Gravel Springs Block Party and Day 2 of the Otha Turner Picnic


The second day of the annual Otha Turner Picnic was much more crowded than the first, as crowds came out to hear such artists as R. L. Boyce, Kody Harrell, the French blues band Pin’s Downhome Blues, led by Pascal Pinede, and Robert Kimbrough Sr. In addition, of course, there were frequent performances by Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, occasionally joined by fife played Willie Hurt from the Hurt Family Fife and Drum Band near Sardis. This year’s picnic was free, and some had thought that this fact might cut down on the degree of informal partying along O. B. McClinton Road, but if anything, this year’s Gravel Springs Block Party was bigger than the last. Unfortunately, at about 11 PM, the police moved in to shut down the block party along the road. While enjoying breakfast at the Huddle House in Senatobia afterwards, I overheard that the reason for the police break-up of the block party had been a shoot-out that had occurred at LP’s Ball Field on Hunters Chapel Road between Como and Senatobia. Still, the trouble stayed far away from the annual picnic.







https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=0UzTXTsNiqs

Keeping The Legacy Of Fife and Drum Music Alive


Each year, Sharde Thomas, the granddaughter of legendary fife-and-drum band leader Othar Turner, holds an annual picnic in her grandfathers’ memory at Gravel Springs, a community a few miles east of Senatobia in Tate County. But this year’s festival, the 67th annual Goat Picnic, was a struggle and almost didn’t happen. A factional dispute within the larger Turner family led to the event being exiled from Otha’s homestead, where it has always been held in the past, and even the demolition of some of the historic structures on the property. With a fence erected to keep attendees off the homestead, this year’s picnic was held in a much smaller space to the east of the former location. But this year’s festival was also a free event, after several years of admission charges, and a crowd of a few hundred gathered to enjoy such artists as Lucious Spiller and Robert Kimbrough, and of course the great fife and drum music of Sharde’s own Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, which played throughout the night. On the first night, both the picnic and the Gravel Springs block party along the road outside the picnic seemed somewhat subdued this year. But there was good food, good fun, perfect weather, and lots of great fife and drum music from one of the best bands in the genre.


A Bigger Crowd at Day 2 of the Otha Turner Picnic

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

Saturday is generally the biggest day of the Otha Turner Picnic each year, and this year was no exception, with a bigger crowd inside the gates, and a much bigger crowd at the informal block party outside the gates along O. B. McClinton Road as well. Although the police were stopping all cars coming and going on Highway 310 near the picnic, I was eventually able to make it to the grounds, arriving just before R. L. Boyce went on stage. Several other acts performed, including a decent blues/rock band called Mississippi Shakedown, with whom I was not familiar at all. But as always, Sharde Thomas and her Rising Star Fife and Drum Band were the stars of the show, marching through the crowd motivating a number of dancers, and even playing across the fence to the young people at the block party along the road. All too soon, the picnic came to an end for another year, but the block party was still in full swing along the road outside.





Preserving Endangered Traditions at Day 1 of the Otha Turner Picnic

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

In previous posts here at The Frontline, I have discussed the importance of Black fife-and-drum music, both as an African cultural survival among Blacks in America, and also as a form of pre-Blues music, part of the building blocks that came to make up the music we call blues. Despite growing publicity and efforts at preservation, the Black fife-and-drum tradition is remarkably fragile, existing primarily today only in two rural Mississippi counties, Tate and Panola. For those with an interest in this music, the primary event where it can be witnessed (for it is as much a visual spectacle as a musical form) is the annual Otha Turner Picnic, held in the remote community of Gravel Springs east of Senatobia, Mississippi. Usually held on Labor Day weekend, or occasionally the weekend before it, the Otha Turner Picnic began as a small family gathering at Otha’s house on the O. B. McClinton Road. Otha and other fife-and-drum musicians such as Napoleon Strickland, Sid Hemphill and R. L. Boyce were frequent participants, and some line-up of these men appeared at the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970, billed as the “Como Fife and Drum Band”. Over the years the picnic grew, and now run by Otha’s granddaughter Sharde Thomas, has become a two-day festival of blues (and occasionally rock) musicians, and a $5 admission is now charged. But there is still barbecued goat, unexpected appearances from musicians like Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-stars, and of course, plenty of fife-and-drum music as the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band parades through the crowd between stage acts.This year’s first night featured such performers as Memphis blues/folk singer Moses Crouch, Hill Country blues/rock band the Eric Deaton Trio from Water Valley, Luther Dickinson from the North Mississippi All-Stars (whose drummer is Sharde Thomas), and Dr. David Evans, the eminent musicologist who is also a first-rate blues performer in the archaic styles of the 1920’s and 1930’s country blues. But it is the powerful, hypnotic drumming that sets the Otha Turner Picnic apart from other blues festivals, even those in the Hill Country of Mississippi. On such hallowed ground, the snare and bass drum patterns invoke trance, and the fife calls to remembrance an African past. Sharde Thomas amplifies the connection between Mississippi and Africa when she exchanges the fife for a djembe drum, which she plays with her drum squad. As the night gets later, dancers fill up the space near the drummers, some them exhorting the young men on the drums to “beat that thing”, and whooping with delight. Although the music is more raw and basic, the scene is reminiscent of a New Orleans second-line.
Outside the gate, another festival is in progress, a sort of Gravel Springs block party, full of young people, custom cars, motorcycles and rap music. If the atmosphere inside the gates is old-school, that outside is like a rural version of Freaknik. Although there are never any major problems, the young people’s festival makes coming and going to and from the picnic somewhat difficult. All the same, the Otha Turner Picnic is a must-see event for anyone interested in Black music and folklore.


















