The annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic is a large outdoor two-day concert that was started by Mississippi bluesman Kenny Brown and his wife Sarah as a way to preserve the unique Hill Country blues tradition made famous by R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. The event began as a small picnic at their house near Potts Camp, but has grown over the years and moved several times, as it is always in need of bigger quarters. This year, the picnic was held at Betty Davis’ Ponderosa, near the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 310 south of Waterford, and it featured great music, good food and unique arts and crafts. Unfortunately, the Oxford area had received a series of strong storms on Thursday night, and although they were isolated, they were enough to leave parts of the festival grounds as mud bogs, but the area nearest the stage was laid down with grass, and the muddy areas had been bridged with large wooden pallets, so most people were able to stay clean and dry, except for the ones who got down in the mud intentionally!
I had taken off work early on Thursday June 27th because I read online that there was live blues every Thursday night during the summer on the square in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Unfortunately, when I got to Holly Springs, there was not much going on at all, and certainly no signs of any live music. I spent the next half hour taking photographs around the courthouse square, and finally asked someone about the blues music on the square, and they told me that it would be starting up on the following week.
Kent “Kinny” Kimbrough is one of Junior Kimbrough’s sons, but I was unfamiliar with Markus James, a blues/rock musician who has been travelling regularly to Mali and collaborating with Malian musicians, inspired by theories that place Mali as the place of origin for much of what we think of as blues music. James’ practice seems to be to use sets of traditional blues lyrics, but to weld them to different compositions, often based on traditional rhythmic patterns with a more amplified guitar sound. Kinny is of course an excellent drummer, and he provided the perfect rhythmic propulsion for James’ ideas. Of course, just as Brad Webb’s performance had been adversely affected by Yngwie Malmsteen, Kinny Kimbrough and Markus James’ was challenged by the Deftones shrieking and screaming on the FedEx stage quite nearby. Still, the musicians fought through it, and a small, appreciative crowd gathered around the tiny blues shack. Markus James has recorded several albums, the most recent of which seems to be Snakeskin Violin, recorded in Mississippi and Mali. Kent Kimbrough’s only album is 2010’s Super Funky on Justin Showah’s really cool Hill Country Records label
Mississippi-based Shannon McNally has had a big year, garnering a lot of national attention for her new album Small Town Talk , which consists of covers of some of the superb songs by the late Louisiana songwriter Bobby Charles. This year she kicked off Beale Street Music Festival 2013 just as the rain ended, warming the hearts of a freezing but enthusiastic cadre of fans.
Mississippi-based singer/songwriter Shannon McNally recently released her latest album Small Town Talk, a tribute to the songs of Louisiana’s legendary Bobby Charles, and to commemorate the event, she held an in-store performance and autograph signing at Memphis’ Spin Street Music on Tuesday, 4/23/13. Joined by Memphis guitarist Joe Restivo, McNally performed four songs from the album, including “But I Do”, one of Bobby Charles’ most enduring songs, made famous by the late Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Small Town Talk came out April 16 in stores, and exists on CD and vinyl. It can also be purchased as a digital download from iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/small-town-talk/id616312177.
After RL Boyce finished with his performance, he was followed by Duwayne Burnside, RL Burnside’s son, who was joined on stage by the young singer-songwriter Shannon McNally and drummer Dexter Burnside. McNally, originally from Austin, Texas, relocated to Holly Springs a few years ago, and released her most recent album Small Town Talk this month, featuring the songs of the late Louisiana singer and songwriter Bobby Charles. The album exists in both vinyl and compact disc versions, and is being distributed by Memphis-based Select-O-Hits Music Distribution. According to the Juke Joint Festival schedule, Duwayne was supposed to have been joined by his brother Gary, but he told me after the performance that Gary couldn’t make it.
Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. Sharde also plays the piano, and incorporates other styles of music into the band’s repertoire. North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, June 25, 2011
Few musical experiences can compare to the raw power of African-American fife and drum music. Unfortunately, this musical style once found throughout the south is now found only amongst the members of one extended family in Panola County, Mississippi. Sharde Thomas upholds the legacy of her grandfather Otha Turner and his Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. They will be holding their annual picnic on the last weekend of August at Gravel Springs outside of Como, Mississippi.