One of the key events of the first weekend of Bridging the Blues is the annual Sam Chatmon Blues Festival in Hollandale, Mississippi. Chatmon (circa 1899-1983) was a longtime resident of Hollandale, located in the south Delta though he was raised in Bolton, which is between Jackson and Vicksburg. In the '20s and '30s he was a member of the Mississippi Sheiks, a string band that included multiple of his brothers; he recorded with the group in addition to making records under his own name. In the 1960s Chatmon returned to performing, and became popular on the festival circuit. Festival performer Libby Rae Watson was a student of Chatmon's during the '70s and '80s, and still plays his music.
While visiting the region during Bridging the Blues be sure to go out on the Arkansas Delta Music Trail, and visit the places that gave rise to musical greats including Johnny Cash, Levon Helm of the band, and bluesman Peetie Wheatstraw, aka "the Devil's Son in Law."
And be sure to stop by the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, where Monday to Friday you can watch -- and likely take part in! -- a broadcast of the legendary King Biscuit Time radio program, hosted by Sunshine Sonny Payne for over 10,000 broadcasts.
The Mighty Mississippi Music Festival in Greenville is one of the cornerstone events of Bridging the Blues, particularly as it incorporates the Highway 61 Blues Festival, whose legacy is represented in the Highway 61 Stage. The festival takes place in the beautiful Warfield Point Park, which is situated on eight acres between the Mississippi River and the levee several miles south of Greenville. Last year many attendees camped on site.
In addition to headliners Dr. John and Gov't Mule, the main stage will also feature the New Orleans brass band-influenced Big Sam's Funky Nation, country artists Deanna Carter and Steve Azar, Austin-based rockers Band of Heathens, Alvin Youngblood Hart's electric trio Muscle Theory, North Mississippi's Shannon McNally, Cedric Burnside, and Jimbo Mathus, and local favorites Jason Fratesi and the Dirt Road Jam Band and Rob Mortimer's Good Paper. Hart, Mathus, and veteran bluesman L.C. Ulmer are also performing on the Highway 61 stage (lineup below).
Last year was the debut of the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival, and many fans were so impressed with both the music and amenities that they immediately bought tickets for this year's event.
This month the US Congress formally approved the management plan for the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area, which is comprised of 18 counties that contain land inside the Delta region. It's one of just fifty National Heritage Areas in the country. Here's a news article that explains the process leading up to Congress' approval.
A central idea behind National Heritage Areas is to foster identify, celebrate and perpetuate cultural resources for the purposes of both education and economic development, such as through foster blues and Civil Rights tourism.
The Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area focuses on five themes.
- The Mississippi River and the Land It Embraces
- The Culture of the Blues and the Birth of an American Sound
- Moving Toward Freedom: Changing America’s Character in the Struggle for Rights
- Growing More than Cotton: The Delta as a Wellspring of Creativity
- The Delta Divide: Building Communities.
The board for the non-profit organization is chaired by Delta State University President John Hilpert, and much of the legwork was conducted by Dr. Luther Brown, who recently retired from DSU's Delta Center for Culture and Learning. Brown has contributed immensely to drawing attention to the cultural wealth of the region for the last fourteen years, and will continue to work with the Center. DSU recently announced his replacement, Dr. Rolando Herts, who has worked extensively on the issue of universities and tourism and served for several years in the Delta with Teach For America.
On October 6-7 Delta State will host the first International Conference of the Blues, featuring artist including Alvin Youngblood Hart and speakers including Robert Santelli of the Grammy Museum.
Over the last several years Vicksburg-based artist H.C. Porter traveled across Mississippi document blues artists through oral history interviews and photographs, which she used as the basis for a series of thirty paintings. The portraits include a wide range of artists, ranging from B.B. King to lesser-known musicians such as T-Bone Pruitt of Laurel and YZ Ealey of Natchez. To read more about the project and to view many of the portraits, visit the Blues @ Home website.
The opening reception for Blues @ Home will take place on Thursday, August 21 from 6-8pm at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, with an "After Glow" party following at the nearby Club Ebony. The exhibit will remain up into the first week of Bridging the Blues.