Robert Plant creates ‘a bit of a stir’ in Clarksdale


CLARKSDALE – Although Clarksdale is not competing with London’s Summer Olympics, one of the UK’s native sons is creating “a bit of a stir” here headlining the 25th annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.

The draw is Robert Plant, voice of the world’s most celebrated rock band – Led Zeppelin –  multiple Grammy winner, and creative guru continually exploring  new musical directions from the African desert sands to Mississippi Delta blues country.

Magazines are running his image on their covers; news organizations are offering to underwrite  Trans-Atlantic flites for personal interviews, and editors are calling his Sunflower performance “the hottest ticket of 2012.”

As the festival finale, Plant is presenting “The Sensational Space Shifters,” including Grammy winning songwriter and vocalist Patty Griffin; guitarist/composer Justin Adams, West African acoustic virtuoso Juldeh Camara;  John Baggott, keyboard; Billy Fuller, guitarist; and Dave Smith, drums.

Earlier Plant collaborated, toured, and recorded “Raising Sand” with bluegrass princess Allison Krauss for a CD that earned five Grammys.

In 1998 he and fellow Zeppelin star Jimmy Page recorded “Walking Into Clarksdale” as a tribute to the city’s music heritage as home base for early bluesmen Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, and others.

In 1999 between stops on their Plant/Page tour, the duo and band members visited historic blues sites here, Tutwiler, and Friars Point. Later he invited Sunflower members to their final U.S. concert at the Memphis Pyramid.

Plant has returned to Clarksdale a number of times. In 2009 with no advance notice to media, he unveiled the Blues Trail Marker in Tutwiler as the Birthplace of Blues where W. C. Handy first heard it played in 1903 outside the depot.

On another trip with zero fanfare at the Delta Blues Museum, he presented a unique plaque featuring a collection of miniature Led Zeppelin album covers above an engraved plate honoring Delta bluesmen whose music influenced his career.

More than 50 global professionals including CNN have been credentialed to cover the festival and Robert Plant’s rare performance, reports Melville Tillis, longtime festival co-chairman.

“We are preparing for more than 20,000 music fans here on Saturday, Aug. 11, alone,” continues Tillis.

“With voices from the Czech Republic, Australia, Switzerland, Brazil, and Wales arriving in town, speaking southern may evolve into its own international dialect,” quips Maie Smith, co-chairman who handles festival booking.

Traveling solo from Amsterdam, Johan Sevenhuijen is a new internet buddy with VIP chairman John Sherman who’s reserving a seat for him inside the air-cooled patron tent.

According to Sherman, funds raised from generous VIPs and reserved corporate tables near the Main Stage are keeping the festival free and open to the public and underwriting soaring production costs of this super-size festival.

In addition to Plant, the Sunflower is presenting other headliners: Entertainer of the Year Bobby Rush on Friday night, and crowd favorite Charlie Musselwhite, winner of 27 Blues Music Awards and eight Grammy nominations on Saturday night.

Stella Award-winning gospel celebrity Vickie Winans, a Grammy nominee featured in Ebony magazine and USA Today, headlines Sunday’s Sunflower Gospel Festival following performances by Susie Golden-Ferguson, the New Covenant MB Church Mass Choir, the Chapel Hill Men’s  Chorus and others.

Other blues lineup luminaries include O.B. Buchana, James “Super Chikan” Johnson, Jimbo Mathus, Kenny Brown, Terry “Big T” Wiliams, and Josh “Razorblade” Stewart.

Treasured acoustic artists performing Saturday morning include Arthneice “Gas Man” Jones, Robert Belfour, Eddie Cusic, Pat Thomas, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, T-Model Ford, and Sharde Turner and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band.

Kappi Allen, tourism director, says area hotels are overflowing, and Instant friendships now are being forged with locals renting their homes, apartments, and bedrooms to visitors.

CNN producer Darian Billington says his network will be focusing on interviewing business, gallery, and restaurant owners, musicians, and artists benefiting from the Sunflower Festival and also on the overall economic impact of blues in general as an industry.

For several weeks, a joint security task force combining top officials with Homeland Security, the Clarksdale Police Department, Fire Department, Coahoma County Sheriff’s Department, Wood Security, Emergency Management, Pafford, and Northwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center has been organizing for a safe weekend.

To eliminate downtown gridlock and parking problems, a system of public transportation is being organized with trolleys and buses picking up and returning visitors to large parking lots bordering Clarksdale including Crumpton Field, the Expo Center, the Desoto Avenue side of Nosef Park, and old Walmart. Schedules and pick-up locations will be posted on the Sunflower website:

Charlie Musselwhite playing in Jackson’s Old Capitol during  the 2000 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts when he was honored with Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bobby Rush with dancer at earlier Sunflower

With more than 800,000 viewers, the profile of Vickie Winans on BET’s Sunday morning television series, ‘Lift Every Voice,’ is one of the most-watched episodes in the program’s history.