A trio of classic bluesmen – Bobby Blue Bland, Charlie Musselwhite and
Big Jack Johnson – is headlining the 15th edition of Clarksdale’s free
Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival Aug. 9-10.
Heading the gospel stage are the Jackson Southernaires, inducted this
spring in the 2002 Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame.
Although the smoky-pitched vocalist with his signature blues snort is
well known to worldwide blues fans, Bland is making his Sunflower Fest debut
on the Saturday night stage.
“It’s about time,” agreed blues association members, who voted
unanimously to invite the legendary performer and his band to Clarksdale.
Sharing Saturday night headliner status with Bland is multiple Handy Award
winner Charlie Musselwhite, another hands-down favorite who’s been invited
so many times, he’s hailed a hometown hero, say Nat McMullen and Melville
Tillis, festival co-chairmen.
The harmonica virtuoso, who calls the Sunflower Festival his favorite
venue and frequently can be viewed mingling with the festival crowds, has
even composed and recorded a song titled “Clarksdale Boogie.” He will be
performing solo on the acoustic stage inside the passenger depot Saturday
morning and also with his band Saturday night.
Starring Friday night will be Clarksdale’s own native son and blues
celebrity – Big Jack Johnson.
“We are really pleased Jack will be home for the festival; he’s known
around the world as a premier guitarist and showman, and visitors to
Clarksdale love seeing him play on his hometown stage,” commented Yvonne
Stanford, blues association secretary.
According to McMullen and Tillis, the festival lineup remains a work in
progress as well as the fund-raising drive to raise donations to keep the
The co-chairmen report other favorite recording artists already booked to
perform are Eddie Cotton, Jimbo Mathus, and John Mohead, who drew ovations
during the 2001 festival.
Harmonica artist and vocalist Geneva Red, who appeared earlier this year
at Blues Station and who has recorded with celebrity drummer Sam Carr, also
has been booked and will play with Carr and her band.
“And we couldn’t have the festival without Otha Turner and the Rising
Star Fife and Drum Band who have been with us since we started this
festival,” said Catherine Clark, association treasurer and charter member.
Turner and his family group traditionally close the acoustic stage inside
the depot and lead a procession to the electric main stage next to the Delta
Featured prominently also will be local bands including “Big T” Terry
Williams and his band, the Deep Cuts, Blues Prodigy, and the Delta Blues
Among the gospel groups who will be performing are James Williams and the
Messengers and the Norman Collins Family.
The festival begins Friday afternoon and closes Saturday night. Following
a pattern set last year, the gospel festival will be held Saturday afternoon
inside the air-conditioned passenger depot, Clarksdale Station, following
the blues acoustic stage performances.
Staged by an all-volunteer staff with the help of grants, corporate and
individual donations, the festival is a non-profit organization, and
donations are tax-deductible. The Sunflower River Blues Association’s
mission is to preserve, promote and enjoy blues where it was born and to
make it accessible to all.