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.
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.
Sharde Thomas is the granddaughter of Otha Turner, and leads her grandfathers’ Rising Star Fife and Drum Band from Gravel Springs,in Tate County, Mississippi, which would seem to be the last African-American fife-and-drum band in the country. They are frequently featured at festivals in North Mississippi, and are always a crowd favorite.
Garry Burnside Band-Goin Down South-Live at Hill Country Picnic 2013
Garry Burnside Band-All Night Long-Live at Hill Country Picnic 2013
T-Model Ford was for many years a crowd favorite at the Hill Country Picnic, but poor health has made it impossible for him to perform recently, and it has also caused a considerable amount of medical bills. To help Ford deal with that, the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic sponsored a raffle of donated items, and a group of local musicians played a set of songs in his honor, with his nephew Stud on the drums. It was a moving, heart-felt tribute.