(CLARKSDALE, MS) – When the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival celebrates its 31st anniversary in downtown Clarksdale August 9-12, booking chairman Maie Smith suggests all 180 musicians performing on 8 stages should claim headliner status.
“Our 2018 festival is a showcase of the amazing hometown talent in our area; some – like O.B. Buchana, “Super Chikan” Johnson, and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram are more well-known than others, but all are extraordinary, she continued.
The festival is being dedicated to the late C. V. Veal, longtime festival emcee, and the late Josh “Razorblade” Stewart, a festival favorite for 15 years.
Since 1988 when Living Blues co-founder Jim O’Neal and Patty Johnson organized the first festival on the banks of the Sunflower River, all musicians needed to be Mississippians or claim a close connection, says Melvita Tillis Presley.
“This is appropriate for the hometown of Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, John Lee Hooker, and Ike Turner,” adds Presley whose father played trumpet with Ike Turner and mentored Buchana in his River Mount Lounge.
Presley and Smith agree this background probably contributes to the festival’s Blues Trail Marker award and its label by USA Weekend as one of America’s Top 10 Places to hear authentic music.
Another requirement in the Sunflower’s mission statement: it must remain free and accessible to all. Presley explains fund-raising, grant writing, a VIP tent are a year-long process for Sunflower member/volunteers. They meet each month at the Delta Blues Museum and more often approaching the festival dates.
The festival’s VIP tent adjacent to the Main Stage rewards sponsors and patrons with special seating, invitation to a “Grits, Greens, and Barbecue” Thursday night supper and acoustic music featuring Gramm Phillips, Richard “Daddy Rich” Crisman, and Marshall Drew.
Main Stage music Friday, Aug. 10. opens at 6 p.m. Friday with the Delta Blues Museum Student Band followed by Heather Crosse: Heavy Suga and Sweet Tones, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, James “Super Chikan” Johnson, and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.
On Saturday six acoustic stages will open in air-conditioned clubs and restaurants: Pat Thomas, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Lucious Spiller and Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star & Fife Drum Band at Ground Zero at 12 noon; Deak Harp & Lee Williams, Kenny Brown, and Terry “Harmonica” Bean at Levon Bar and Grill on Sunflower at 2 p.m.
At 2 p.m. Sadie Lamp, Watermelon Slim, and Bill “Howlin’ Madd” Perry will perform at the Crossroads Cultural Arts Center, 332 Delta Ave.; Mississippi Marshall, Little Willie Farmer, and Sean “Bad” Apple will open at 3 p.m. at Hattie Jean’s on the corner of Third and Delta, and Hambone Gallery on East Second will feature Stan Street, Bill Abel, and Mule Man Massey at 2 p.m.
Red’s on Sunflower will present Louis “Gearshifter” Youngblood, Lightnin’ Malcolm and The Stone Gas Band starting at 3 p.m.
The Main Stage opens at 6 p.m. with David Dunavant & The EVOL LOVE Band followed by Otis “TCB” Taylor Blues Band at 7 p.m.; Terry “Big T” Williams & The Family Band at 8 p.m. The awards ceremony starts at 8:45 p.m. followed by O.B. Buchana’s finale.
The Sunflower Gospel Festival takes place in the Clarksdale Civic Auditorium at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, and its lineup will be announced on the festival website.
For updates and additional information, visit the festival website.
The Sunflower River Blues Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization; new members and volunteers are invited and encouraged to join.