Oxford Blues Festival Invites All To Celebrate Blues Culture And History

Original watercolor created especially for this year’s Oxford Blues Festival by artist Thomas Grosskopf. Note that the perspective is that of standing on the Grove stage, looking out to an audience of festival-goers enjoying the music in lawn chairs and from their tailgates.

The 8th Annual Oxford Blues Festival begins next Friday, July 14, for an entire weekend filled with blues music, food, and fun for all ages.  To celebrate its eighth year, organizer Darryl Parker has made the signature Saturday event in the Grove free for everyone, and the blues talent on hand will worth breaking out the lawn chairs.

Headlined by Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, Saturday’s free event will take place on the Grove stage from 1:15 p.m. – 8:45 p.m. Watkins is 78-years old and has worked alongside blues legends like James Brown, B.B. King and Ray Charles throughout her iconic career. Rounding out Saturday’s lineup will be The Cedric Burnside Project, RL Boyce, The King Bees, Hill Country Stomp, and Seven Mile Mushroom. (Note: the Nutt Auditorium is the backup location in the event of rain.)

If you want to learn a little about the blues before listening to the acts in the Grove, at 11 a.m., the Ole Miss Blues Archives at the J.D. Williams Library is hosing a free “Blues Panel Discussion,” which will feature Beverly “Guitar” Williams.

Since the Grove will play host to the afternoon/evening event, normal football tailgating rules apply, so don’t forget to bring your tents, chairs, food, and drinks (as long as you remember to bring a cup to put them in). Festival creator Daryl Parker set out to create an environment that is welcoming to festival-goers of all ages.

“This is the University of Mississippi; you can bet we’re going to keep this thing dignified,” Parker said. “I want my grandmother, my preacher, kids and college students to come. You can have ice tea in your cup and not have to know that the person next to you may have something else in theirs.”

For Parker, another factor in welcoming all ages is setting the music lineup between 1:15 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. That leaves plenty of time for families to get home, or, those who want to continue their Saturday night party can head to the Square or other venues across town.

“I want the community to come together, get to listen to free, authentic blues music all-day-long without having to wait until ten at night. Just because I’m 47 doesn’t mean I don’t want to listen to good music, I just don’t want to wait until late at night to hear it,” Parker said.

While Saturday’s event is free of charge, Parker said they will be accepting donations to offset costs. Donations will be put right back into the festival to help “keep it alive.”

While the festival has typically been a one-day affair, this year Parker wanted to give people a chance to plan a whole weekend around the festival if they wish. This year’s festival will begin with a night of blues at Tallahatchie Gourmet (under Neilson’s) on the Oxford Square, with live performances Ben Wiley Payton and The Great Effie Burt.

Blues music and food are an age-old combination and one that will be emphasized at Tallahatchie Gourmet on Friday night. The menu will reflect the ties between the two with a “blues food dinner” menu featuring fried chicken, mashed potatoes, turnip greens, purple hull peas, corn bread and banana pudding. Entry to Friday’s event will be $10 per person. For an extra $10 you’ll receive a poster autographed by the performing artists.

“There are over 300 Blues songs that reference food; there are songs about catfish, collard greens and all of that good stuff,” Parker said. “I’m all about the food, so I’m excited for the menu that Tallahatchie Gourmet is putting together for Friday Night.”

The festival will conclude Sunday morning with a Gospel Brunch located on the patio at Mesquite Chop House beginning at 11 a.m. and ending at 1:00 p.m. Live music will be performed by A Family Affair Gospel Singers. Entry to the event is free; food and drinks are not included but can be ordered from the restaurant menu.

The University is the perfect place for the celebration of Blues culture, as the UM Library is home to one of the nation’s largest blues archives with over 60,000 sound recordings, in most audio formats; over 20,000 photographs; more than 1,000 videos; over 34,000 books, periodicals and newsletters; and numerous manuscripts and ephemera.

A Bit of History

When it comes to blues music, Parker wasn’t always an avid listener, but after moving away from Mississippi, he learned from afar. After accruing an extensive amount of blues knowledge, “I returned to Oxford to start the festival. After fundraising efforts, and extensive planning, the festival began to come together.

“Living in Chicago, there are a lot of festivals up there, and I just love festivals,” Parker explained. “We have Double Decker, but you had to wait a whole year for it to come back around. I went to businesses, the city and picked the brains of some friends and decided to start this. It’s evolved over the past seven years, and we hope that more and more people come out to learn and celebrate the rich blues culture and its history.”

It wouldn’t be an Oxford music festival without impressive artwork accompanying it. Thomas Grosskopf painted the original watercolor piece (featured above) used on the poster and in other promotion of the event.

“We wanted a vision of what it would look like from the Grove stage looking out into the crowd, and it couldn’t have come out any better,” Parker said.

Parker mentioned that he could not put this festival together, especially with free admission on Saturday, without the help of the following generous sponsors: UM Division of Outreach, Winchester, UM Blues Archives, Mesquite Chop House, Moore Brothers Auto Sales, Old Venice Pizza, Community Church, Tallahatchie Gourmet, Johnson’s Furniture, Renasant Bank, Angel Taxi, UM Music Department and Office Depot.

So come out and celebrate the 8th Annual Oxford Blues Festival from July 14-16. Parker wants to share the message of blues music with the Oxford community, and he knows that if people listen, they’ll be hooked just like he is.

“It (blues music) makes me feel good. It’s got great stories, and great hooks if you really listen,” Parker said. “’The truth is in the music. It may be very simple but the way they put it and say it makes you say ‘that’s the truth.’”


Steven Gagliano is the managing editor of HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at steven.gagliano@hottytoddy.com

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