Closing Out The Blues In The Alley Series With Gerod Rayborn

New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos
New photo by John Shaw / Google Photos

Although this year’s Blues In The Alley line-up of performers was largely disappointing, to say the least, the weekly summer concert series in Holly Springs ended on a high note last Thursday night with Memphis southern soul artist Gerod Rayborn, who is also president of the Beale Street Corvette Club. Needless to say, many of his club members came to the square in Holly Springs with their beautiful cars, and a significantly larger crowd showed up than what I had seen on previous weeks. The crowd was also more exuberant, with a lot more dancing and jooking, and it almost seemed like the vibe from previous years of the event. After a brief intermission, then another blues band from Memphis took the stage, Fuzzy Jeffries and the Kings of Memphis, and the crowd partied long past the usual ending time of 10 PM. Here’s hoping that the event organizers will book more of these kind of artists next year.

Celebrating the Launch of Royal Records in South Memphis

Royal Records Launch Block Party / Google Photos

In 1958, record store owner Joe Coughi of Poplar Tunes in Memphis decided to start a record label, and he named it Hi Records, with the name taken from the last two letters of his name. Purchasing the Royal Theater on South Lauderdale, he converted it into a recording studio (Jim Stewart would do the same thing a year later with the nearby Capitol Theater on McLemore Avenue in forming Stax Records), and began recording country and rockabilly records. When Ruben Cherry and Celia Hodge’s Home of the Blues family of labels collapsed in 1962, producer Willie Mitchell was briefly without a musical home, but he soon ended up producing for Coughi at the Royal Studios, which he eventually purchased. Hi Records soon moved from recording rockabilly and country to recording blues, soul and gospel, particularly the work of such greats as Al Green, O.V. Wright, Don Bryant, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and Syl Johnson. The Hi label was eventually sold to Al Bennett in California, but the Royal Studios continued under Willie Mitchell. As Stax collapsed and the Memphis recording industry with it, Royal continued on, and today, under Willie Mitchell’s son Boo, has become a world-famous institution. So it was only fitting that Royal Sound Studios should celebrate with a block party for the surrounding South Memphis neighborhood on the street now called Willie Mitchell Boulevard, and all the more so as Boo Mitchell announces to the world the launch of Royal Records, a label based out of the venerable Memphis studios. The first act for the fledgling label is a rap duo called Lil Riah and Key Money, both of whom are members of the Mitchell family, and who were the featured performers at the block party. But attendees also enjoyed performances by Memphis veterans Al Kapone and Frayser Boy as well as the Royal Studio Band, and there was plenty of good food from local food trucks, including hand-crafted ice cream pops from the good folks at Mempops. Even Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland came to pay his respects.

A Youth Rally in Foote Homes

May-June 2015 127May-June 2015 128May-June 2015 129May-June 2015 130May-June 2015 131May-June 2015 132May-June 2015 133May-June 2015 134May-June 2015 135May-June 2015 136May-June 2015 137May-June 2015 138May-June 2015 139May-June 2015 140May-June 2015 141May-June 2015 142May-June 2015 143May-June 2015 144May-June 2015 145May-June 2015 146May-June 2015 147
A few days after the Tate Street Block Party, the anti-violence group Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives (FFUN) sponsored a youth rally at Foote Homes, the only remaining public housing project in Memphis. Toys were distributed to the younger children, hot dogs and chips were given out, and horseback rides were given to young people. A DJ provided the music for the occasion, and of course some politicians showed up as well.

