International notes invade the down-home Sunflower Festival

By Panny Flautt Mayfield, Festival publicist
    CLARKSDALE – No one’s whispering “Yankee” blues, but the pristine Sunflower’s down-home sound may have a few international notes from way, way up north this summer.

Being welcomed to perform during Clarksdale’s 17th annual festival are cousins from sister festivals in Norway and Quebec, Canada.

“Returning to Clarksdale is very special,” says Pierre Menard from his office in Canada as director of the Maximum Blues Festival. “I love the spirit of the place.”

Following their own Aug. 7 festival, Menard is traveling to the Delta with virtuoso blues guitarist Pat LeBlanc and members of the Bottleneck Blues Band.

LeBlanc and local bluesman Terry Williams are repeating a pairing that rocked Ground Zero two years ago when three Canadian blues bands spent a week in Clarksdale with Sunflower members and were filmed by Canadian Public Television.

The Bottle Neck group will be featured during the festival’s acoustic stage on Delta Avenue Saturday afternoon, Aug. 13.

Arriving from Notodden, Norway, where Europe’s largest blues festival is staged each August, are festival leader Jostein Forsberg and festival booking chairman Ed Murphy.

No one’s kept count of Forsberg’s Atlantic crossings to Clarksdale since 1996 when the sister city kinship was forged, but he says he expects barbecue, turnip greens and cornbread on arrival.

The tall Nordic blonde and his harmonica have performed in virtually every area blues club; Evelyn Turner once threw a birthday party for him inside The Crossroads, her club on Sunflower Ave.

When Coahoma Community College sponsored a Norwegian band at the Sunflower as a cultural exchange in 2001, it was Forsberg’s group, Spoonful of Blues.

Forsberg and Murphy are here thanks to another cultural exchange funded by the state Department of Tourism and requested by state Rep. John Mayo and city Commissioner Grady Palmer.

    Palmer has attended several festivals in Norway and says he’s looking forward to seeing both of them again.

“Blues is a true export of the United States; it imports dollars,” commented Mayo with enthusiasm. He plans to attend the festival.

According to Jonathan Masters, festival co-chairman, the 2003 festival drew 20,000 music fans from 17 countries and 37 states.

“We’re anticipating a large crowd here during the week of Aug. 13-14; media have registered from London to Milan, Italy,” he said. “We are still busy raising funds and ask supporters to send tax-deductible donations to P.O. Box 1562”

“Because our festival is free and is produced by volunteers, visitors have money to spend on food, hotels, and the local economy,” he said.

When the French-speaking musicians from Canada visited Clarksdale in 2002, they
performed at the annual St. Elizabeth Fair, inside Clarksdale Station, and attended Sunday services at Bell Grove Baptist Church.

Despite long, curly hair, a gold earring, and one fingernail painted blue, Menard was welcomed by an ultra-reserved church congregation and was inducted as a member of the conservative coffee club at Delta Amusement.

The coffee club was acknowledged in the documentary film credits that aired in Canada, France, and other French-speaking countries.

“I’ve cut off my hair,” Menard reported from Canada. “But we’ll be arriving this time with two blue fingernails.”