Pontotoc blues musician Terry “Harmonica” Bean was the last artist I got to see at this year’s Juke Joint Festival before I had to drive back to Memphis to play my own gig. He was playing on the New World Stage in front of the New Roxy Theater with a fairly decent crowd there to here him. As always, the Juke Joint Festival was a full day of fun, the overwhelming majority of it free.
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.
WHen I made my way back to the Cat Head stage, Garry Burnside (one of the sons of the late R.L. Burnside) was on the stage with his band, and sitting in with him was singer/songwriter Shannon McNally from Holly Springs.
Hattiesburg blues musician Wes Lee has a following in the Southern part of Mississippi, but this was my first time encountering him at Juke Joint Festival. He played a version of the traditional spiritual “John The Revelator” AKA “The Book of the Seven Seals” , which caught my attention because I had just heard a quartet version of it on Spotify a few days before.
Arkansas blues musician CeDell Davis, born in 1927, overcame both the ravages of polio and the crushing of his legs during a nightclub stampede in the 1950’s, and still today plays the blues, though confined to a wheelchair.
Clarksdale blues musician Otis “TCB” Taylor is not to be confused with the Denver blues musician Otis Taylor, but he is a frequent performer in Clarksdale year round. This year, he and his TCB Blues Band were playing the New World Stage in front of the New Roxy Theatre during the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale.
The Wade Walton Stage, named for the man who owned the blues club and barber shop on the spot when he was living, is always one of the most crowded and boisterous stages during Juke Joint Fest each year, and this year was no exception, as young blues artist Mr. Sipp performed with his band and drew a crowd of dancers directly in front of the stage. Unlike many older blues artists, Mr. Sipp is as equally at home with Jimi Hendrix as he is with traditional blues, and the people loved all of it.
The large permanent stage near the Delta Blues Museum is reserved for youth and school groups during the Juke Joint Festival, and as I walked past it on Saturday afternoon, I saw a group of young people on stage playing the blues. I was amazed at how little some of them were, but they sounded really good. At a time when many have questioned the health of the blues, it is encouraging to see these young children learning to enjoy and play this style of music.
The conventional wisdom is that there is really only one Black fife-and-drum band left in America, that of Sharde Thomas in Panola County, so it was thrilling to see a second one at this year’s Juke Joint Festival, even if it shared a member with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. R. L. Boyce, a blues musician from Como has long held yard parties at his house, and some of these have featured fife-and-drum music. At the Cat Head stage at this year’s festival, Boyce brought out a fife-and-drum band which featured Otha Turner’s nephew, Andre Otha Evans on the flute, rather than the bass drum he customarily plays with the Rising Star. Perhaps it’s a sign that the tradition has some life remaining in it, at least in Mississippi.
Around the corner on Second Street was a keyboard-and-drums duo called The Elements, playing soul, smooth jazz and R & B. Not necessarily an official part of the Juke Joint Festival, this band sets up at that location each year and always attracts a crowd.