Friday, February 23, 2018

2013 Juke Joint Festival – Clarksdale, Mississippi

April 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Random Notes

I passed through Clarksdale, Mississippi, this weekend. Clarksdale was celebrating the 10th annual Juke Joint Festival. Clarksdale is the hometown of many legendary blues artists. Much of the current economy appears to be centered on tourism. There is still a worldwide thirst for genuine blues music. I noticed several folks that talked funny there.

Clarksdale is all about the blues, but I didn’t see any genuine juke joints while I was there. Growing up in the heart of the Mississippi Delta in Greenville, I became well acquainted with juke joints. That’s where under aged white boys would acquire adult beverages. The purchases would take place during the day when business was slow and there was less of a crowd. If you drove by those same places at night you would know that the places were “rocking” with the blues and early rock and roll, but the juke joints weren’t considered safe for us after dark.  Many juke joints were out on country roads, not on the main highways like 61, 82 or #1.

Street Scene - Juke Joint Festival

Speaking of highways, Clarksdale is the location at the “crossroads” of Highways 61 and 49 where the late Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil. As the story goes, Robert Johnson was a guitar player but was not particularly good. He left Leflore County near Greenwood and was gone for a few weeks.  He returned and said he had made a deal with the devil at the crossroads and returned to be one of the greatest players of all time. Shortly thereafter he died in Leflore County.  A loose version of this story appeared in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

The intersection of Highways 49 and 61 is also the same “Crossroads” that artists like Eric Clapton have sung about for decades.

CrossroadsWhile I was in Clarksdale, I did see several amazing local artists perform.

I saw the SUPERBAD String Band with Mississippi Millie.SuperBAD String BandI saw Robert “Bilbo” Walker do some incredible picking, playing with has thumb and index finger like nobody else.

Robert Bilbo WalkerT Model Ford was at the event but is in poor health and was not able to play this year.

I got to see the Riverside Hotel. The Riverside Hotel was the home away from home for almost every blues musician from other parts of the country that played in Clarksdale. It was started in 1944 by Mrs. Z.L Ratliff. It was operated by her son Frank “Rat” Ratliff until his death two and a half weeks ago (March 28, 2013). The Riverside Hotel housed many blues players, such as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Ike Turner who lived in and out of Clarksdale, and Robert Nighthawk. Bessie Smith died there in 1937 when it was a hospital for African Americans.

Riverside HotelNo festival would be complete without “Man’s Best Friend.”

IMG_5255And dogs love cats!

Cat HeadThen there was the Black Smoke Bluesologist, (whatever that means) slapping down some mighty good blues tunes.

Black Smoke BluesologistIf you are ever in the Mississippi Delta, check out some authentic blues music in Clarksdale.  You won’t regret it.

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