(Helena, AR) – The 29th annual King Biscuit Blues Festival kicks off on Wednesday October 8 from 6-10 pm with the (free) Michael Burks Memorial Jam, paying tribute to the Arkansas guitarist who died all too young just a couple years ago.
The festival starts in full force on Thursday already at 9 a.m., and at 11:30 am features Mr. Sipp, whose slot at King Biscuit was one of his prizes for winning the International Blues Challenge last year. He’s followed by artists including Sun rockabilly veteran Sonny Burgess, Chicago-based blues harmonica master Billy Branch, the dynamic Guitar Shorty from Los Angeles, and finishing things off, Roy Rogers with special guest Sonny Landreth.
At 5 pm don’t miss the unveiling of a new Mississippi Blues Trail marker for Sonny Boy Williamson II, who fronted the King Biscuit Entertainers on the King Biscuit Time radio program over Helena’s KFFA beginning in 1941. The unveiling takes place at 324 Phillips Street, just off Cherry Street near the KBBF headquarters. The King Biscuit Time radio program continues today, broadcast daily around noon at the Delta Cultural Center and hosted by 88-year-old Sunshine Sonny Payne, who has over 10,000 shows under his belt. Drop by and you might end up on the show!
The lineup Friday features traditional blues from octogenarian L.C. Ulmer, Jackson’s Louis “Gearshifter” Youngblood, Richard “Rip Lee” Pryor (son of harmonica legend Snooky Pryor). Later on in the day are festival favorites including Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, Bobby Rush, Paul Thorn and Delbert McClinton.
On Saturday there’s no less than six stages featuring over three dozen acts. Featured artists include the band of drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, the son of Helena-born Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, longtime drummer for Muddy Waters, Nashville R&B veteran Nick Nixon with Andy T, former King Biscuit Time performer and legendary harmonica player James Cotton, California-based slide guitar master Sonny Rhodes, Austin blues veteran W.C. Clark, and Jimmy Vivino and the Black Italians, featuring the wonderful vocalist Catherine Russell.
Many fans head straight to the main stage, with seating on the grass-covered levee, but it’s well worth exploring the other stages. Notably, the Delta Cultural Center is presenting the Front Porch Blues Bash at its Miller Annex at 223 Cherry Street on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The strong lineup including Linsey Alexander, who has a new CD out on Delmark, Demetria Taylor (daughter of blues guitar great Eddie Taylor), blues prodigy Marquis Knox from St. Louis, veteran Chicago session man and Willie Dixon collaborator Cash McCall, Big George Brock from St. Louis, and Junior Kimbrough’s son David Kimbrough.
On Saturday is the 4th annual “Call and Response: The Blues Symposium,” which features performers from the festival as well as blues journalists and takes place at the Malco Theater on Cherry Street. The event is free to the public.