The second annual Bridging the Blues (September 27 – October 13), a project created by organizations in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee to celebrate the cultural heritage of the Delta region, has expanded this year to include a third weekend. Bridging the Blues (BTB) offers music fans a packed calendar, highlighted by the venerable King Biscuit Blues Festival (Oct. 10-12) in Helena, Arkansas, and the new Mighty Mississippi Music Festival (Oct. 4-6) in Greenville, Mississippi, which incorporates the decade-old Highway 61 Blues Festival, formerly held in nearby Leland. To see the full schedule, visit Bridging the Blues’ Official Website.
“It’s a classic win/win/win situation,” says Joe David Rice, the Arkansas Tourism Director, of the tri-state effort. “Tourists don’t pay much attention to state lines—especially international visitors— and we’ve laid the groundwork for an even bigger and better celebration in the years to come.”
One of the reasons behind the creation of Bridging the Blues was to capitalize on the popularity of the three-day King Biscuit Blues Festival, now on its 28th year. Located on Helena’s Mississippi River levee and along historic Cherry Street, “the Biscuit” includes dozens of artists, topped by headliners Gregg Allman, Robert Cray, and Marcia Ball. Returning to the festival is the Call and Response Symposium (Oct. 12), featuring interviews with many performers.
The Mighty Mississippi Music Festival, started by local musicians Steve Azar and Jason Fratesi, will take place in Greenville’s Warfield Point Park, located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Headliners on the main stage include the North Mississippi Allstars and the Drive-By Truckers, while the Highway 61 Blues stage will feature traditional luminaries Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, L.C. Ulmer, and John Horton.
“I think it’s the sort of collaboration that will be successful for all partners who are interested in cultural heritage tourism,” says Malcolm White, director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division. “The Mighty Mississippi Music Festival shows an extraordinary collective spirit—creating a new festival and then combining it with an established, traditional event—that allows us to really complement what’s going on in Helena.”
According to Jon Hornyak, Senior Executive Director of The Recording Academy Memphis Chapter, “Bridging the Blues has grown to be much more than a traditional blues event. Now you’re seeing musicians celebrating the influence of blues on every genre of modern music. Visitors can expect to hear blues, country—even pop.”
“People from around the world come here and fall in love with the sacred sounds swirling around the Delta,” says Kevin Kane, president of the Memphis Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “This partnership reminds us of our mutual passion for the music, and visitors and locals alike are the benefactors.”
Events during BTB’s first weekend include the new Delta Busking Festival (Sept. 27-29) in downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi, featuring the talents of street performers, as well as the established Gateway to the Delta Festival (Sept. 28) in Charleston, Mississippi, and the Sam Chatmon Blues Festival (Sept. 28) in Hollandale, Mississippi, which will be headlined by Bobby Rush. Rush will also perform during BTB at the King Biscuit Blues Festival and Vicksburg’s Lady Luck Casino (Sept. 27).
The Bridging the Blues (BTB) calendar features multiple events between the weekends, including two concerts at the legendary juke joint Po’ Monkey’s in Merigold, Mississippi; tours and shows at Dockery Plantation outside of Cleveland, Mississippi, known as the place “where the blues began;” and a “tweet-up” at the Gateway to the Blues Visitors Center in Tunica, Mississippi. Venues across the region have added additional shows, and visitors to Clarksdale and Memphis can enjoy live entertainment every night.
“Most blues tourists to the region are going to visit Beale Street, and many artists en route to the King Biscuit Blues Festival or other festivals use the Rum Boogie Cafe as a landing pad,” says Carson Lamm, the entertainment director for the nearly thirty-year-old club. During BTB it will host special events including the Memphis Blues Society’s International Blues Competition (IBC) (Oct. 9-10) and an annual show by Bob Margolin (Oct. 11) that features guest appearances by other artists booked at “the Biscuit.”
Other weekend events include concerts arranged by the Vicksburg Blues Society at the Ameristar Casino, including the local IBC competition, outdoor arts and music festivals, concerts at Memphis’ Levitt Shell, and the “Healthy Dose of Blues” program at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center and Club Ebony in Indianola, Mississippi.
Como, Mississippi, will play host to a series of events celebrating its distinctive local blues traditions, highlighted by the unveiling of a Mississippi Blues Trail marker for Napolian Strickland (Oct. 12), while the Abbay & Leatherman Plantation near Tunica, Mississippi, the boyhood home of blues legend Robert Johnson is the site of new Delta Country Jam (Oct. 4-5), featuring Tim McGraw.
Bridging the Blues is a partnership between Mississippi Delta Tourism Association, Arkansas Delta Byways, Arkansas Parks & Tourism, the Mississippi Development Authority Division of Tourism, and the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau.