Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival

Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival

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Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival

On the first weekend of August every year, tourists and locals alike gather for the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, one of the longest-running festivals in Mississippi. Dozens of musicians gather on the banks of the Sunflower River for three days of music, dancing, food, and fellowship. The following images were taken on Saturday, August 8, 2009 by Mary Margaret Miller.

A display of sunflower-themed artwork made by festival-goers
A display of sunflower-themed artwork made by festival-goers
Cadallad John Nolden and Bill Abel on the acoustic stage
Cadallad John Nolden and Bill Abel on the acoustic stage
A watercolor station was open for festival-goers to relax and create
A watercolor station was open for festival-goers to relax and create

The festival's acoustic stage is located at Third and Sunflower Streets nextdoor to Quapaw Canoe Company literally on the banks of the Sunflower River. This is a favorite stage of festival-goers not only because of the traditional acoustic blues music but also because of the ample shade in the courtyard setting. John Ruskey, proprietor of Quapaw Canoe Comapny, provides watercolor paints and paper for people to express themselves as they listen to the music. After the paintings dry, they are hung on the acoustic stage as inspiration. The duo of Bill Abel and Cadillac John Nolden is a staple of the acoustic stage featuring Nolden on vocals and harmonica and Abel on percussion and a variety of handmade guitars.

Pat Thomas shows off the program for the festival
Pat Thomas shows off the program for the festival
Original Pat Thomas artwork displayed on the sidewalk depicting his most recognized motif, the cathead
Original Pat Thomas artwork displayed on the sidewalk depicting his most recognized motif, the cathead
Portrait of Robert Belfour outside of the Clarksdale Historic Passenger Depot
Portrait of Robert Belfour outside of the Clarksdale Historic Passenger Depot
Fans with Big Jack Johnson
Fans with Big Jack Johnson

Early morning blues can be seen at the Issaquena & Blues Alley Othar Turner Acoustic Stage located inside the Clarksdale Station. On humid summer mornings, visitors retreat into this air-conditioned venue for a three-hour session featuring seven different blues groups. Following their performances, Robert Belfour, Big Jack Johnson, and Pat Thomas greeted fans and sold CDs. Pat Thomas came armed with an arsenal of cathead drawings which he sold to the crowd.

Terry
Terry "Harmonica" Bean performs his one-man show in front of Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art, Inc. on Delta Avenue

In addition to seeking out performances on the organized stages, you will also run across impromptu performances in local businesses and on sidewalks. Cat Head Blues and Folk Art always has a rotation of musicians performing in front of the store.

Chyna, niece of Sharde Thomas and granddaughter of Otha Turner
Chyna, niece of Sharde Thomas and granddaughter of Otha Turner
Bill
Bill "Howlin' Madd" Perry
Foster
Foster "Mr. Tater" Wylie and Jimbo Mathus

The main stage on John Lee Hooker Lane at the Delta Blues Museum stays busy all day. Artists from young to old perform on this stage. Many, like young Chyna on fife, make their Clarksdale debut during this festival. Folks like Bill "Howlin' Madd" Perry, on the other hand, are resident musicians in the Delta Blues Museum apprenticeship program. Both Jimbo Mathus and the late Foster "Mr. Tater" Wylie have roots in Clarksdale, making their impromptu duet lots of fun for the locals.

All photos by Mary Margaret White.

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Resources

Links

Official website of the Sunflower Blues and Gospel Festival: http://www.sunflowerfest.org/

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Mary Margaret White

Mary Margaret White

Mary Margaret White is based in Jackson, Mississippi, and manages the Bureau for Creative Economy and Culture at Visit Mississippi. Before that, she served as the Folk and Traditional Arts Director at the Mississippi Arts Commission, where she was instrumental in bringing Mississippi Folklife back to life as a digital publication. She has an M.A. in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi.