(HENDERSON, KY) – The W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival, presented by the Henderson Music Preservation Society, kicked off June 12 and will run through June 15. The festival has become one of the largest free music festivals in the nation, drawing attendees from just about every state and many countries. Headliners include Coco Montoya, Ruthie Foster, Southern Hospitality, Chicago Plays The Stones, and Chubby Carrier. There are a host of other events throughout the week as well, including a Mardi Gras-style Street Strut (Sat), lectures, dance classes and much more.
The festival is a celebration of the life and legacy of Henderson resident and “Father of the Blues,” William Christopher Handy. His dedication to preserving the blues as an art form and his body of work in spiritual music inspired the Henderson Music Preservation Society, Inc. to organize a festival that would celebrate the life and musical accomplishments of W. C. Handy.
According to legend, the Alabama born composer and his band were traveling home from the postponed Chicago World’s Fair in 1892 when they ran out of money in St. Louis. Work was scarce there, so Handy left the rest of the band and headed to Evansville, Indiana. In need of funds, Handy worked on a street paving crew and joined a local band that performed throughout the region. While the group played at a Henderson barbecue, he met Elizabeth Price, who soon became his wife.
Handy spent nearly a decade in Henderson before moving on, eventually to be recognized as an accomplished composer of the blues and spiritual music. In his autobiography Father of the Blues, Handy said: “I didn’t write any songs in Henderson, but it was there I realized that experiences I had had, things I had seen and heard could be set down in a kind of music characteristic of my race. There I learned to appreciate the music of my people…then the blues were born, because from that day on, I started thinking about putting my own experience down in that particular kind of music.”
Thurs-Sat schedule for the festival:
Thursday, June 13, Zydeco Night
4 p.m. – Ben Prestage
5:30 p.m. Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers
8 p.m. – Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band
Friday, June 14
noon – Blues4U
3 p.m. – Gough-Martin Blues Band and Tramp
5 p.m. Keesha Pratt Band
7 p.m. – Coco Montoya
9 p.m. Chicago Plays the Stones
Saturday, June 15
10 a.m. – William Branaman Street Strut Parade (leaves from Central Park).
noon – Harris James
2 p.m. – Ben Prestage
3 p.m. – Jontavious Willis
5 p.m. – Altered Five Blues Band
7 p.m. – Ruthie Foster
9 p.m. – Southern Hospitality