This year’s Juke Joint Fest culminated with a late Saturday evening show at the Delta Theatre featuring Cedric Burnside and Trenton Ayers. Both these young men come from families with a long history of involvement in the Hill Country blues. Cedric is a grandson of the late R. L. Burnside, and son of drummer Calvin Jackson, who played in the Sound Machine Band, and Trenton Ayers is the son of Holly Springs bluesman Little Joe Ayers. Their performance on this occasion was outstanding, culminating in a near-perfect reading of the late Junior Kimbrough’s “Meet Me In The City.” It was a great way to close out this year’s festival.
Although Clarksdale is in the Delta, visitors to the Juke Joint Fest love some Hill Country blues as well, and the Robert Kimbrough Blues Connection band is popular with the fans. Robert is one of the sons of the late Junior Kimbrough, who together with R. L. Burnside helped define the style known as Hill Country blues. Besides annual appearances at Juke Joint Fest, Robert Kimbrough performs frequently in and around Holly Springs in Marshall County.
Since the abrupt and unexpected closure of Morgan Freeman’s Madidi Restaurant a few years ago, fine dining in Clarksdale has been something like a roll of the dice. Rust came, then left, then resurfaced out at Hopson Plantation at the Shack Up Inn, Pinkbar came and went in less than a year, Yazoo Pass coffee bar added some upscale food menu items at night, but still, Clarksdale lacked a good upscale dining option, which was a problem, given the growing upscale tourist market. This year, during Juke Joint Fest, I discovered the solution, not a new restaurant, but a really old one, Kathryn’s, founded in 1937. Why had we been missing it? Because Kathryn’s is not quite in Clarksdale, even if it is in Coahoma County. Officially, its address says it is in Dundee, but it’s really closer to Lula, and where it really is located is along the shores of Moon Lake, a beautiful oxbow lake that once was part of the Mississippi River. Kathryn’s is located in a small house, and has no pretensions, but the fare inside is fine dining indeed. Steaks and seafood are the main attraction here, and the atmosphere is strangely split between chic uptown and resort, with great blues and jazz playing overhead (The owner, John Mohead, is a blues musician). There is also a wine list, and even during the festival, the place was not unduly crowded. Finding Kathryn’s however might present something of a problem. From Clarksdale, the easiest choice is to take Highway 61 north almost to the Helena junction, turning left at the Moon Lake sign just before. That road dead ends at the lake, and taking a right will lead you along the lakeshore to Kathryn’s. It’s worth the drive and the effort to find it.
Kathryn’s Fine Dining
5770 Moon Lake Road
Dundee, MS 38626
Open Thurs-Sat 6-10 PM
The tiny town of Bentonia, Mississippi has more than its fair share of blues musicians, and one of them is Roosevelt Roberts Jr, a man popular across the Delta for his unique blend of modern blues and southern soul. This year at the Juke Joint Fest in Clarksdale, he wowed the crowd with a medley of hit songs by the late Tyrone Davis.
Recent upload problems at Flickr forced me to find an alternative, so some of the more recent posts here at the Frontline have photos that are hosted on Google Photos instead. In some ways, I love the change. Google Photos is easy to use, and the sharing code doesn’t require tweaking to remove unwanted banners or watermarks as Flickr’s does. But one thing disappoints, namely that pictures cannot be embedded with different size options, and the one default that is available is fairly large. That doesn’t present a problem when dealing with ten photos or fewer in a post, but anything more than that and it begins to be annoying. So in these posts, only one photo will be visible, but clicking on it will open the gallery containing other photos from the event in question. Check it out, and let me know what you think. Thanks.
Although not an official act on any of the festival stages, the Memphis-based Baby Blues Drumline is a popular crowd pleaser at the annual Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, usually appearing in the late afternoon and early evening on the downtown streets. Comprised of young men from the inner-city neighborhoods of Memphis, the drumline is both a musically rewarding organization, and a deterrent to crime and the street life. As the young men play funky cadences and grooves, a crowd gathers, and occasionally people dance.
Duwayne Burnside, brother of Garry and another son of the late R. L. Burnside, is possibly the best-known performer in the Hill Country blues style today. Although he has made few recordings, fans flock to his infrequent live appearances, including an annual performance at the Juke Joint Festival each April. Like his brother Garry, Duwayne plays in a style that incorporates the Hill Country blues legacy, as well as the influences of more modern bluesmen, such as B. B. King, Albert King, and even Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Garry Burnside is one of the sons of the late Hill Country blues legend R. L. Burnside, and he is always a popular favorite at the Juke Joint Festival, performing original songs and many of his dad’s compositions as well. Starting from Hill Country blues, Garry’s style encompasses modern blues, funk and rock as well.
R. L. Boyce is really the last of the old-school Hill Country blues musicians, and was a mentor to the young South American musician Carlos Elliott Jr., who came from Colombia to Mississippi to study the traditional music of the Mississippi Hill Country. On his frequent visits back to the United States, Elliott often reconnects with Boyce and other area blues musicians, and usually performs at the Juke Joint Festival each April in Clarksdale.
Black fife and drum bands were once ubiquitous in the rural South, but time has not been kind to this style of music, a sort of precursor to the blues with heavy African influence. By 1970, only four counties in two states were known to have active fife and drum bands, and by 1980, that had dwindled to two counties in Mississippi. Most fife-and-drum activity centered around Senatobia musician Othar Turner and his Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, which was later taken over by his granddaughter Sharde Thomas after his death. Other bands included a pick-up group that R. L. Boyce from Como occasionally put together and a band within the Hurt family from Sardis that played at family picnics. So when Andre Otha Evans, a relative of Othar Turner, decided to put together his own fife and drum band, I was thrilled, as his group puts the number of known active fife and drum bands up to four. Their performance at this year’s Juke Joint Festival was rousing, with an unexpected guest appearance from Colombian bluesman Carlos Elliot Jr, who is also an excellent fife player.