Festival Conference


OXFORD – Key leaders of Clarksdale’s Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival and the director of the Chicago Blues Festival – the world’s largest free blues festival, exchanged ideas here Nov. 10 at a unique conference for event coordinators.

“Sharing information with Barry Dolins from Chicago and other festival coordinators across Mississippi was a tremendous benefit,” commented John Sherman, Sunflower co-chairman.

“Dolins talked about Chicago being “the end of the line” (the historical railroad line) for blues musicians from the South,” said Sunflower co-chairman Melville Tillis.

“We offered to initiate publicity for both festivals as “the beginning of the line,” Tillis continued.

Photos of the Sunflower, Clarksdale’s largest tourism event and one of the country’s top free festivals, were featured in brochures for the conference that was sponsored by the Mississippi Arts Commission and the Mississippi Development Authority (state Tourism).

Attending were more than 50 festival and event leaders from Oxford, Hernando, Kosciusko, Starkville, Columbus, New Albany,Greenville, Tupelo, Vicksburg, Grenada, Ridgeland, Cleveland, Okolona, Jackson, Rolling Fork, Aberdeen, and Byhalia.

Other conference speakers were Sara Anne Gibson, executive director for the Kentuck Museum Association in Northport, Ala., and Jon Kay, director of Traditional Arts Indiana.

Diversifying programs, staying in the black, tips on fund-raising, and building identity were subjects of discussion at the Oxford conference.

“The Sunflower already has a well-established identity,” commented Larry Morrisey, heritage director for the Mississippi Arts Commission that annually awards grants to the Sunflower Festival.

Sherman and Tillis agreed that ideas from the conference would assist Blues Association members planning their 19th annual celebration scheduled Aug. 11-13, 2006.

To benefit next year’s festival, the association is throwing a pre-Thanksgiving concert with five bands at Ground Zero Blues Club Wednesday night, Nov. 23.

Sunflower Festival leaders network in Oxford

Among the festival and event coordinators attending Thursday’s conference in Oxford are (from left) Melville Tillis, Sunflower Festival co-chairman; Larry Morrisey, heritage director of the Mississippi Arts Commission; the Rev. Marvin K. Myles and his wife, Olivia Myles, former Coahoma County residents and gospel music leaders who perform annually at the Sunflower; Shelley Ritter, Delta Blues Museum director; and John Sherman, Sunflower co-chairman. The event took place at the Oxford Conference Center and was sponsored by the Arts Commission and the Mississippi Development Authority (state Tourism).