CLARKSDALE - Music fans from New Zealand, Italy, Japan, and Germany to Paris and Bangkok, Thailand affirmed Clarksdale as the cradle of the blues and the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival as the perfect place to experience it, says festival chair Melvita Tillis Presley.
"We are very excited over the success of our 30th anniversary," continues Presley. "From Thursday night's sponsor party to the gospel finale Sunday night, the festival was extraordinary."
"We had a very large audience Friday night for O.B. Buchana, Nathaniel Kimble, and Super Chikan Johnson," says festival co-chair John Sherman.
"Our six acoustic stages Saturday afternoon also were a great success," he said. "Most of the venues were packed."
Asked what he thought about the festival he co-founded in 1988, Jim O'Neal says the Sunflower still occupies its billing as a "unique place" among festivals. "It's great that it keeps going on."
"The Sunflower is one of the few grassroots, comfortable places," to enjoy authentic music, he added. "It's not a high pressure situation, and people are not afraid of the crowd size."
O'Neal liked the abundance of local performers in the lineup and especially the large hometown turnout for Clarksdale native O.B. Buchana.
The Sunflower has been ranked among America's Top Ten places to hear authentic music by U.S.A. Weekend.
Festival Saturday night finale highlights included performances by Big George Brock and Grammy winner Charlie Musselwhite, a Clarksdale favorite since his initial Sunflower performance in 1995.
The Delta Blues Museum's student education wing was packed Sunday afternoon for a prestigious Mississippi Bicentennial event: "Conversations with Charlie Musselwhite."
With his encyclopedic knowledge O'Neal, co-founder of Living Blues magazine, interviewed Musselwhite about his 50-year career.
Describing his growing up days in Memphis, his move to Chicago where he began sitting in with Muddy Waters, Musselwhite told colorful, humorous s stories about playing on Maxwell Street and many musicians including some who became famous.
"All of them were from Mississippi," Musselwhite said.
Musselwhite was honored on stage Saturday night before his performance with the festival's Early Wright Blues Heritage Award.
Madge Harris was honored Sunday night with the Julius Guy Gospel Heritage Award.
Sponsored by the Mississippi Humanities Council and Visit Mississippi (State Tourism), the program was funded by a grant awarded to the Sunflower River Blues Association.
For more information, visit sunflowerfest.org
The 31st Sunflower is scheduled for August 10-11-12, 2018.
Clarksdale Mayor Chuck Espy visits childhood friends, Loria Tillis (left), Sunflower Festival main stage announcer Friday and Saturday nights, and Melvita Tillis Presley, festival chairman, during the 'Grits, Greens, and Barbecue' supper for sponsors that officially opens the three-day celebration.
Among the dozens of volunteers staging the 30th Annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival are the Sunflower Supremes who annually serve the 'Grits, Greens, and Barbecue' soul food supper honoring festival sponsors. Pictured are (from left, front row, Nancy Foley, Laura Mayfield; back row, from left Sandy Dezawan, Earless Anderson, Jen Waller, Sarah Crisler Ruskey, Eva Connell, Sandy Stauffer, Madge Ellis, and Georgianna Smith.
Sunflower Festival headliner Charlie Musselwhite (holding plaque) is awarded the Sunflower's highest blues accolade - the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award in memory of the organization's spiritual leader, longtime WROX Radio broadcaster. Pictured with him during the award ceremony are representatives of the festival's primary sponsor HPI, LLP including from left Tom Levitz Sr., Mike Strathdee, Craig Marsh, Musselwhite, John Sherman, festival co-chair; Melvita Tillis Presley, festival chair; Martin Marsh of HPI, LLP; and Maie Smith, festival booking chairman.Primary sponsor Hal Ponte welcomed by Melvita Tillis Presley
Melvita Tillis Presley, Sunflower chairman, welcomes longtime family friend and global energy leader Hal Ponte to the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival. Ponte heads HPI, LLP, the festival's primary sponsor.
Winner of the prestigious Julius Guy Gospel Heritage Award for 2017 is Madge Harris (right) receiving the plaque from Maie Smith, Sunflower booking chairman.