I had been at Duwayne Burnside’s birthday event at the Blues Shack earlier in the evening, and he had mentioned that drummer Kent Kimbrough was also having a birthday party at Junior’s Juke Joint #2 in Holly Springs, so when Duwayne’s event seemed to be calming down, I drove back to Holly Springs to check out the other event. Junior’s Juke Joint was clearly packed to the rafters, and I had trouble finding a place to park. A rather loud argument was going on in the parking lot when I arrived, but I went on inside, where a DJ was spinning blues and southern soul. At one point, a singer named Benny Moore got up to perform, and the club’s house band, known as the Holly Springs Rhythm Section, backed him up. Although I had not heard of him before, he was a decent singer. After his performance, with the DJ providing the music, a woman who said she was one of the late R. L. Burnside’s daughters pulled me onto the dance floor. I’m not a dancer by any means, but it was fun anyway.
Hill Country blues legend Duwayne Burnside was celebrating his birthday with a party and bonfire at the Blues Shack in Waterford, Mississippi, so I decided to go down. Unfortunately, it was the coldest night so far of the year, and the turnout wasn’t nearly as large as I had expected, mostly close friends and family, but Duwayne and his brother Garry Burnside were glad to see me. At previous Blues Shack events, people tended to hang out near the stage, but at this one, people kept around the bonfire for obvious reason, except for the younger kids, who were running all around. An old harmonica player was on stage, playing with one of the younger boys on drums. After awhile, I headed back to Holly Springs because Kent Kimbrough was also celebrating his birthday at Junior’s Juke Joint #2.
On the Friday night of the Labor Day Weekend, I headed down into Marshall County, Mississippi for the first year of what is to be an annual picnic in memory of the late Hill Country blues guitarist R. L. Burnside. The event was being held at a place called the Blues Shack near Malone, Mississippi (although it was advertised as Waterford, Mississippi), which was just off of Highway 310 on the Old Oxford Road, not far from the old Burnside Blues Cafe location. The crowd was smaller than I had expected, perhaps because there was a threat of rain, but the blues was absolutely magnificent, with R.L.’s son Duwayne Burnside playing alongside two other great Hill Country guitarists, Kenny Brown and Little Joe Ayers. The small crowd and the outdoor stage in front of the shack gave the event the feel of a family get-together, and there was barbecue smoking on the oil-barrel grill beside the stage. Younger musicians came and went from the stage, and the music was still going strong when I left at midnight, with thunder and lightning visible to the west.
After Garry Burnside performed, his brother Duwayne Burnside came onto the stage in front of Cat Head Delta Blues to perform his set. Duwayne performs many of his father’s classic Hill Country blues compositions, and frequently performs in and around North Mississippi. He is also the co-owner of Alice Mae’s Cafe just north of the square in Holly Springs on North Center Street.
While registering for the Southern Entertainment Awards at Resorts Casino in Tunica, I looked on my phone and saw where a concert of Hill Country blues was taking place at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center in Oxford. The weather had gotten really bad, with high winds, thunder and lightning, but I decided to drive over that way from Tunica, stopping for dinner at the Oyster Bar in Como. The concert had already started when I got to Oxford, and Sharde Thomas was on stage with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. I learned that the event was being held for the attendees of the Southern Literary Festival, which was being held on the Ole Miss campus nearby. After the fife and drum band, Hill Country blues legend Duwayne Burnside came on stage with his band, including David Kimbrough Jr on drums, and played a selection of traditional and modern blues songs, getting the most applause for his reading of his father’s “See My Jumper Hanging Out On The Line.” (The strange title of that song had always mystified me, until I read recently that rural women who were cheating on their husbands used to hang a man’s jumpsuit on their clothesline as a signal to their boyfriends that the coast was clear and they could come over). Duwayne Burnside was followed by the Rev. John Wilkins, whose style of gospel is largely based on the music of Hill Country blues, despite the religious tone of the lyrics. Although I had seen all the performers elsewhere in the past, it was an exciting and enjoyable performance.
On Sunday, July 21st, I was driving back from Atlanta to Memphis, and while I stopped at O’Henry’s Coffee in Homewood, Alabama for a latte, I saw on my phone that blues great Duwayne Burnside would be playing at Foxfire Ranch,a large outdoor venue at Waterford, Mississippi in Marshall County. So I called my homeboy Mike Suggs, who lives in Marshall County and asked him if he wanted to meet me there and he said he would. Actually, the Foxfire Ranch has blues every Sunday night during the summer months, and I was surprised at the extent of the crowd. And although this was very much Duwayne’s show, everyone who is anyone in Hill County blues just about showed up, including Shannon McNally, Kenny and Sarah Brown (organizers of the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic), Little Joe Ayers and Kinny Kimbrough. It was a night of great music and great fun.
To close out the Memphis Recording Academy’s 40th Anniversary concert, Luther and Cody Dickinson’s North Mississippi Allstars came on stage along with bluesman Duwayne Burnside. Any North Mississippi Allstars show is great fun, and this was a rousing and appropriate way to close out the night.
Duwayne Burnside plays with his band and special guests Kinny Kimbrough and Kenny Brown on the first night of the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic in Waterford, Mississippi, 6/28/13
After David Kimbrough came off stage, he was followed by R. L. Burnside’s son Duwayne, who was quickly joined on stage by Kenny Brown, Kinney Kimbrough and many other guests. Duwayne smiles easy and often, his face alive with the shear joy of creating, and his incredible facility on the guitar reminds us whose son he is. There was no better closing act for the first night than the Duwayne Burnside band, with a crew of little Burnside children posted up on the stage, their eyes filled with wonder. The tradition is alive, and will continue.
Mississippi bluesman Duwayne Burnside (R.L. Burnside’s son) performs the Mississippi Hill country standard “Rollin’ & Tumblin'” with some assistance from singer-songwriter Shannon McNally in front of Cat Head Delta Blues in Clarksdale during Juke Joint Festival 2013