Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival may only be celebrating its 12th edition, but it is already the stuff of blues legend.
“2014 was the biggest Juke Joint Festival yet, and so far, 2015 looks to top it,” festival co-organizer Roger Stolle said. “Our annual festival now attracts attendees from almost 30 foreign countries, almost 50 states and over 50 Mississippi counties. Still, the most important number here is the number of bluesmen in their 70s, 80s and even 90s who play our fest.”
This year’s from-the-old-school lineup includes Blues legends like Cedell Davis, Big George Brock, Leo “Bud” Welch, Elmo Williams, Hezekiah Early, LC Ulmer, Cadillac John Nolden, Eddie Cusic, YZ Ealey, Robert “Bilbo” Walker and others. The festival doesn’t ignore the upcoming young guns of the blues, of course — players like Clarksdale’s 20-something Omar Gordon, 30-something Anthony “Big A” Sherrod and 16-year-old internet phenom Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.
“The first acts we book are our region’s older, culturally-connected blues performers,” Stolle said. “Then, we spread out from there. There is an insane number of blues musicians in town during Juke Fest week! It’s like no other event in the world.”
This year’s main event is Saturday, April 11th – all day and late into the night – with related events kicking off Thursday and continuing through Sunday night. The official line-up of events can be found on-line at www.jukejointfestival.com. Saturday’s Juke Joint Festival itself features 100+ blues acts, 12+ daytime stages, 20+ nighttime venue stages, racing pigs, a 5K/8K run, multiple children’s activities, history bus tours, arts & crafts vendors, Southern food offerings, a student art/writing contest and much more.
Daytime activities are free thanks in large part to major sponsors like C Spire (official technology partner), Isle of Capri (rooms still available), Clarksdale/Coahoma County Tourism Commission and Miss Del’s General Store, among others.
Saturday’s nighttime music requires a wristband. Pre-sale wristbands for the festival’s 20+ Saturday-night “juke joint” venue stages are available online — $15 pre-sale. Wristbands go up to $20 on the day of the festival.
“Juke Joint Festival is half blues festival, half small-town fair and all about the Delta,” said to co-organizer Nan Hughes. “There will be tons of official and related events all weekend long for both families and music fans. You literally cannot do, see and hear everything. It’s completely overwhelming – in a good way.”
The festival weekend starts early with Thursday, April 9’s free Juke Joint Festival Kick-off at 5 p.m. featuring a festival poster signing by artist Cristen Barnard and live lobby blues by Preston Rumbaugh, followed by the annual Miss Sarah Awards.
Then, at 6:30 p.m., the free Kick-off moves onto the Delta Cinema Stage for a special Mississippi Hill Country Blues Tribute to fallen heroes Robert “Wolfman” Belfour and Martin “Big Boy” Grant — featuring Sean “Bad” Apple, Robert Kimbrough Sr., Andre Otha Turner, RL Boyce, Little Joe Ayers, Stud and more. This is followed by a performance featuring Clarksdale’s own Dancing Divas of the Delta with music by bluesman character Watermelon Slim.
Wristbands and merchandise will also be available at the kick-off event.
Then, on Friday, April 10, Clarksdale’s related events include educational activities at the Delta Blues Museum and book signings, live blues and more at other downtown businesses and entities, including the Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art and the Rock & Blues Museum. At night, Clarksdale’s blues clubs and jukes will run till the wee hours.
After Saturday’s epic day/night Juke Joint Festival, itself, a Sunday of additional related downtown events will cap off the weekend – including the annual free Cat Head Mini Blues Fest and the Second Street Blues Party. The Rock & Blues Museum and Delta Blues Museum will be open as well as several downtown restaurants and businesses. The weekend wraps up with live blues at Red’s Lounge and other venues that night.
Full music lineup, event schedule, pre-sale wristbands, parking info, sponsor list and much more available online. For more information, call (662) 624-5992 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.