Published on September 18th, 2012 | by TLV News1
Bridging The Blues: Arkansas, Memphis, Mississippi…Twelve Days Of Blues in the Place They Were Born
Bridging The Blues:
Arkansas • Memphis • Mississippi
(Part 1 of 2)
Article by Scott Barretta • Photographs by Rebecca Long
Over the last decade Mississippi’s blues heritage has received unprecedented attention, marked by projects including the state-run Mississippi Blues Trail, now numbering nearly 160 markers, and the state-of-the-art B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola. The rise of blues tourism is most notable in Clarksdale, where Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club and the blues-themed Shack-Up Inn have garnered massive international media attention.
A new effort to help fans finds their way through region’s musical riches is “Bridging the Blues,” a twelve-day series of events in late September and early October in the Mississippi Delta, Arkansas, and Memphis [bridgingtheblues.blogspot.com]. The project connects the decade-old Highway 61 Blues Festival in Leland, which takes place on Saturday, September 29, with Helena’s venerable King Biscuit Blues Festival the following Thursday through Saturday, and builds on the success of “the Biscuit” in attracting blues fans from across the world.
Although structured around two big events, “Bridging the Blues” offers blues enthusiasts a broad menu from which they can pick and choose. Participating communities were encouraged to develop special events to fit within the mission of creating an “ultimate blues pilgrimage” that focuses on the uniqueness of the Delta region’s art, music, food, and sense of place.
“Bridging the Blues” was created after several meetings between entities already involved with promoting blues in some capacity, notably the Mississippi Delta Tourism Association, Arkansas Delta Byways, The Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, The Mississippi Development Authority Office of Tourism, and the Memphis CVB.
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Events begin on Thursday, September 27 when the Vicksburg Blues Society presents Jackson guitarist Stevie J at the Ameristar Casino’s Bottleneck Blues Bar’s “Vicksburg’s Got the Blues” series. On Friday, September 28, Bobby Rush appears at Indianola’s historic Club Ebony, a mainstay since the late 40s of the “chitlin’ circuit.” The following evening the club will feature southern soul star T.K. Soul (Saturday, September 29).
B.B. King, who married the club owner’s daughter in the late 50s, bought the club several years ago, but recently transferred ownership to the nearby B.B. King Museum and Interpretive Center, which is now booking music at the club on a regular basis.
On Friday there’ll also be a pre-party for the Highway 61 Blues Festival at Bud’s Blues House at 901 North Main Street in Leland, with artists including Albert King acolyte John Horton. Earlier in the evening the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland, whose collection includes the folk art sculpture of local bluesman James “Son” Thomas, will feature a book signing, as will the local Hobnob Gallery.
On Saturday, September 29 the Highway 61 Blues Festival gears up around noon with yet another lineup featuring traditional blues. Acts include nonagenarian T-Model Ford, 86-year-old Eddie Cusic, the mentor of locally bred Little Milton Campbell, south Mississippi multi-instrumentalist L.C. Ulmer, and Bentonia’s Jimmy “Duck” Holmes.
Representing North Mississippi are Cedric Burnside, Kenny Brown, and Lightnin’ Malcolm. Other performers include Delta natives Duff Dorrough, Jimmy Phillips, and Eden Brent, and topping the bill is Louisiana’s Dwayne Doopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers.
On Sunday, September 30 beginning at 2pm there’s a decidedly informal outdoor blues jam in Holly Ridge, just five miles from Leland. The first Mississippi Blues Trail marker was erected there in 2006 in honor of Charley Patton, who’s buried there.
Bring a chair and a cooler to the free event, where scheduled performers including T-Model Ford, Eddie Cusic, Eden Brent, and John Horton will perform on a flatbed truck next to an old general store where Patton is reputed to have performed.
On Monday (October 1) visitors are encouraged to visit the E.E. Bass Cultural Arts Center in Greenville, which has a new exhibit of the blues photographs of folklorist and Vicksburg native William Ferris, who founded the Center For the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss in 1977. Clarksdale’s Delta Blues Museum, which recently doubled its exhibit space, also has multiple new exhibits on subjects including Son House, Mississippi John Hurt, and the 25th Anniversary of the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival.
On Tuesday, October 2 there are several events in the Cleveland area. From 1-4pm the historic Dockery Farms Plantation, located between Cleveland and Ruleville on Highway 8, will host tours of the recently renovated facility and music by local blues artists Cadillac John and Bill Abel. Dockery was once home to pioneering musicians including Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and a Blues Trail marker there addresses its reputation as a “birthplace of the blues.”
Later that evening there’ll be a “Blues Bash” at Po’ Monkey’s juke joint in nearby Merigold featuring Terry “Harmonica” Bean. One of the last of the rural jukes, it’s presided over by owner Willie “Po Monkey” Seaberry, who farms the fields surrounding the juke and keeps his elaborate wardrobe in his living quarters in the back. Another alternative is the blues jam at L.D.’s Kitchen in Vicksburg featuring the house band from Jackson’s Central Mississippi Blues Society, which usually includes King Edward and Pat Brown, veterans of Jackson’s infamous Subway Lounge.
In the next issue of The Local Voice we’ll look at the rest of the Bridging the Blues events, focusing on the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena—featuring headliners Bobby Rush, Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal—and the annual Pinetop Perkins Homecoming in Clarksdale. In the meantime visit bridgingtheblues.blogspot.com for a full schedule of events.