Saturday festival celebrates blues in Miss. Delta
By The Associated Press
Blues fans from as far away as Europe are trekking to the land where the blues began this weekend to hear gritty guitar licks and soulful harmonica solos at the Delta Blues and Heritage Festival.
Singers Bobby Bland, Bobby Rush, Shirley Brown and Butch Mudbone and harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite are expected to draw about 6,000 Saturday to the Washington County Convention Center in the Mississippi River town of Greenville.
"It's just amazing the popularity of blues in other countries," Howard Boutte Jr., president and chief executive officer of the festival's sponsor, Mississippi Action for Community Education.
Founded in 1978, the Greenville event is now one of the oldest continuously operating blues festivals in the United States. The San Francisco Blues Festival, founded in 1973, holds the longevity title.
Greg Johnson, curator of the blues archives at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, said the top-name blues artists have performed in Greenville over the years. Past performers include blues luminaries such as B.B. King, Sam Chatmon, Son Thomas, Willie Foster, Ruby Wilson, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Denise LaSalle.
"The festival is really celebrating one of the great cultural exports of Mississippi, which is the blues," Johnson said Friday.
Mudbone, who lives in Memphis, Tenn., has played at the Greenville festival at least five times. He said there's nothing like performing blues music in the region where the genre was born from hardship and slavery.
"Blues music, it's like smiling through the suffering or celebrating the suffering of life even though it's hard," Mudbone said this week. "Everybody goes through hard times, and the music, it's medicine."
Boutte said artists will perform on three stages: one for the headliners, one for gospel and a "juke stage" for impromptu jam sessions.
"To be frank with you, a lot of folks spend their entire day at the juke stage," Boutte said.
Mudbone, who has performed at music festivals across the U.S., Canada and Europe for decades, said he most enjoys performing in the South. He has played the New Orleans Jazz Fest
more than 25 years.
Mudbone said Delta blues fest-goers can expect to hear a mix of his band's music — with Mudbone on guitar, harmonica and vocals — and hits by blues greats such as B.B. King and Freddie King.
"You can't go to a blues festival in the Delta and not play some B.B. King," he said. "That would be like going to New Orleans and not playing some Neville Brothers or Louis Armstrong. People would look at you like you don't know what you're doing."
Mudbone, who used to live in New Orleans and has performed with Deacon John, Charles Neville and others, said he will be performing a handful of songs from his most recent album, "End Of The Trail." But mostly, he said, he'll be keeping his performance traditional.
"You can't go wrong with traditional blues," he said.
MACE launched the festival to use the Delta's own blues power to help stimulate social and economic development in the perpetually poor region. The first few festivals were held at Freedom Village, a rural community that had a population of fewer than 100 people. While the festival has grown, it is still considered by its organizers a community event.