CLARKSDALE – With all roads leading to Clarksdale during 2003’s Year of the Blues celebration, the Sunflower River Blues Association is promising an awesome 16th annual festival Aug. 8 and 9.
“More than 20,000 music fans from 17 countries and 38 states loved the 2002 festival,” said co-chairmen Nat McMullen and Melville Tillis
“We’re expecting an even larger crowd here in the birthplace of blues this summer; our lineups are outstanding,” the two festival leaders announced this week following booking reports at the association’s recent meeting in the Delta Blues Museum.
The 2003 festival is being dedicated as a special tribute to Clarksdale’s native son Muddy Waters and three recently deceased Sunflower legends, Othar Turner, founder of the Rising Star Fife and Drum Corps, his daughter, Bernice Turner Pratcher, and Delta gospel great James Williams.
“Othar and Bernice performed and led processions for every Sunflower Festival since it began in 1988,” said Catherine Clark, longtime festival treasurer. “They will be painfully missed, but we are planning on Othar’s granddaughter Sharde and other members of the group to continue the tradition.”
Gospel co-founder Melville Tillis said, “James Williams was a faithful member of our organization; his group James Williams and the Messengers was renowned in the gospel world, and headlined many of our festivals. He telephoned the week of his death to let us know he would miss our meeting because of surgery.”
Nat McMullen added, “Our third Sunflower Festival at Soldiers Field paid tribute to Muddy Waters, but we feel it is important to repeat the dedication to this hometown giant during the Year of the Blues; his contributions to blues, rock, and other music genres are monumental.” .
The tribute to Muddy Waters featuring Bob Margolin, Hubert Sumlin, Carey Bell, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith will headline the Saturday night stage.
Preceding them will be an equally prestigious group: the Jelly Roll All-Stars with Sam Carr, Arthur Williams, Bob Lohr, Pennsylvania Slim, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.
The soulful blues of Latimore closes out the Friday night stage following a red-hot gig by Clarksdale’s macho man O.B. Buchana.
Other performers include quintessential bluesman Honeyboy Edwards, who put the cotton fields of Shaw behind him and hopped freights to perform across the Delta decades ago. In the early 1940s he was recorded by folklorist Alan Lomax in a church on the King and Anderson plantation near Clarksdale before moving on to Chicago and a global audience.
The unique pairing of Cedell Davis with his kitchen knife blues, and Jimbo Mathus, who cut his teeth on Delta blues while visiting his Malvezzi grandparents in Clarksdale and Charley Patton’s daughter in Duncan, should be a dynamite combination.
Performing also will be Johnny Rawls, Big George Brock, John Mohead, “Big T” Terry Williams, Arthneice Jones, the Wesley Jefferson Band, The Deep Cuts, John Ruskey, Tater Foster, and the Blues Education students.
According to festival officials, the lineup is still a work in progress, and a second acoustic stage is being planned in addition to the traditional stage inside Clarksdale Station. Festival updates continually are being posted on the association’s web page: www.sunflowerfest.org.
Blues association secretary Yvonne Stanford reports hundreds of fund-raising letters are being prepared for mailing.
“We need everyone’s financial support to keep this wonderful entertainment free; it’s Clarksdale’s largest single tourism event. Contributions to the blues association are tax deductible, and sponsors are thanked and publicized from the stage, in the festival program, and on the web page,” she said.
The festival is produced entirely by volunteers.