's the Blues.(For
more about the Blues see Music Row)
Festival co-organizer and owner of Cat Head
Delta Blues and Folk Art, Roger Stolle, commented on this year's
festival. “The first acts we book are our region’s older,
culturally-connected blues performers, then, we spread out from
there. There is an insane number of blues musicians in town
during Juke Fest week! It’s like no other event in the world.”
The other festival organizer, Nan Hughes,
describes it thusly, “Juke Joint Festival is half blues
festival, half small-town fair and all about the Delta.”
The festival runs for a long weekend. It
gets started on Thursday and runs through Sunday. The actual
festival is officially Saturday and requires a wristband. That
will be the best entertainment you will ever buy for $15.
Thursday, Friday and Sunday are filled with free events.
All of the local venues in any way related to the Blues
and many that have no relationship all provide stages for the
street musicians either inside the buildings or out front. The
musicians range from 16-yr-old blues guitarist Christone Ingram
who calls himself Kingfish to 93-yr-old Henry "Gip" Gipson who
owns his own juke joint near Birmingham. AL.
We arrived Friday and made our first stop
at the Rock and Blues Museum. Owner Theo Dasbach, who is also an
accomplished musician, greeted us and led us around his pride
and joy. Seeing all these musical artifacts, many from long-dead
famous musicians really got us in the mood to hear some real
blues. We didn't have far to go. Right in front of the museum
there was a lone bluesman, Lou Shields, playing his heart out.
He has released 2 full length, 12 EP recordings and has been
making music for over 20 years. Since he loves the Blues, he
came all the way from Chicago for the Juke Joint Festival. Rock
and Blues Museum features the
free Second Street Blues Party on festival Sunday.
|Lou Shields playing in
front of Rock and Blues Museum
Right next door at the Hambone Art Gallery
there was an indoor stage. When we stepped in Blues Guitarist
Selwyn Cooler and his band was going strong. The walls are
filled with owner Stan Street's colorful art depicting mainly
his vision of the Blues. It's an inside look as he is also a
talented Blues musician.
|Selwyn Cooler and his band
playing at Hambone
Down the street a bit I came upon Deak Harp
playing next to his store, Deak's Mississippi Saxophones and
Blues Emporium. Deak is really versatile and does a one man
|Deak Harp playing at the Juke
Just a few blocks away, Cat Head Delta
Blues & Folk Art had live Blues going strong. I was really
impressed with the band there. Rev. KM Williams doing the vocal
honors and Washboard Jackson and Trainwreck backing him up.
Rosalind Wilcox was backing up the percussion end when I caught
the band She is the coolest ever on the drums. Washboard
Jackson, the regular drummer, played later and I heard he was
great as well. Jeff Stone on harmonica, Scott Linsey and Jeff
Dale on guitar.
|Blues band playing in front of Cat Head Delta Blues
& Folk Art
Cat Head Mini Blues Fest is their free
Sunday event starting at 10am. Cat
Head Delta Blues & Folk Art has been called “one of the 17th
coolest record stores in America” by
Paste Magazine and
one of the “1000 Places To See Before You Die” by
It is a recipient of the Blues Foundation’s “Keeping the
Blues Alive Award”.
Ground Zero was where we headed for supper
and some more hot licks. I enjoyed the tamales and coleslaw
while several others praised the Pulled Pork BBQ on a Bun. The
“Homewrecker Chicken Sammich" sounded interesting just because
of the name. There is a full bar and the music was loud and
good. We got to hear Mothman and Stacey Michhart. Mothman is a
four man band consisting of Chuck Queen playing bass and keys,
Todd Martin on guitar and vocals, Jeffrey Lewis played drums and
did some of the
vocals and Jason Burton on the all important in Blues harmonica
as well as keys and vocals. Stacey
Michhart plays a mean guitar. He has been awarded "Albert King
Most Promising Guitarist Award" at the Blues Foundation's
International Challenge in Memphis.
Ground Zero has been named as
"Top 100 Bars and
Nightclubs in America" and featured in
and many of the top publications in the country.
|Band playing at Ground Zero
If you are looking for a place to stay I
can personally recommend Ground Zero's apartments above the
Blues Club. Just don't expect to get to sleep early on a night
when the band is going strong. (For
more about Ground Zero lodging )
Another purely Delta place to stay is the
Shack Up Inn. They will tell
up front " The Ritz we ain't." What they are is
Hopson Cotton Plantation, an authentic remnant of the way of
life many Bluesmen experienced. The lodgings are sharecropper
shacks and renovated bins in the cotton gin. They have upgraded
all to a reasonable level of 21th century expectations. They
even have a Juke Joint Chapel Bar which host some Blues
Musicians for the festival weekend.
The Delta Blues Museum is just across the
street from Ground Zero so naturally we toured that. Loved the
museum for the great number of Blues memorabilia and information
about the musicians. Hated that we weren't allowed to take any
photos to show it to you.
We visited on Saturday morning and the band was already
setting up on the porch. Across the lot you can see all the
tents for the exhibitors.
|Some of the exhibitors at the
Juke Joint Festival
There is more to the festival than music.
you will find tents set up to exhibit everything from
animal rescue to Clarksdale/Coahoma County Tourism Commission.
The latter is the perfect place to start your adventure as they
can give you the lowdown on all the places to see in Clarksville
besides the Juke Joint Festival. Naturally there are food
venders ranging from cupcakes to barbecue. Art of every kind can
be found from folk art, recycled art, fine art, photos, jewelry
and even handcrafted cigar box guitars. There are races, writing
contest, art contests and even a pig race.
|6th and 7th grade
Entries in an art competition are displayed
at The Bank Building. Don't go looking for a traditional
building with a drive-through and an atm. This is a
Neoclassical/Beaux Arts style marble building that was
originally the “Bank of Clarksdale” built in 1930 and now used
as an events venue. With its skylights, marble counters and
highly decorative interior ceiling that stretches skyward
far more than any modern building, it is a perfect place for the
reception for international visitors with the
Welcome Home Aussie
Party. Yup, Blues are big internationally and draw a good crowd
of visitors from Down Under and all over.
|Preston Rumbaugh playing guitar
at Welcome Home Aussie Party
The band takes center stage. When I
arrived, Preston Rumbaugh was playing guitar. The hors-d'oeuvre,
wine and cash bar are to one side and the Festival Art Contest
entries are displayed on the other side. I thought the art was
pretty interesting for non-professionals. The judging was
divided based on grade level.
The subject matter ranged from lots of guitars and
crossroads to a close up portrait of Bessie Smith done by a
sixth grader with a lot of talent. incidentally, Bessie Smith
died in Clarksdale in 1937. She was taken to The Afro-American
Hospital after a fatal car crash on Highway 61 and died the
following morning. The hospital, now the Riverside Hotel, is the
site of the fourth marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail.
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