Words: Robin Zimmerman | Photos: Michael Lepek
A large Chicago contingent descended on Clarksdale, Mississippi for the 15th Annual Juke Joint Festival. But, long-anticipated balmy weather was not to be. Heavy overnight rains descended on the Delta on Friday into Saturday, ushering in cold, windy temperatures.
Worse yet, much of Clarksdale was without power on the day of the festival.
But, festival organizers, as well as the featured artists, rose to the occasion in a big way.
Before the Great Migration, Clarksdale was the home of acoustic blues, so the loss of power marked a return to the genre’s roots.
One of the finest performances in recent Juke Joint memory was Kenny Brown’s captivating set at the Quapaw Canoe Company stage. Brown’s North Mississippi blues credentials speak for themselves as R.L Burnside claimed him as an “adopted son.”
Brown blew through 5 solar powered generators during his afternoon set!
Maybe there’s something in the water at the nearby Sunflower River that inspires musicians to play their heart out whether it’s outside Cat Head Record Store or at a house party inside an old cotton bin.
Such was the case on Friday afternoon when another legendary Delta performer, Little Joe Ayers, performed inside a reconstructed cotton bin on the grounds of Clarksdale’s Shack Up Inn.
Ayers was joined by a revolving supporting cast that ranged from Joyce “She Wolf” Jones and local guitarist, Libby Rae Watson… all obviously thrilled to sit in with this Mississippi icon.
Many of the Juke Joint faithful filed into to the New Roxy Theatre on Friday night for the kick-off performance featuring “Super Chikan” Johnson and Big George Brock and the New House Rockers.
Here, they played to an appreciative crowd in a truly unique venue.
As the driving force behind the festival, it was fitting that Cat Head founder Roger Stolle was a featured guest for the recording of the Thacker Mountain Radio Show, which was broadcast over the weekend. The team is working on archiving the broadcast at Thacker Mountain Radio (fingers crossed!).
The former boxer, Brock, punched his ticket as the hardest working man at the Juke Joint Festival. In addition to the New Roxy set, he played at Hambone Art Gallery, Hopson Commissary and the mini-blues festival at Cathead on Sunday.
All his energetic shows belied the fact that he is over 80 years old.
Lightnin’ Malcolm is another perennial pick at the Juke Joint Fest. His Saturday night performance inside the Juke Joint Chapel at the Shack Up Inn featured straight-up Delta blues with a show that went well into the wee hours.
But more than a few bleary-eyed stragglers made it over to Cathead Records on Sunday morning. This mini blues festival is always a Juke Joint highlight.
Despite bone-chilling winds and unseasonably cold temperatures, the crowd warmed up to a roster that included Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band, Big George Brock and the House Rockers with Clarine Wagner, Sean Bad Apple, “Super Chikan,” Lightnin’ Malcom and more.