More than 25,000 attend Sunflower Fest
Diverse lineup creates a 'roaring success' appealing to broad audience
CLARKSDALE -The 19th annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival marches into history as a roaring success with an attendance count of 25,000 music fans, according to John Sherman and Melville Tillis, co-chairmen.
Although a late Saturday afternoon rain shower interrupted the program 30 minutes, the crowd returned and swelled to record size, agree the two festival leaders.
"The turnout for Latimore Friday night repeated the enormous audience he drew in 2004, and the Saturday night crowd applauding Super Chikan Johnson and the North Mississippi Allstars was even larger," said Sherman.
"The presence of Sam Carr and the tribute to his life as a legendary bluesman was another contributing factor in Saturday night's success," Sherman continued.
Sharing center stage with Carr also were other award winners: Red Paden, owner of Red's Blues Club on Sunflower Ave. who received the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award, and Rose Williams, a member of the Delta Big Four gospel group, who was presented the Julius Guy Gospel Heritage Award.
"We are grateful to the many sponsors, supporters, and volunteers who have made this festival possible and nurtured it into a tremendous free celebration of our heritage," said Tillis.
From Friday afternoon's opening with the Delta Blues Museum kids to Doc McKenzie's gospel finale Sunday evening, the festival featured a diverse lineup drawing comments.
Festival web masters John and Lori of Sedalia, Mo, said rain didn't dampen any spirits. "It cooled things down and set up a fabulous evening at the main stage."
"This was our 10th festival in 11 years, so we really feel like we are at home when we are in Clarksdale. The kids had a great time; I'm afraid they are turning into 'blueshounds,' already," continued John Moore.
Many festival first-timers made similar comments including San Diego singer/songwriter/folklorist Patty Hall who plans to return next year as a VIP sponsor.
"This is a fantastic event; we read about it on the Internet, and it's better than we imagined," she said.
Other first-timers included a firefighter from Cleveland, Ohio, who brought his brother from Cincinnati to the Sunflower for his 50th birthday.
"We had planned to start celebrating in New Orleans and travel north, but we are so happy that we came first to Clarksdale; it's been a wonderful experience," said the fire fighter.
Attending the festival for the first time also was Craig Ray, director of Mississippi's Division of Tourism, a corporate sponsor.
Ray visited with many local residents and was surrounded by young musicians from the Sunflower's sister festival in Quebec Canada, the Maximum Blues Festival who performed on the main stage.
Also in the crowd were Penny Franklin, marketing director of the Isle of Capri Casino, the Sunflower's primary festival sponsor, her husband, Webb Franklin, and their two young children.
The "On the Road to America" film crew from Los Angeles headed by director Mary Lambert recorded segments of the festival including the main stage set by James Super Chikan Johnson.
They toured and recorded many sites in Clarksdales historic blues district including a visit with Bertel Moore at C.W.'s Blues Club on Tallahatchie, and numerous churches including First Baptist, Haven United Methodist, Metropolitan Baptist, and Centennial Baptist Churches.
They filmed the Sunflower Blues Association's Thursday night "Grits, Greens, and Barbecue" party supporters, musicians, and members.
Sherman and Tillis said the association has already begun planning for next year's 20th anniversary.
"Next year we probably will move the gospel festival back inside the Civic Auditorium," said Tillis. "A lot of older music fans attend, and the heat this year made it pretty uncomfortable."
Organizers, however, distributed free water and moved festival tents in front of the main stage for the general public.
Composed entirely of volunteers, the Sunflower River Blues Association is a non-profit organization that stages the festival and solicits tax-deductible funds to pay musicians and production costs.
Donations may be sent to P.O. Box 1562, Clarksdale, Miss. 38614. Donations through the festival are also being solicited for the Sam Carr Medical Fund.
The complete list of sponsors will be published on the festival's web site: www.sunflowerfest.org.
Sunflower River Blues Association members including Henri and Charlie Musselwhite (top right) celebrate the success of 2006 outside Ground Zero Blues club and are planning a dynamite 20th anniversary for Aug. 10, 11, and 12, 2007.
North Mississippi percussion specialist Cody Dickinson plays electric washboard during the Sunflower Festival.
North Mississippi Allstar leader Luther Dickinson gets intense on the Saturday night stage at Clarksdales 19th Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.
Dwayne Burnside (left) and North Mississippi Allstar bassist Chris Chew are paired during the festival finale.
Soul master Latimore ends his headlining performance at the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival with his signature performance of Lets Straighten It Out.