2021 Festival


CLARKSDALE – Neither weekend rains nor the plague nor 100-degree temperatures slowed the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival’s 33rd march into history as one of America’s top celebrations of authentic music.

Broadcast from Thursday night’s traditional “Grits, Greens, and Barbecue” supper honoring patrons who keep the festival free, through Sunday’s gospel explosion, were shouts of joy over reunions taking place and Delta musicians taking the stage.

This was expressed by one visitor who has attended 29 other Sunflower festivals and acutely missed the COVID-19-cancelled event in 2020.

And following his amazing performance beneath Saturday morning’s acoustic tent stage, renowned musician Jimmy “Duck” Holmes of Bentonia told the audience: “Your applause is more important to me than winning a Grammy Award.”

However an authentic Grammy winner did perform unannounced Saturday night when Charlie Musselwhite with his harmonica unexpectedly and briefly joined crowd favorite Jimbo Mathus on stage.

Their interpretation of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe” with “Billy Joe McAllister jumping off the Tallahatchie County Bridge,” was memorable, and another magnet inside the Sunflower’s book of history.

How splendid to experience and enjoy the pairing of so many extraordinarily talented hometown and Delta musicians being paired and showcased together.

Terry “Big T” Williams was joined on stage by Heather Crosse, Lee Williams, and others.

And Friday night’s headliner: Super Chikan Johnson with his super corps of musicians in faux competition with keyboard queen LaLa tossing her impressive locks into the air as they put on a show.

Unfortunately rain delayed performances til late both Friday and Saturday nights, and some awesome musicians appeared before reduced audiences.

This was true with Castro “Mr. Sipp” Coleman Friday night and Sweet Angel and Nathaniel Kimble on Saturday night.

The Abe’s Barbecue founder and Sunflower Association member Margaret Walker were presented with the organization’s highest honors: the Early Wright Blues Heritage Award, and the Julius Guy Gospel Heritage Award honored Sunflower Association member Annie Bell Revel.

All performances during the Sunflower River Blues Festival were staged outdoors either beneath a large open tent or on the Melville Tillis Main Stage next to the Delta Blues Museum.

The gospel festival took place in the spacious air-conditioned Civic Auditorium with a vaulted ceiling and seating for around 2,000

Speaking at Saturday’s acoustic stage, Health professional Mary Williams recommended vaccination for the coronavirus which she and her staff were offering on the festival site as well as educational material detailing the benefits of vaccination.

The 34th Sunflower Festival is August 12, 13, and 14, 2022. For additional articles and photographs, view the festival website: www.sunflowerfest.org and also the website of Coahoma Community College, one of the festival’s primary sponsors at www.coahomacc.edu

Among the outstanding musicians performing at the 33rd Sunflower Festival’s Friday night stage are Heather Crosse: Heavy Suga & the Sweet Tones:, Steve, ‘Lightning Malcolm (in blue); and Castro “Mr. Sipp: Coleman

Multi-talented guitarist Lucious Spiller not only kicked off entertainment at the VIP “Grits, Greens, and Barbecue” supper Thursday night, he also opened Saturday night’s Main Stage performances.

Opening Saturday morning’s Sunflower acoustic stage beneath the VIP tent, bluesman Son Thomas of Leland wearing his vintage straw hat, also celebrates his birthday and brought along some of his art work for sale: cat head sketches and autographed dominoes. Despite the early hour one enthusiastic member of the audience – who describes himself as a Sunflower regular and a scientist from Madison, Miss., was moved to begin dancing solo.The Ghope Mass Choir includes all ages and sizes on stage at Sunday’s Sunflower Gospel Festival in the Clarksdale Civic AuditoriumA group of friends experience the festival from the comforts of the VIP tent