The streets of Clarksdale, Mississippi were filled with smiles, art, the smell of fresh BBQ, and the best blues music in the world. Visitors from almost every corner of the world made the pilgrimage to “ground zero of the blues” this year to experience make the 11th annual Juke Joint Festival the biggest it’s ever been.
“There’s no other event like Juke Joint Festival,” says Jeff Konkel, head of the acclaimed delta blues label Broke and Hungry Records. “Where else can you see so many real-deal Mississippi blues artists in one weekend? And when you factor in the amazing venues, the incredible food, and the thousands of blues-obsessed fans… well,” he chuckles, “it’s almost more fun than the law allows.”
On Saturday night, every joint downtown was rockin, with IBC 2nd place-winner Lucious Spiller touching the hearts of crowds at Red’s Lounge, the world-famed juke on Sunflower Ave. At Ground Zero Blues Club, Scott Coopwood and Derek St Holmes, the blues-loving rocker well known for his longstanding stint as guitarist and vocalist in Ted Nugent, brought the crowd’s roar to supersonic levels with their own overdriven brand of blues. People screamed and danced, packed shoulder-to-shoulder.
Hundreds of people, largely younger audiences, milled about inside the New Roxy, where the atmosphere had sparks of electricity as they waited with avid anticipation for Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. One of the most powerful performances, Big Damn Band has a well-earned Juke Joint Fest crown from their years-long stint with the event. As the Roxy brimmed to the top of it’s more than 600-person capacity, Peyton explodes from the a curtain beside the stage, dancing and flexing his muscle while the packed audience erupts, dancing and screaming for the blues hero. Breezy slams her trademark washboard, Ben beats on drums and buckets, and Peyton finds a powerful one-chord groove, running to the front of the stage as if he’s about to dive into it.
“As some of you know”, Peyton hollers, “it’s my birthday!” The crowd screams in elation as the good Reverend laments that there’s nowhere he’d rather spend it than here.
It’s a sentiment that many of the festival-goers share. Music fans from France and Belgium, Australia and California and most places in between traveled to the delta in record numbers to experience the art of Cathead and Hambone, the delta blues of greats like Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Pat Thomas, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, the instruments of Bluestown Music, the history in the Delta Blues Museum, and the brother/sisterhood and shared love of delta blues in it’s home.
Festival fan Luc Borms traveled from Belgium to experience the event. “Beautiful weather, more than 100 blues gigs, a chance to meet the ‘real deal’, the old masters, see old friends again, play music and experience the magic of the place where it all began. Well, sure,” he smiles, “I almost forgot the beer!”
“This year’s Juke Joint Festival was our biggest and most successful yet with 13 daytime stages, 21 nighttime venues and over 100 blues acts,” says festival coordinator and Cathead Delta Blues and Folk Art Gallery owner Roger Stolle. “We attracted visitors from all around the world – from Israel to Yugoslavia – and most of the U.S. states.”
For those who haven’t experienced the magic and wonder of Juke Joint Festival, the city-wide party down in the delta should be on every music fan’s bucket list. “We hope blues fans will put the weekend of April 11, 2015, on their calendars now for next year’s Juke Joint Festival & Related Events,” says Stolle.