The headliners of this huge free festival come out at night. By then, I need a respite from seven hours of mostly standing and listening to the daytime blues performers; and, I want to be fresh tomorrow for more of the same. In Chicago the nights have been cool and still cooler at the Fest with the off-the-lake effect created by breezy conditions. Today, the day hours were beautiful and sunny; the breeze was welcomed by the daytime festival-goers. Starting at 11AM, I got in seven hours of live music and conversation–a solid day’s work. The day began with the Mississippi Blues Trail panel at a table on the Mississippi Juke Joint stage—one of five stages at the Festival.
A Panel Presentation Jim, Allison, and Scott made up the panel—a researcher/author, tourism and development manager, and educator/author, respectively. Both Jim and Scott have made significant contributions to Living Blues magazine; Allison has radio experience. Scott served as leader. Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and others have made funds relatively easy to acquire in order to commence the Trail marker project and keep it going. Starting out with 3 markers in 2005/2006 and quickly expanding to 10, the number of historical markers is now over 200 per one estimate. The first three were in the towns of Holly Ridge, Greenville, and Greenwood, MS. There are approximately 50 in the Delta region in northwest Mississippi and 9 in Clarksdale, MS, the birthplace and home to many blues musicians. Markers have expanded beyond the Delta to Arkansas, Chicago, Florida, Maine, and Norway to commemorate some relevant historical Blues aspect.
Allison cited three “standpoints” to explain the Blues Trail success: an economic perspective has been advanced given the embracing of tourism by the State in the 1990s; secondly, the Blues defines the cultural heritage of the State; and third, there has been increased interest in preserving the Blues culture for future generations.
After one hour of presentation, discussion, and audience questioning, this panel was applauded for their work and the musicians took over the Mississippi Juke Joint stage. Here are reviews of a few acts:
Terry “Harmonica” Bean. A solo performer from Pontotoc, Mississippi, excelling with electric guitar and harmonica playing. He has “no blues band” and began his set with a version of “I’m a Man”, a song that has had parts credited to Bo Diddley, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters. Next was “Sweet Home Chicago”, a tune played by at least one other performer today. Harmonica enjoyed talking to his audience.
“Everyone havin’ a good time? I’m Harmonica Bean, ladies and gentlemen.”
“You all doing alright?”
Some of his song lyrics you may have heard:
I don’t want you to be true,
I just want to make love to you, love to you.
And, from a John Lee Hooker song,
I’m in the mood; I’m in the mood for love.
One of his songs speaks of a snake in the lake and a frog on a log having a dialog. Folk music. A nice size crowd was listening, but he reminded us of why we were here when he uttered this remark:
“Everyone seems to be home with their wives today. I got me one too, but she’s on to someone else, but I’m going to get her back.” A tribute to the blues; and, these song lyrics followed:
Baby, what you want the man to do. You got me where you want me.
In concluding his set, Harmonica expressed what he is all about:
“Playing the blues by myself…harmonica…on the back porch.”
Lightnin’ Malcolm A second rather solitary blues musician from Mississippi hill country; sometimes he has a trio, but today it is only Lightnin’ and a drummer. Lightnin’ acknowledged his drummer often—I believe has name is Marvin; just the two of them really working hard and getting a great response. His fingers were just flying over both the bass and lead high registers. Lightnin’ could work solo in a joint and get everyone dancing; he is a very skilled and experienced musician, having begun touring in his teens.
At one point he spoke of the t-shirt he was wearing— blue with a white image of Willie Dixon displayed; a gift from the widow of Dixon. It appeared to be topped by a gold necklace medallion in the shape of an “M”; a proud statement of State loyalty one would think. He said he had to be in Gulfport, MS, Saturday night, but he played a full set plus extra time today.
John Primer and the Real Deal Blues Band. John Primer is a Muddy Waters protégé who played extensively throughout the South Side of Chicago in places like Theresa’s Lounge and the Checkerboard Lounge. Late in Waters’ career Primer served as the band leader. One would expect a healthy serving of Waters’ tunes and he served them up to a very receptive crowd in the late afternoon sun. Today he was accompanied by three musicians—a soloing and accompanying harmonica player, bass player, and drummer. Primer plays lead guitar and slide guitar.
Other musicians to perform on the daytime bill of the Mississippi Juke Joint stage included Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry and the Kenny “Beedyeyes” Smith blues jam. The headliners of the Festival on the big Petrillo Stage this Friday night included Ernest “Guitar” Roy, Irma Thomas, and Bobby Rush and his Blues Band.