Local Festivals

Published on June 9th, 2021 | by Nature Humphries


North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic Brings the Heat June 25–26, 2021

June has only just begun, and the temperature is rising! The pinnacle of the summer around these parts comes at the end of the month with the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic. If it’s not hot enough for you yet, just wait—the Picnic will set you on fire in the best way possible. Don’t sleep on this, get your tickets online by June 15 at NMSHillCountryPicnic.com for only $25 per day. Tickets at the gate will be cash only.

Taking place Friday and Saturday, June 25–26, 2021, in Waterford, Mississippi, the Hill Country Picnic is a festival like no other. Often described as a big blues family reunion, the Picnic brings together multiple generations of Hill Country blues artists on one stage in Marshall County, about 15 miles north of Oxford at the corner of Highways 7 and 310. On-site camping is available for $15, and for a small $10 fee, you can bring your own cooler. You can expect a variety of cool art and merchandise vendors, as well as food and beverages sold on-site.

After a year and some change of quarantine, masks, social distancing, and lots of cancelled events (including the 2020 Picnic), fans and artists are chomping at the bit to get back to the business of shakin’ ‘em on down, so this should be an especially wild weekend of music, family, and all-around Mississippi culture.

The Picnic, which started in 2006, is a nonprofit organization whose goal “is to enhance appreciation and educate the general public about the native art form of North Mississippi Hill Country Blues music through performance, preservation, and interpretation.” This one-of-a-kind event is made possible by generous sponsorships by Cathead Distillery, The Black Keys Delta Kream, Visit Mississippi, The Mississippi Arts Council, and Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance, among others.

View from the stage at the 2019 North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic. Photograph by Jean Frank Photography.

The 2021 Picnic lineup features some of the biggest names in Hill Country blues, including two-time Grammy-nominated Cedric Burnside, who will play a solo set Saturday evening as well as closing out the event Saturday night with Luther Dickinson and Sharde Thomas. Need more Burnsides? Catch Duwayne, Garry, and Kent throughout the weekend. Jimbo Mathus, Cary Hudson, Rocket 88, and Kudzu Kings will bring some more local flavor to the stage.

We rounded up some musicians for a Q&A session, which you’re going to love. Read on for Picnic stories, blues tales, and more.

PICNIC ARTIST Q&A featuring Cedric Burnside, Luther Dickinson, Libby Rae Watson, and Alvin Youngblood Hart

What is your favorite thing about the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic?

Cedric Burnside: By far my favorite thing about the Hill Country Picnic is getting to see a great majority of Hill Country blues from Hill Country artists that I hardly ever get to see, because I’m traveling. That’s really my favorite thing about it is getting together with friends and family that I grew up playing with, and actually getting to play with them again. It’s like a family reunion.
Libby Rae Watson: Aside from the music, my favorite thing about this festival is the sense of family! Every June, those in the know start making their plans for the Picnic. The excitement begins to build as soon as the schedule is released! It’s like a big reunion of the family you get to pick!
Alvin Youngblood Hart: The artists, performers, and the audience are all there for the common goal of representing the music and the predecessors who inspired the whole thing. Everybody’s there as one. That’s the big thing and you really feel it, too, when you’re out there. It’s not hard to become a part of the Picnic crowd. Us, as performers, we’re not just there playing a gig and then leaving, you know. We’re out there running around with the crowd and stuff too. We kind of refer to it as a big family and that’s how it is.

What makes the Picnic stand out compared to other music festivals?

Cedric: One thing is that I never get to play [for] my family. Like my daughters and my sister. So I think that’s what is so special to me. I get to hang out with family that I normally wouldn’t get to hang out with if I was traveling. And they hardly ever get to see me play. It’s one big happy family there.
Luther Dickinson: It’s like a family reunion. It’s the only time, for me, when I get to see the whole Hill Country community, because we’ve been on tour forever. I always make it a point to come and be a part of the Picnic and recharge my batteries with that Hill Country funk. The music is really unique. Hill Country music has its own thing, you know, it’s widely influential. But if you want the real deal, [come to the Picnic] to see the musical family still carrying on. It’s such a beautiful community.
Libby: Again, the music, which is specific for that region of Mississippi, and the people who love and live that music. It creates a wonderful combination that’s like nothing else! It’s a collective heartbeat to those rhythms of the Hills!

What can picnic attendees expect from your set this year?

Cedric: Well, my set is going to be most of my music. Hopefully it’s going to be a hot set! I’m looking to see people dance and shake their tail feather a li’l bit after so long at home. With me and Luther, I don’t know. Luther is full of surprises. I’m looking forward to jamming with him, because we hardly ever get to play together.
Luther: Ooh, that’s going to be fun! We’ll do some of the tunes that we all know together and we’ll do some we don’t know together… we’ll take turns backing each other up. We’ll have double drums set up and Sharde will play some fife as well. It’s gonna be fun.
Libby: I’ll be performing with Bill Steber, as I always do at the Picnic. Both of us have a varied repertoire, but I’m sure we’ll be heavy on Hill Country music. We both write and will include some of our own songs. We perform as a duo, and with other friends as The Stoop Down Rounders.
Bill performs with his group, The Jake Leg Stompers. Also Bill teams up with Sammy Baker in their group, The Hoodoo Men.
Alvin: Hopefully some fun songs. We always try to pay some tribute to our Mississippi roots.

Would you share a favorite memory from picnics past?

Cedric: Oh I can share an excellent memory. One of my favorite memories is my uncle Joseph and my dad playing at the picnic after hitting that moonshine pretty hard. They was arguing just a little bit before that show started, as they always do, irritating each other. But then when the show got ready to start, aw they was all lovey dovey, they was brothers again. And they did a really rockin’ show, so I’ll always remember that.
Luther: There was one rainy year that some of the audience was just sliding and wallowing in the mud, you know, like real Missi-freakin’-hippies—Missihippies! That was really wild. There was a great after party [one] year that Alvin Youngblood Hart played at Foxfire Ranch.
I have to say my favorite memory is doing the guitar clinics. It’s not easy, but it’s really fun. I learned a lot doing it. It’s amazing to have this huge group of musicians who know the Hill Country repertoire, from all over the world; they come to Mississippi and they can already play the North Mississippi music. It really makes me happy. Cause that’s what ties the Hill Country community together is the shared repertoire. Each musical family has its own style, and each family member has their own style branched out within the families. But there are certain songs that everybody does from time to time. That’s what ties the community together.
Libby: My favorite memory may be the first time I played in 2015. That first one was pretty memorable for me because I was just expecting to be a spectator, and didn’t even have a guitar. Bill Steber was on the festival as Bill & Friends. When I walked up he looked at me and said, “You got a guitar?!” I didn’t, but Luther Dickinson was there and had just played, or was about to. He handed me his guitar, and then he joined in with us. I played a song I had recently written about Big Joe Williams. Luther and Bill joined in. It was a song about the very first day I met Big Joe, and Bill had never heard it before. And he said, “When did you write that? Man, I almost cried!” And I was like, “Oh OK—keeper!” And it was just fun to have Luther join in. When I first met Luther, he was a little, like three or four years old. So that was a thrill, to see the legacy continue. I’ve also got other stories I can’t tell! There’s a lot of those!
Alvin: We have people come in from all over. People from Europe, from the upper Midwest and all that stuff. I know for a fact that some of us have recruited people from Louisiana to come up and join the Picnic family, which was kind of a big deal. One of the more popular radio stations, WWOZ in New Orleans, decided to broadcast the Picnic, and that was a big thing. And obviously they’re streaming all over the world—BOOM! the picnic goes worldwide.

Do you have any upcoming projects or shows? How can fans learn more about you?

Cedric: They can always see me on my Facebook, and you can also find out about all my shows and everything through my website, CedricBurnside.net, and also SingleLock.com, which is my record company.
I’ve been doing a few shows here the last couple of months, which has been great. It’s about time! And then in the next couple months I have a few short tours coming up, you know, four or five days. But, you gotta start somewhere right?
Luther: Yeah, the Allstars are back to work. We’ve been touring a lot already. And it feels so, so good to get back to work. We have a new Allstars record that will be coming out early next year, and we are super excited about that. And I’m always working with Sharde. Besides Cody, she’s my greatest collaborator. We just recorded a really cool record with G Love. G Love came to Mississippi to make a collaborative Mississippi record. We had so many guests roll through, and everyone just did fantastic. G Love was ecstatic. We’re finishing that record, so that will be coming out next year, as well. He came to the Zebra Ranch and Sharde came, and RL Boyce came, and Cam Kimbrough came, And Kingfish came, it was fantastic.
Libby: I’ve always got various projects. I’m trying to set up some home recording gear. The Fall seems to be when everyone is having festivals again. I’ve been booked for several of those.
For fans, I have a website, www.libbyrae.com. The ‘Gigs and What’s Happening’ page will tell you the upcoming shows. Then there’s my Facebook music page, Libby Rae Watson/Musician.
Alvin: I was talking about trying to make a new record, in the early part of 2020. But that kind of got shut down, so hopefully we’ll be ready to pick that idea up and run with it again soon. We’ve been trying to get our heads right after a lost year. It’s almost like, did that really happen?
The website is AYHmusic.com, and all the social media channels. The Instagrams and the Facebooks, and all that stuff.

What are your current favorite jams?

Luther: Last year, it was Prince, Tame Impala, and James Brown. This year it’s James Brown, and a lot of film scores, Hans Zimmer and Wolfgang. I’m working on a film score, so I’ve been really enjoying studying film scores and studying a whole new side of music. But there’s always that James Brown, that’s the one.
Libby: I’ve been working up some Jessie Mae Hemphill songs and writing some in that style.
Lately I’ve been listening to Black Pumas, the Black Keys new CD, Little Joe Ayers, and some Jessie Mae.
Alvin: There was a friend of mine that had a saying: “Alvin hasn’t heard a record since 1972.” Pretty much that. I still listen to a lot of old music, John Lee Hooker, and stuff like that. All the old classics.

Read the full interviews:

Libby Rae Watson
Cedric Burnside
Luther Dickinson
Alvin Youngblood Hart (coming soon)

North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic Artist Q&A: Libby Rae Watson
Mississippi’s Juke Joint Festival Returns to Clarksdale April 15–18, 2021

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About the Author

Nature Humphries is Editor-in-Chief of The Local Voice. Nature is originally from Vicksburg, Mississippi, but moved to Oxford in 2004 after spending time in the United States Navy. She has also worked in the restaurant industry for many years as a server and a bartender. Nature graduated from Ole Miss in 2007 with a degree in English and Modern Languages.

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