Bentonia Blues Festival — Bentonia Mississippi
A mere 30 miles north of Jackson, Mississippi just a stone’s throw from legendary State Highway 49 sits the small town of Bentonia, Mississippi. Most people passing by only recognize it as a sign along the highway. However, in the world of blues, it is one of the last vestiges of original Mississippi blues. In this small hamlet that is split by the legendary railroad line in which the “City of New Orleans” runs on and is surrounded by farm fields and the homes and shanties of its residents, sits one of the last of the true Mississippi Juke Joints the “Blue Front Cafe” which is owned and operated by blues legend and Grammy nominated Jimmy “Duck” Holmes.
In continuous operation since 1948, the “Blue Front Cafe,” which proudly displays a Mississippi Blues Trail marker, has been the soundboard for historic and legendary itinerant blues players including famous bluesman Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James who was known for developing what was called the Bentonia blues style with its unique tuning. It has for the past 48 years hosted the Bentonia Blues Festival, which is based on promoting and preserving traditional acoustic and electric blues and its purveyors.
This years 49th annual festival was no different. The six-day event that ran from June 14th through the 19th and was held on the front porch of the “Blue Front Café” never lacked in music or different blues styles by a plethora of artists. Some legendary, some new, carrying on the tradition of roots blues.
The festival has no sponsors and is completely self-funded by donations of the attendees. It was organized and run by Holmes and his side kick Gilbert Vowell who were everywhere all the time along with numerous volunteers who kept the festival running smoothly.
The joke of the week was even though VIP passes were given out they didn’t get you anything special since everyone was a VIP. Artists and attendees came from all over the country and artists when done playing became attendees and attendees who wanted to play became artists. There was always time made available for anyone who wanted to play and the stage was never lacking for music no matter what time it was and the sound was fantastic except for the occasional interruption of a train blowing through. Though that just added to the experience, especially during train songs.
The main attraction, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, jumped in and out of the line-up whenever he needed or wanted to and most of the other artists freelanced on the stage as well getting a chance to jam with their heroes at times.
The other artists who performed during the festival included, Arian Baby Bell, Red Thetoric, RL Superbad, Jesse Cotton Band, Mississippi Marshall, Bluesman McKinney Williams, Josh Knight, Abe Reid, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Ryan Lee Crosby, Chrill Gill, Ghalia Volt, Groove Johnson Band, Nick Wade, 19th Street Red, Little Ronnie Owens, Lightnin’ Malcolm, RL Boyce, Deak Harp, Roosevelt Roberts, and Pleshette Howard.
Some played more than once so there was plenty of opportunity to catch your favorite artist if you needed to.
Weather was perfect and typical for a Mississippi June. Sunny, ninety degrees and high humidity pretty much every day. However, there were plenty of umbrella tables and natural shade available to stay out of the heat or you could bring your own chairs and shade.
Food was plentiful and cheap from numerous local vendors as long as you like southern food. They had smoked BBQ ribs, pulled pork, fried chicken, fried fresh catfish, fresh cracklins, fried pickles and even goat. There were hamburgers and hot dogs available for the more standard palates and they ran a two dollar beer special all week on any brand and any size they had available. Though you were also allowed to bring in your own coolers.
Security was provided but not really needed, as there was plenty of room and parking was never a problem and free.
The whole feel of the festival was very laid back and family oriented. People were all there for all the same reason: to have fun and hear and participate in great blues music and its heritage and maybe meet a cherished artist or two or find a new one.
So, for you blues fanatics that are looking for that real deal festival to go to that isn’t a big corporate production that costs you thousands of dollars and who are just trying to take your money, go to one put on by people who truly love the music and the history behind it and want it to be carried on into future while having fun doing it.
Then, book your room now for the 50th Annual Bentonia Blues Festival and make sure you say hello to Jimmy and thank him for everything he has done for the genre. There will never be another one like him.
Information on the Blue Front Café and Bentonia Blues Festival can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/BentoniaBluesFestival/