Sunflower Fest promises to be ‘best ever’
Lineup packed with multiple headliner-caliber musicians
CLARKSDALE – “This is going to be the best festival we’ve ever had,” promises John Sherman, co-chairman of the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival.
“To celebrate our 20th aniversary, we have packed the lineup with outstanding musicians who could be multiple headliners,” continues the Clarksdale attorney. “The Friday and Saturday performances (Aug. 10-11) start earlier and continue an hour later.”
Sherman reports also that the festival VIP corps has “exploded,” and a much larger VIP tent will be erected this year.
Concurring with Sherman’s positive expectations is fellow co-chairman Melville Tillis, retired educator who serves as chairman of the Clarksdale Public Utilities Commission.
Tillis, who once performed with Ike Turner’s hometown band, and the late Julius Guy co-founded the gospel festival that takes place Sunday evening.
Among the headliner/caliber entertainers booked for Friday night alone are Jimbo Mathus, Lonnie Shields, Vicki Baker, David Brinston, and Bobby Rush.
Both Rush and Shields are former Sunflower headliners.
Starring Saturday night are Norwegian Grammy winner Rita Engedalen and the Spoonful of Blues Band from the International Notodden Festival in Norway; James Super Chikan Johnson, Jimmy Burns, and Denise LaSalle
Burns, a native of Dublin who carved an international blues career from his home in Chicago, will be making his first appearance at the Sunflower.
Johnson, who frequently serves as Mississippi’s blues ambassador abroad, will be stepping on stage following scant hours at home after touring France and Norway.
Denise LaSalle, a veteran recording artist who owns the “Queen of Soul” title, will be making her second Sunflower headliner appearance.
Other popular area musicians performing include the Delta Blues Museum students, the Eddie Lee Coleman Band, the Wesley Jefferson Southern Soul Band, Howlin’ Madd Bill Perry, the Booker Blues Band, Cedric Burnside, and Big T and the Family.
Serving again as MC for the main stage will be former Clarksdale resident and popular WDIA radio personality Steve Ladd.
For the 20th consecutive year, the Rising Star Drum and Fife Band founded by the late Othar Turner, will be leading a procession from the Saturday morning acoustic stage inside the Depot Blues Club (Clarksdale Station) to the main stage.
Leading the group will be Othar Turner’s granddaughter, Shardee. Other acoustic favorites performing there earlier include Tater Foster Wylie, Pat Thomas, Eddie Cusic, Big T and Arthneice “Gas Man” Jones, and Robert Belfour.
To take advantage of shade trees, the second acoustic stage has been moved to the Riverwalk Park on Sunflower at the foot of Third Street. Its former location was between Delta and Sunflower Avenue where shade trees have been cut to clear utility lines.
Performing will be Lightning Malcolm, Cadillac John and Bill Abel, Jimmy Duck Holmes, T-Model Ford, and Kenny Brown.
Sunday’s gospel festival opens at 5 p.m. on the main stage with the amazing Billy Rivers and the Angelic Voices of Faith closing the show at 8:45 p.m.
Three free educational programs are being featured during the festival. At 2 p.m. Friday at the Delta Blues Museum, bluesman Jimmy Burns will talk about his growing-up days in Dublin and his career in Chicago.
At 2 p.m. Saturday at Ground Zero Blues Club, the five Norwegian musicians from Notodden including Grammy winner Rita Engedalen will air their thoughts about the global appeal of blues, connections between Mississippi and Scandinavia.
At 4 p.m. Sunday at the Delta Blues Museum, the Myles Family will trace gospel music traditions passed along in families, and the gospel evolution from spirituals to contemporary.
Following the main stage finales, late-night blues will continue in Clarksdale’s clubs and juke joints. From the main stage MC Steve Ladd will announce who is playing where.
Produced entirely by volunteers, the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival remains free and is funded by grants and donations from businesses and individuals.
All donations are used to pay performers and production costs. The non-profit organization will be selling posters, t-shirts, caps, huggies, bumper stickers, and beverages to cover expenses.
“We are grateful to our sponsors, volunteers, and partner organizations for keeping the festival free,” echo Sherman and Tillis. “Mississippi Delta blues was born and raised here, and we believe it should be accessible to everyone.”