The Seventh Annual Oxford Blues Festival will be held this weekend in Oxford on Friday and Saturday, July 15 and 16, at the lovely new modern/bohemian watering hole mash up Shelter on Van Buren and, for the first time ever, the Main Stage for this event will be on the porch of the beautiful and historic Walton-Young House on the University of Mississippi campus.
According to this years’ official Press Release, the mission of the Oxford Blues Festival, “…is to preserve, protect and promote blues music and culture. The festival offers education, community events and workshops throughout the year, culminating with the production of an outdoor festival uniting our diverse citizenry in a celebration of American blues-based music.” This year’s lineup and locations surely do honor the mission of the festival!
From Tullie Brae and her multi-instrumental, “Dr. John if he was a beautiful blonde-haired woman who played more than just the piano” style of power blues; to the gospel/blues fusion sound of the Mississippi Travelling Stars, to the purist and deeply authentic fingerpicking and Piedmont Blues sound of Jontavious Willis, to the Mississippi Blues Man himself, Leo “Bud” Welch—this festival has something for everyone.
Leo “Bud” Welch is one of several great headliners at the festival this year. Welch is a latecomer to the blues music scene, being a gospel singer most of his life. In 2014, Welch released the album Sabougla Voices, Welch’s first EVER album to record, at the age of 82. This collection of gospel songs Welch has written throughout his life led to the creation of the 2015 release I Don’t Prefer No Blues, an album from the Big Legal Mess label. So it was that Welch released his first-ever blues album at the age of 83, and he is still going strong. Oxford’s own Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers, Tri-State Coalition) appears on guitar alongside Welch on this album; and, if we are lucky, he will show up to sit in for a few songs with Welch on the stage in the Grove come Saturday night. Here is one of Welch’s songs from I Don’t Prefer No Blues called “Girl In The Holler”:
From his bio on the Oxford Blues Festival Website:
“Bud” Welch Sr. was born in Sabougla, Mississippi in 1932. Bud picked up a guitar for the first time in 1945. Bud and a cousin would sneak and play the guitar while the actual owner of the guitar (Bud’s older cousin R.C. Welch) was away working. As he became confident in his ability to play guitar, Bud was caught red handed by the owner of the guitar, playing the forbidden to touch instrument. Bud’s older cousin was so impressed with his playing that he gave Bud free reign to continue playing the guitar.
By 1947 at age 15, Bud could play well enough to perform publically and garnered the blessing of many elder guitar players. Bud was offered an audition by BB King but could not afford the trip to Memphis. Bud played the Blues continuously until 1975, at that time he converted to playing mostly Gospel, with the Sabougla Voices, which consisted of his sister and a sister-in-law. Bud also played with the Skuna Valley Male Chorus. Bud earned his living by carrying a chain saw up and down the hills and hollows of North Mississippi, logging for 35 years. Leo does not believe that Blues is the devil’s music but a way of expressing the highs and lows of one’s life through song. Bud had played his guitar for close family and friends for over 65 years and remained under the radar, undetected by the vast majority of Blues Aficionados, until April 19, 2013 after being secretly recorded performing at the 50th birthday of his now manger . Leo “Bud” Welch has taken the listening musical world by storm. Leo’s debut album “Sabougla Voices” was released January 7, 2014 just two months before his 82nd birthday and his sophomore album “I Don’t Prefer No Blues” was released on March 24, 2015 just two days after his 83rd birthday.
Jontavious Willis is an up-and-coming blues artist of the modern day that has such accolades as his hero, blues legend Taj Mahal, This is what Taj Mahal himself had to say to Living Blues magazine about Jontavious and his amazing talent:
“Jontavious Willis. That’s my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind. He’s a great new voice of the 21st Century in the acoustic blues. I just love the way he plays. He has really just delightful timing and a real voice for the music because he was raised in the tradition and the culture. It’s just wonderful to hear him sing. The way he tunes his guitar is just amazing. There’s not a bluesman alive that could pick his instrument up and play it. You’d have to sit there for a good while to figure those tunings out…I’m very, very particular and very private about my stage so – …[if I am] giving [him] the full run to go, you know that they must be able do whatever it is that they say they can do, and I say that he can do it and more… [W]e are all lucky to be at this point when this man is starting to launch is going to be an incredible and long career.”
Watch the video below to hear Willis do a wonderful rendition of “Frankie and Johnny,” an American folk traditional that has its roots in truth, yet no one can say for sure exactly which truth applies to the actual song, or which version of the song was first composed, or by whom, or exactly which murder situation involving a woman called “Frankie” and her lover who “done her wrong” named “Johnny.” Regardless of the origins, Jontavious Willis flexes his blues muscles here in a big way.
Kern Pratt is a Mississippi native who has played with such greats as Willie Foster, Mamie “Galore” Davis, Lil’ Bill Wallace, Mississippi Slim, Hubert Sumlin, Lil’ Dave Thompson, James “T-Model” Ford, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, Percy Sledge, Eden Brent, Steve Azar, and Bud Cockrell, lead vocalist for Pablo Cruise. These musicians were a great influence on his musical career. He opened shows for artists of the likes of BB King, Bo Diddley, Johnny Winter, Delbert McClinton, Bobby Rush, Gregg Alman, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Deborah Coleman, Elvin Bishop, Rick Nelson, Kenny Neal, Dr. John, Muddy Waters All Star Band, Eddie Money & the late Bobby “Blue” Bland.
Pratt’s first solo album Broken Chains (2015) has been met with much critical acclaim, and because of Pratt’s hardworking and driven attitude, he has gained the reputation as “one of the most authentic & hardworking musicians in the South.”
The Doc Prana Trio is back again this year, consisting of an all-star lineup of a virtual “who’s who” in the Oxford blues and jazz scene.
Bill Perry, piano/organ aficionado and son to the great Bill “Howlin’ Madd” Perry, is on the keys; Tim Burkhead, son of University of Mississippi Percussion Department Head and also local music favorite Rickey Burkhead, is on the drums; and Keith Fondren, originally of Batesville, also known as “Doc Prana,” plays the bass.
As you see here in this beautiful image of one of Fondren’s original paintings, he is a multi-talented artist whose talents rise far and above the great music talent he and his co-musicians possess.
Here is a video of an original jazzy/bluesy jam they improvised last year at the OBF at the Amphitheater in the Grove by the Doc Prana Trio. This is great stuff, folks. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us this year.
Born in Como, Mississippi in 1955 and living in the area all his life, R.L. Boyce was inspired by his neighbors, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, as well as the albums of John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf, R.L. Boyce started out as a drummer in the fife-and-drum bands of Othar “Otha” Turner and Napolian Strickland. He later played drums on Jessie Mae Hemphill’s classic album Feelin’ Good. Boyce has become known over the years for his performances which have a “considerable degree of enthusiasm and spontaneity,” keeping close to form of the traditional North Mississippi Hill Country Blues, which is identified with a more heavy electric guitar and a more sophisticated and prevalent drumming style than the Delta blues, as well as a “call and response” method of singing that is almost mantra-like in its operation, finding its roots in the call and response style of singing gospel songs in Southern churches.
Mississippi Traveling Stars will be bringing the true gospel sound to the Oxford Blues Festival, and The Zediker Brothers will be bringing the blues/rock fusion that is all their own. Matthew and Charlie Zediker, a drum-guitar duo from Water Valley, Mississippi, join up with Tony Balzola on bass to bring to the OBF their own unique take on the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues. A part of the younger generation now being handed the torch from the older legends of the craft, it is exciting to see these young people staying here in Mississippi and adding their own unique brand of psychedelic “space rock” to the genre of the North Mississippi Hill Country style of blues.
The Blues Doctors include Adam Gussow and Alan Gross of Oxford, Mississippi. This is a two-man band with a full-on sound. Their style of blues is a “…mix of down-home Delta standards and urban grooves from the Texas-to-Chicago axis with some New Orleans funk thrown in.” With Gussow on harmonica and drumset, Gross on guitar, and both men sharing vocal duties; this duo has released four albums to date with one of these being nominated for a W. C. Handy award (Harlem Blues/1991).
The Mosley & Johnson Band is another headliner who is Mississippi Blues through and through. Coming from a long and honorable tradition of bluesmen (see this link for the whole story of the Mosley and Johnson Blues Marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail). Here is a video of their 2012 production of their original song “Juke Joint” from their album The Whole World Has Still Got The Blues:
This year’s General Admission tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the gate. VIP tickets are $75 in advance and $85 at the gate. Tickets are available for sale now, and can be purchased online on the festival website here. You may bring a cooler, but there is a $5.00 fee, and there is NO GLASS ALLOWED inside the venue.
“For the full schedule of music, art exhibits and food vendors, please visit the OBF’s official website here.” and please embed the following link here: http://oxfordbluesfest.com.
For “places to stay,” “places to eat,” “what to do” and “about Oxford,” visit the “Visit Oxford” website here.
For special requests (such as handicap accommodations and other special considerations), please send a message to Darryl Parker, founder of the Oxford Blues Festival, at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information, please visit the festival’s official website here.
Suanne Strider is a writer, editor, photographer, promoter and paralegal from Tallahatchie County, in the Mississippi Delta. She also serves as a booking agent and philanthropist. Suanne lives in Oxford and has three beautiful children–daughter Mimi (the oldest); and Drake and Jess, who are twins (Drake being older by one minute). She may be contacted at email@example.com.