October's King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, is probably the most well-known of the regional blues festivals, but area fans can get an early start on the summer/fall festival circuit this weekend, with three events to choose from.
Heading south, start with the second annual Tri-State Blues Festival, which will be held Saturday, August 14th, at 7 p.m., at the Desoto Civic Center. This festival boasts one of the genre's greatest entertainers, Bobby Rush, whose lovably lewd act never fails to thrill. Also on the bill is great Chicago soul singer Tyrone Davis of "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time" fame. Rounding out a lineup that's more chitlin'-circuit soul than Delta blues are Betty Wright, Marvin Sease, Willie Clayton, and Sir Charles Jones.
The next stop on the blues-fest roadtrip is Clarksdale, Mississippi, where the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival enters its 17th year. This two-day, free festival kicks off Friday, August 13th, with a main-stage lineup that boasts Muddy Waters' son, Big Bill Morganfield (at 9 p.m.). The next day, the festival expands to four stages with an impressive lineup. On the main stage, highlights might be ex-Squirrel Nut Zipper James Mathus and his Knockdown Society (4 p.m.), Fat Possum star T-Model Ford (8 p.m.), and one of the area's true blues greats, Big Jack Johnson (10 p.m.). There are two acoustic stages. On the first, at Clarksdale Station, Othar Turner scions Shardee & The Rising Star Fife and Drum Corps (1:20 p.m.) headline. At the second, look for Memphis bluesman Robert Belfour (2:50 p.m.) and recent International Blues Challenge runner-up Slick Ballinger (5:30 p.m.), who has signed to John Prine's roots label Oh Boy. Ballinger will be joined by The Soul Blues Boys (Terry "Harmonica" Bean and Kinney Kimbrough). The gospel stage will feature church groups from around the region.
Finally, a new addition to the blues festival circuit is the Robert Johnson Blues Festival in Greenwood, Mississippi. The festival will take place in Whittington Park on August 14th, with performers to include Henry Gray and Honeyboy Edwards. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.
But blues isn't the only ticket in town this week: Indie-rock fans might want to head to the Hi-Tone Café, where noisy Brooklyn rockers Oneida return for a show Friday, August 13th, with openers UME and The Color Cast. A couple of nights later, cult-fave singer-songwriter Jason Molina, who has released acclaimed records under aliases such as Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., hits the club. Rock fans might also want to catch a great local double-bill at Young Avenue Deli, when The Lights and The Coach & Four team up on Saturday, August 14th.
Also on tap: Newby's is hopping with several big shows this week. Along with fab soulman Van Hunt (see Music Feature, page 37) on Monday, August 16th, the Highland Strip club will morph into an Atlantic Coast frat party Saturday, August 14th, with Edwin McCain and The Blue Dogs. Newby's welcomes'90s hitmakers Fastball and Pittsburgh rockers The Clarks on Sunday, August 15th.