It's the hottest part of the summer, and, in grand Mississippi tradition, Clarksdale welcomes music fans from around the world for the 15th annual Sunflower Blues Festival. Scheduled for Thursday, August 7th, through Saturday, August 9th, this free festival will star such regional blues greats as O.B. Buchana, Willie King & the Liberators, and Floyd Taylor.
The festival opens Thursday with an educational stage inside the Delta Blues Museum; later that night, area clubs -- including Sarah's Kitchen, Ground Zero Blues Club, and Red's Lounge -- will host a Juke Joint Caravan event, starring Sunflower Festival performers like Cadillac John and The Wesley Jefferson Band.
Friday, expect sets from Buchana, Super Chikan, and local music teacher Mr. Johnnie Billington, as well as readings from Memphis author Robert Gordon (who will be signing copies of his Muddy Waters biography, Can't Be Satisfied) and a chat with legendary acoustic player Honeyboy Edwards.
On Saturday, the festival will feature four stages, including the Othar Turner Memorial Acoustic Stage, which will host a tribute to the late fife player with a much-anticipated performance from Sharde Thom-as & the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band. Bob Margolin's Allstar Blues Jam, which will include such Muddy Waters sidemen as barrelhouse pianist Pinetop Perkins, harp blower Carey Bell, and guitar genius Hubert Sumlin, goes down just after 10 p.m., while earlier sets include Jimbo Mathus' Knockdown Society, Big T & the Family, and more.
"The Sunflower Blues Festival specializes in real Mississippi blues artists," explains Roger Stolle, chairman of the festival's booking committee. "The blues isn't dead, [and] we prove it down here in Clarksdale. The genre has become so homogenized, but you can hear distinctive regional styles at the festival," he says, pointing to musicians like Leland picker Pat Thomas and hill-country guitarist Robert Belfour, who are both playing this year.
Stolle's store, Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art, will celebrate its first anniversary during the festival. Along with free coffee and donuts, Cat Head will feature live music and folk-art demonstrations from the likes of lowebow creator John Lowe, welder Butch Anthony, and sculptor Willie Kinard. Sunday, the store, which is located at 252 Delta Avenue in downtown Clarksdale, will be hosting its own Mini Blues Fest, with performances by Big George Brock and William Lee Ellis.
While one of the best new acoustic blues duos on the scene, Elam McKnight & Keith Carter, aren't playing the official Sunflower Blues Festival, look for them at Ground Zero Blues Club and Sarah's Kitchen throughout the weekend, then at Cat Head's Mini Blues Fest on Sunday. Memphians can catch the gritty duo on WREG-Channel 3's morning show earlier in the week or tune into the King Biscuit Blues Hour on Helena's KFFA radio on Friday at noon for an on-air performance.
But that's not all: Living Blues co-founder Jim O'Neal will be signing copies of his invaluable "Delta Blues Map Kit" at Dela's Stackhouse on Sunflower Avenue (be sure to dig through proprietor Nancy Kossman's vast selection of books and records while you're there), while Morgan Freeman's Madidi restaurant will host a blues brunch on Sunday afternoon.
Finally, be sure to drop in at the Hopson Commissary and the Shack Up Inn, off Highway 49 on the northwest side of town. Thursday night, the good folks at Hopson will be serving up barbecue dinners and screening a new Honeyboy Edwards documentary, with director Scott Taradash in attendance. The rest of the weekend, they'll roll out the carpet for local hero Mathus, who will be playing songs from Stop and Let the Devil Ride, his latest record, and accompanying Arkansan CeDell Davis.
For more information, including a complete schedule of events, go to SunflowerFest.org or CatHead.biz.
Can't get out of town this weekend? Send the kids to bed early and settle into a front-row seat for the Soul Comes Home concert, which will be broadcast on local PBS affiliate WKNO-Channel 10 this Saturday, August 9th. Billed as "a celebration of Stax Records and Memphis Soul Music," this concert (filmed at The Orpheum on April 30, 2003) stars Stax greats Booker T. & the MGs, Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, and Isaac Hayes alongside such soul superstars as Solomon Burke and Percy Sledge. Be sure to tune in: You don't want to wait for the Shout! Factory DVD (available in early 2004) to catch gospel singer Rance Allen's devastating "That Will Be Good Enough for Me."
Also on WKNO: Willy Bearden, one of the producers of the "Memphis Memoirs" series, cranks up the volume for a look at the history of Memphis garage bands. Playing for a Piece of the Door, inspired by local musicologist Ron Hall's book of the same title, will feature archival footage from The Gentrys, Tommy Burk & the Counts, The Box Tops, and The Coachmen. A look at the hundreds of groups that sprang up around town between 1960 and 1975 -- in '65, Bearden claims, there were more than 500 garage bands playing nightclubs, skating rinks, community centers, and church dances within the city limits -- Playing for a Piece of the Door will premiere at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, August 12th, then rebroadcast at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, August 16th.
Meanwhile, public radio staple Beale Street Caravan, locally produced since 1996, has packed up and moved from its former home inside the Blues Foundation. Relax, folks. Beale Street Caravan has new quarters just a block away at 66 Monroe Avenue. "We actually separated from the Blues Foundation in 2001.This move has been afoot since then," Sid Selvidge, executive producer of the radio program, explains. "We have a great relationship with them, but we needed to raise the profile of Beale Street Caravan and gain some square-footage. The corner of Front and Monroe is high-visibility, and we'll have our own studio there."
Where will the Beale Street Caravan crew appear next? At the Sunflower Blues Festival, of course.
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