Published on April 6th, 2018 | by Brittain Thompson0
15th Annual Juke Joint Festival: Celebrate Blues and Local Clarksdale Culture
The Juke Joint Festival is set to kick off its 15th year Thursday, April 12, and boasts over a hundred blues artists and street vendors in addition to all the family-friendly events they offer free of charge during the day.
“Every year it gets a little better and little more exciting,” said Roger Stolle, co-founder of the festival. “From the beginning we’ve always described the mission of the festival as half blues festival, half small town fair, and all about the Delta.”
The festival aims to appeal to locals who may or may not be blues fans as well as fans from around the world that want to spend a weekend soaking up their favorite music in the region that birthed it. The organizers achieve this by providing 15 day stages and 20 night venues for festival goers to take advantage of. The day stages are free to everyone, but the night events will require a wristband priced at $20 (advance) or $25 (day of) during the festival.
“Thursday we have the big kick off at the New Roxy, a classic theater downtown that’s largely roofless on purpose at this point. There are music and poster signings starting at 5 pm. On Friday we have educational events at the blues museum that are free and we bring Thacker Mountain Radio from Oxford to Clarksdale,” said Stolle. “Then of course Saturday is the big event with the 5k and 8k run at 8 am and a big parade at 9 am along with all the stages and vendors lining the streets at 10 am.”
If you’re more interested in the crafts, food, and midway-style entertainment, they have a full slate for you as well. Stolle was especially excited about what they had booked for the town fair portion of the weekend.
“We have monkeys riding dogs herding sheep from Pontotoc, Mississippi, and racing pigs from Florida,” said Stolle. “You know, frankly, the kind of things anyone would want to see, so that brings locals and families to the same space as the tourists from around the world.”
In 2016 they polled visitors about how far they traveled from and found that, aside from those who traveled from all over the country, at least 28 foreign countries were represented that year.
“It shows the scope of the people we bring in,” said Stolle. “Then you have this cultural exchange where people who are visiting tell locals how great their town is and suddenly locals become proud and turn into ambassadors for their home. It’s been what’s made our festival grow so much and be a positive thing; it’s been a real driver for our downtown revitalization.”
What started fifteen years ago as a weekend to celebrate the blues culture in Clarksdale has grown into a global gathering to celebrate everything that makes North Mississippi the historic, culture rich region it is. A full rundown of the weekend events is available at jukejointfestival.com.