Fun With A Purpose at the Tate Street Block Party

May-June 2015 028May-June 2015 029May-June 2015 030May-June 2015 031May-June 2015 032May-June 2015 033May-June 2015 035May-June 2015 036May-June 2015 037May-June 2015 038May-June 2015 039May-June 2015 040May-June 2015 041May-June 2015 042May-June 2015 043May-June 2015 044May-June 2015 045May-June 2015 046May-June 2015 047May-June 2015 048May-June 2015 049May-June 2015 050May-June 2015 051May-June 2015 052May-June 2015 053May-June 2015 055May-June 2015 056May-June 2015 057May-June 2015 058May-June 2015 059May-June 2015 060May-June 2015 061May-June 2015 062May-June 2015 063May-June 2015 064May-June 2015 065May-June 2015 066May-June 2015 067May-June 2015 068May-June 2015 069May-June 2015 071May-June 2015 072May-June 2015 073May-June 2015 074May-June 2015 076May-June 2015 078May-June 2015 079May-June 2015 080May-June 2015 081May-June 2015 082May-June 2015 083May-June 2015 085May-June 2015 086May-June 2015 088May-June 2015 089May-June 2015 090May-June 2015 091May-June 2015 092May-June 2015 093May-June 2015 095May-June 2015 096May-June 2015 097May-June 2015 098May-June 2015 099May-June 2015 100May-June 2015 101May-June 2015 102May-June 2015 103May-June 2015 104May-June 2015 105May-June 2015 106May-June 2015 108May-June 2015 110May-June 2015 111May-June 2015 112May-June 2015 114May-June 2015 115May-June 2015 117May-June 2015 118May-June 2015 119May-June 2015 120May-June 2015 121May-June 2015 122May-June 2015 123May-June 2015 124
Tate Street, like all east-west streets in Memphis, is really an avenue, but it has always been called Tate Street by those who live there and in the vicinity. On the first Saturday of June every year, it becomes the location of the annual Tate Street Block Party, an event sponsored by Memphis rapper Lionheart. Food, fun and music are the order of the day, but the purpose of it all is to help steer South Memphis young people away from violence, and toward that end, a full evening of entertainment is staged on the outdoor stage. This year, young people enjoyed performances from Big Mota, JMoney Trulla, Money Man Melvo, the Trap Mob, Treyhaitian and Chicago rapper Joe Rodeo. As always, for the older young men, the event became something of a reunion for residents of the former Cleaborn Homes housing project as well, and noted Memphis producer Drumma Boy and veteran rap artist GK were among those who made an appearance.










Keep up with LionHeart:


https://www.facebook.com/heartofalionsmg
http://lionheartdsp.blogspot.com

Keep up with Big Mota:

https://www.audiomack.com/artist/big-mota
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7Pf9PCnoBJhWVkLwTyQyJw
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Big-Mota/777502772312291

https://instagram.com/bigmota8/

Keep up with JMoney Trulla:

Keep up with Money Man Melvo:

Keep up with Trap Mob:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgJPV0N_X9u3eNygySX4exg
https://www.facebook.com/fredpimplish?fref=browse_search
https://www.facebook.com/keith.parker.92167?fref=browse_search
https://www.facebook.com/mac.ward.73?fref=browse_search


https://myspace.com/trapmobmoneygang

Keep up with Joe Rodeo:

Frayser's Block Party for Peace at Ed Rice Community Center

001 Abandoned House in Frayser002 Abandoned House in Frayser003 Block Party for Peace004 Block Party for Peace005 Block Party for Peace006 Block Party for Peace007 WLRM008 Block Party for Peace009 Block Party for Peace010 Block Party for Peace011 Block Party for Peace012 Block Party for Peace013 Block Party for Peace014 Block Party for Peace016 Block Party for Peace017 Block Party for Peace0018 Block Party for Peace019 Block Party for Peace
Each year, in the fall, State Representative Antonio Parkinson sponsors a Block Party for Peace in either the Raleigh or Frayser neighborhoods, which are his constituency. This year the event was held at the Ed Rice Community Center in Frayser, so I decided to make a stop there before heading on downtown to the River Arts Festival in the South Main Arts District. There was a significant crowd of people and few places to park, so I had to park on a side street across from the community center, and what I saw there highlighted many of the current problems of Memphis, in that most of the houses on the street were abandoned, and many in a state of collapse beyond repair. Clearly the city had made no effort to enforce its codes, and eyesores like this don’t just look bad, but they also attract crime, drugs and gang activity. Over at the event, however, there was barbecue, a DJ, some business exhibits, lots of young people and more. However, nobody was performing on the stage, so I ended up leaving earlier than I had planned to.