The Real Thing 

The Mississippi Delta tends to be still and quiet. But when the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival comes to Clarksdale, no one can keep from tapping their feet.

Mississippi's largest blues and gospel festival celebrates its 20th anniversary this year with artists including Bobby Rush, Denise LaSalle (pictured), Billy Rivers, and the Angelic Voices of Faith.

"Last year, I think we had 17 countries and 35 states come," publicist Panny Mayfield says.

This year's performers include the Norwegian band Spoonful of Blues, which features 2007 Norwegian Grammy Award winner Rita Engedalen.

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"They have a kindred feeling with the musicians of the Mississippi Delta blues," Mayfield says of Spoonful of Blues. "They consider Clarksdale the cradle of the blues. They revere Mississippi and the Delta."

Mayfield adds that the festival is free to attend and run solely by volunteers: "We spend the whole year writing grants and seeking donations. The reason we don't charge is that the music started here. There are people who could not afford to come otherwise."

Sunflower River Blues differs from other blues festivals because it showcases pure blues, according to Mayfield. "It's the real thing. It's the purest blues festival in America," she says. "You'll hear lots of musicians you're not going to hear anywhere else. They're all somehow connected to the state of Mississippi."

As for the volunteer coordinators, Mayfield says, "We're a bunch of people who love the blues. We range from lawyers to prison guards to librarians. The blues holds it together."

Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, Clarksdale, Mississippi, Friday-Sunday, August 10th-12th. Free.

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