Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival celebrates two decades as a cornerstone of downtown revitalization
Twenty years ago, Clarksdale, Mississippi’s old downtown felt very quiet and empty, a monument to a storied past. One event helped change all that. This April, the world will descend on a downtown filled with old friends and new businesses, small-town hospitality, and the biggest Juke Joint Festival yet.
How do you celebrate 20 years of blues music, community development, and downtown revitalization?
“This year’s Juke Joint Festival may well be the biggest music event ever held here,” said artistic director Roger Stolle. “To celebrate Clarksdale’s two decades of growth based on blues and cultural tourism, our 20th Juke Joint Festival will feature over a hundred performances on 17 daytime stages and inside 26 nighttime venues.”
Juke Joint Festival is Saturday, April 15, with related events held Thursday through Sunday.
Saturday daytime free; night requires wristband
During the daytime on Saturday, April 15, visitors and locals alike will enjoy eight blocks of music stages, arts & crafts vendors, Southern street food, racing pigs, a petting zoo, and monkeys riding dogs. The daytime music stages are all free. Saturday’s nighttime music venues require an official Juke Joint Festival wristband. Wristband quantities are limited, and all sales are final.
“We offer over 80 Saturday performances for free during the daytime, but attendees need to buy a wristband to enjoy the 30-some acts in over two-dozen venues at night,” said festival director Nan Hughes. “We hope to have another wristband sellout, so we recommend that folks buy pre-sale now at jukejointfestival.com.”
If Saturday-night wristbands remain on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of the festival week, they will be sold in-person at a price to be determined. The official festival headquarters for merchandise sales and wristband information is at 243 Delta Avenue, downtown.
Spread over 17 stages, daytime music starts around 10 am and includes acts like Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, “Little” Joe Ayers, Duwayne Burnside, Lightnin’ Malcolm, Miss Australia “Honey Bee” Jones, and many more. The festival’s 26 nighttime wristband venues include Ground Zero Blues Club, Red’s Lounge, New Roxy, Bad Apple Blues Club, Messenger’s, Bluesberry Cafe, Hambone, and others with acts like Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Kent Burnside, Terry “Big T” Williams, Watermelon Slim, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, Keith Johnson, Jimbo Mathus, Garry Burnside, Kenny Brown, and many more. Lineup subject to change. Details online.
20th anniversary celebration runs Thursday–Sunday
Clarksdale’s massive 20th Juke Joint Festival celebration officially starts with a Thursday 5–8 pm kick-off inside the New Roxy Theater (described as “quite possibly the coolest venue in the South”) with free performances by Sean “Bad” Apple and Lucious Spiller Band.
Then, following a day of intimate music performances and panel discussions downtown, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area presents a special festival edition of the world-famous Thacker Mountain Radio Hour at the New Roxy—starring host Jim Dees along with author Robert Mugge (Notes from the Road), one-man blues band Rip Lee Pryor and Clarksdale’s own high-energy Super Chikan & the Fighting Cocks. The live, in-person event is free to the public (first come, first served) from 6–7 pm.
Finally, after a Saturday of great music and community events running from 10 am till after midnight, Sunday keeps the celebration rolling with related events such as the Cat Head Mini Blues Fest, Bluesberry Backyard Blues Fest, Red’s Post-JJF Blues Jam, and more.
JJF non-profit thanks its supporters—big and small
Major 2023 Juke Joint Festival partners include Visit Clarksdale Tourism, Cathead Vodka, Southern Bancorp, Crossroads Economic Partnership, Visit Mississippi, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, C Spire, City of Clarksdale, Clarksdale Public Utilities, and others.
“Our nonprofit organization is eternally thankful for the incredible support that our ‘half blues festival, half small-town fair and all about the Delta’ event receives,” said Hughes. “From our hardworking volunteers to our major sponsors, it is truly humbling.”
Official Juke Joint Festival lineups, pre-sale wristbands and general information at www.jukejointfestival.com.