International Flavors Spice Sunflower Festival

CLARKSDALE A window on the international scope of Clarksdale’s Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival opens Friday, August 11, when six musicians from the Maximum Blues Festival of Quebec, Canada, introduce the Deep South to downhome blues with a French accent.

“This is a very talented group from our North American sister blues festival; we’re excited to be presenting them on our main stage,” said Melville Tillis, co-chairman.

According to Pierre Menard, who directs the Maximum Festival and is credited with fostering the Sunflower/Maximum “sistering” relationship for the past five years, this band represents two first-class groups: Dale Boyle and Malted Milk.

“Their music fits between blues-rock and soul,” Menard says.

A local Clarksdale favorite even among ultra-conservative non-musicians, Menard has visited here many times with other Canadian musicians.

In 2004 he organized the recording of a CD here at Studio 61 featuring the combined talents of Clarksdale, Canadian, and Norwegian musicians, and also the filming of a documentary about the exchange that has aired in more than 100 French-speaking countries.

In January 2006 he drove back with $12,300 he raised in Canada and dispersed among Katrina victims staying in Clarksdale.

“I personally brought it down to make sure all of this would go directly to the victims,” he said. “This gave me the chance to encounter a lot of new good-hearted Clarksdale people, and this made my day,” he said.

Inducted as a member of the traditional Delta Amusement Coffee Club, Menard speaks with a heavy French accent about the importance of “sistering.”

“My comments would go as maybe too much philosophical, but I do believe in cultural exchanges and intercultural partnerships as open doors: doors with a knob and doors in the mind&.for the artists from our part, going to Clarksdale is like a pilgrimage to the place where the blues was born,” he says.

Menard says the Canadian band Malted Milk won the Blues Review Competition at Le Festiblues International de Montreal last year and the musicians were sent to France as ambassadors. Members include Keven Charette (guitar); Martin Adam (drums); Anne-Marie Pilon (vocals) and Marc-Andre Landry (bass.)

Talented singer/songwriter Dale Boyle, who will be performing with them is co-founder of the website and will be writing articles on the Sunflower Festival for the sites September 2006 issue.

The McGill doctoral student and solo/acoustic folk/blues artist has been called a local guy with “some pretty heavy connections” including k.d.lang and Carlos Santana-linked Los Angeles-based producer Daniel Levitin. Levitin backed Boyles second album, “In My Rearview Window.”

Commenting on his first trip to Clarksdale, Boyle said: “To perform in Mississippi, the birthplace of acoustic folk/blues music, is really the ultimate for me.

“The opportunity to bring my songs and stories to the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival is very special,” he continued.

Although Boyle and Malted Milk will be first-timers to Mississippi, Menard has introduced many Canadians to Clarksdale.

In 2004 in a visit coordinated with the Sunflower River Blues Association, Menard brought three blues bands from Canada to Clarksdale including superstar Nanette Workman, the Mojo Band, Bottleneck, and Pat the White. They performed at the St. Elizabeth Fair, Ground Zero Blues Club, and Clarksdale Station.

A documentary – “The Blues Road” – was filmed about their visit including a segment on gospel with the Rev. Willie Morganfield recorded during Sunday services at Bell Grove Baptist Church.

The CD recorded at Studio 61 included Canadian musicians; Jostein Forsberg from Clarksdale’s sister city in Norway, and Clarksdale musicians: John Ruskey, Wesley Jefferson, Terry Williams, Jacqueline Nassar, and Eric Fowler.

A number of Clarksdale musicians have performed at the Maximum Blues Festival in Canada, and Daddy Rich will be featured there this summer.

Visiting Clarksdale in May were representatives of the International Notodden Festival, the Sunflowers sister festival in Europe since 1996. The Sunflower and Notodden groups have begun planning joint 20th year celebrations for 2007.

Returning also to the 2006 Sunflower from Italy with their new CD “The Breath of Soul,” are Angelina and writer/musician Fabrizio Poggi who praised the 2005 festival in an extensive two-page review in Milans prestigious magazine, the “FB-Folk Bulletin.”

“Fabrizio, Francesco, and myself will arrive in Clarksdale on the 9th of August, and we will stay there until the 14th of August,” writes Angelina.

“Fabrizio and Francesco will be proud and honored to play at your pre-festival party (Grits, Greens and Barbecue supper for musicians, blues members and supporters). Consider it a gift for your kindness last year,” she says.

The Maximum Blues Festival Band from Canada will perform at 6:00 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11, on the main stage at Sunflower Festival. Check the festivals web site: for the complete lineup.

The free Sunflower Festival is produced totally by volunteers and supported by grants and tax-deductible donations from businesses and individuals.