Published on October 3rd, 2012 | by TLV News0
BRIDGING THE BLUES • Arkansas • Memphis • Mississippi (Part 2 of 2, from TLV #166)
Bridging The Blues:
Arkansas • Memphis • Mississippi
(Part 2 of 2) (Click HERE to read Part 1)
Article by Scott Barretta • Photographs by Rebecca Long
Last week in this space we introduced “Bridging the Blues,” a twelve-day series of events in the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, and Helena, Arkansas organized to highlight the region’s musical riches. We’ll quickly recap the highlights of this weekend, then turn the focus to the activities surrounding the venerable King Biscuit Blues Festival next Thursday through Saturday. For a full schedule visit bridgingtheblues.blogspot.com.
This Friday fans of Bobby Rush have the unique opportunity to see his full show—replete with costume changes and full-figured dancers—at Indianola’s Club Ebony, a staple on the chitlin’ circuit since its founding in the late 40s. Recently acquired by the nearby B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center, the club is now booking music regularly, with Abbeville’s Bill “Howlin’ Madd” Perry appearing every Sunday.
On Saturday the Highway 61 Blues Festival in Leland offers two stages, with a lineup of many of the state’s leading traditional artists, including L.C. Ulmer, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Eddie Cusic, Pat Thomas, John Horton, Mickey Rogers, and T-Model Ford, who recently returned to performing after a series of strokes. Also appearing are Kenny Brown, Cedric Burnside, Eden Brent, and Jimmy Phillips, as well as Louisiana’s Dwayne Doopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers.
On Sunday afternoon Ford, Brent, Horton, Cusic and other are slated to appear at a free outdoor jam in nearby Holly Ridge that always follows the Highway 61 fest. Bring a cooler and folding chairs to enjoy one of the most laid back events in the Delta.
On Tuesday afternoon the historic Dockery Plantation between Cleveland and Ruleville—the onetime home of Charley Patton and reputed to be the place where the blues was born—is offering tours of its restored facilities and live music from Cadillac John Nolden and Bill Abel. Later in the evening there’ll be a blues bash at Po’ Monkey’s juke joint, located in a cotton field near Merigold, with live music from Terry “Harmonica” Bean and his band.
The modern face of blues tourism reveals itself on Wednesday at 4pm, when Clarksdale folk artist and bluesman James “Super Chikan” Johnson headlines the #BridgingTheBlues #Blues TweetUp at Tunica’s new Gateway to the Blues Visitor Center.
The King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena—which takes place next Thursday through Saturday—was founded over twenty-five years ago, and is a leading destination for blues fans around the world. There’s no bad seat at the main stage, located across from the tall levee that protects the historic city from the Mississippi River.
There’s a modest fee to sit there, but a lot of the fun can be found along Cherry Street, where many street buskers set up between vendors of barbecue and funnel cakes. A considerably more intimate—and free—stage is located a bit upriver from the main venue; it features leading acoustic acts earlier in the day, and electric groups into the night.
The headliner on Thursday is Bobby Rush, supported by Louisianans Cyril Neville, Wayne Toups, and Kenny Neal. Friday’s bill is led by Taj Mahal, and includes Ruthie Foster, Tupelo’s Paul Thorn, and harmonica great Billy Branch. Bonnie Raitt headlines on Saturday, when the dozens of other acts include Chicago greats James Cotton and Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater and gospel bluesman Rev. John Wilkins.
From noon till 2pm on Saturday the festival hosts the second annual “Call and Response: A Blues Forum,” which will include two panels featuring blues performers. And if you’re in Helena during the day on Thursday and Friday around lunch time drop into the Delta Cultural Center, whose two facilities feature exhibits on local Civil War events and Arkansas music legends including Johnny Cash, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Levon Helm.
If you visit the Center on Thursday or Friday at noon you can see a live broadcast of the KFFA radio show King Biscuit Time. The host, “Sunshine” Sonny Payne, is now 86 and began working on KFFA in 1941, when Mississippi harmonica great Sonny Boy Williamson II began hosting King Biscuit Time as a live performer.
Clarksdale is best known for its Juke Joint Festival in April and the Sunflower River Blues & Festival in August, but it’s also a hopping place during the King Biscuit Fest. Red’s juke joint on Sunflower Avenue will be offering live music from Wednesday through Sunday, with the larger than life Big George Brock from St. Louis playing late on Saturday night.
On both Saturday and Sunday afternoons Clarksdale Rock & Blues Museum, which houses the massive collection of Dutchman Theo Dasbach, hosts the free 2nd Street Blues Party. On Sunday morning Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art hosts its tri-annual (and free) Cat Head Mini Blues Festival, with a lineup including Brock and Robert “Wolfman” Belfour.
From 2–7pm on Sunday the Hopson Plantation, located just outside of Clarksdale on Highway 49, hosts the annual Pinetop Perkins Homecoming. Perkins, who lived on Hopson during the 40s and died in 2011 at the ripe age of 97, was a regular attendee. This year’s musical guests will include Paul Oscher and Bob Margolin, Perkins’ bandmates in Muddy Waters’ group. Performances will take place at the Hopson Commissary, the Juke Joint Chapel, located in a former cotton gin, as well as at an outdoor stage.