The annual Clarksdale Film Festival is a rather unusual film festival. For one thing it is held in the Mississippi Delta city of Clarksdale, which is more known for blues music than for film. For another, the films it presents are almost all documentaries, and the majority of them are films about music. But all of this makes the Clarksdale Film Festival worth attending. Unfortunately, this year, the films I would have liked to have seen the most were shown on Friday afternoon, during times when both I and my girlfriend had to be at work. But we managed to make it down on Saturday to catch Bayou Maharajah, Lily Keber’s superb biography of New Orleans piano legend James Booker, and the world premiere of Late Blooming Bluesman, a documentary about the late discovery of 84-year-old bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch, whose debut album for Big Legal Mess Sabougla Voices shocked the world. Before the film, Clarksdale bluesman Sean “Bad” Apple performed with Stud Ford on drums, the nephew of the late T-Model Ford from Greenville, with juke joint dancer Sherena Boyce joining them. Then Leo performed a handful of tunes as well before the start of the film about him. Altogether it was a great final day of the film festival.
While the annual Memphis Music and Heritage Festival was going on downtown, the On Location: Memphis Film and Music Festival was also taking place in Overton Square and in the Cooper-Young neighborhood. The music showcases were held in the basement of Cooper-Walker Place, and featured great Memphis musicians from all genres. Memphis hip-hop star Jason da Hater was on stage when I arrived, followed by a new local rock band called One Word. Then Tori WhoDat performed, along with Preauxx and other members of the TRDON camp. Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon showcase was 4 Soul’s performance, with Otis Logan on drums, and extraordinary Memphis vocalist Tonya Dyson fronting Memphis’ premiere neo-soul band. Over at Studio on the Square, a large crowd was watching a preview screening of an upcoming movie called The Man in 3B, with the filmmaker present. Altogether it was a great year for On Location: Memphis on its first Labor Day weekend.
On the last Saturday in January, there was a kickoff party for the new year to call attention to the On Location: Memphis International Film and Music Festival, which will be held on Labor Day weekend this year. The party was held at Phillip Ashley Chocolates in the Cooper-Young neighborhood, and guests had an opportunity to sample the world-famous chocolates, as well as gourmet coffee from Memphis’ own Ugly Mug Coffee roasters. A few guests won free tickets to the festival screenings of Oscar shorts held at the Hard Rock Cafe. The excellent music was provided by renowned singer-songwriter Juju Bushman.
The 15th annual On Location Memphis Film and Music Festival got underway in earnest on Friday April 25 with the awards luncheon at Lost Pizza Company on Poplar Avenue. Folk acoustic duo Sunburnt Moon providing the really cool music for the occasion. Registration then opened at Studio on the Square in Overton Square around 1 PM, with films occurring all afternoon. At 7 PM, music showcases got underway at Le Chardonnay, The Blue Monkey, Otherlands, Java Cabana and Newbys, and these ran until midnight. Highlights of the evening included performances by Mike Mosby and the Hard Hitters Band featuring vocalist Cameron Bethany at Le Chardonnay, Cowboy Bob Sawyer and Low Society at Otherlands, and an all-star hip-hop line-up at Newby’s that included Marco Pave, 5th Child, Truth Universal, Marcel P. Black, Lyriqs Da Lyraciss, Lukah Luciano, A. C. Dutch and the Iron Mouth Battle League and Knowledge Nick, who was also the MC for the evening.
Unfortunately, the ultimate theme of the film is the ways in which the Mississippi juke joints are dying out and fading, and so the movie focuses ultimately on one, the legendary Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale owned by Red Paden, a juke that simply has refused to die. So ultimately, We Juke is a bittersweet film, beautiful in its celebration of Mississippi’s African-American folklore, but with the ominous clouds of loss looming on the horizon.
After the screening, Roger graciously took our questions and discussed some of the making of the film.
After the reception was a 20-minute sneak preview of an upcoming documentary by Martin Shore and Boo Mitchell called The Memphians, which is a film documenting a series of recording sessions in which old-school greats like Otis Clay and Bobby Rush were brough together with rappers like Lil P-Nut, Eightball & MJG and Frayser Boy. This film, along with Dan Greer’s Ole Beale Street Revue which was shown afterwards, brought out many of the living stars of Memphis music, including Boo Mitchell and several other Mitchell family members, the Rev. Darryl Carter, the Rev. Charles Hodges, Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, Dan Greer, Edward “Hot” Cleveland and Larry Dodson of the Bar-Kays. On Location resumes today at noon at Studio on the Square in Overton Sqaure, and the the first music showcases get underway tonight at Purple Haze at Second and Lt. George W. Lee Avenue.
It’s time for On Location Memphis Film and Music Conference, one of the four big events occurring in Memphis this weekend. As would be expected, a lot of the films being screened this weekend have a musical theme, including a sneak-peak at The Memphians, a forthcoming documentary about Memphis music, the documentary Ole Beale Street Revue, the moving film I Am Not A Rock Star about concert pianist Marika Bournaki, and Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel’s amazing blues documentary “We Juke Up In Here.” In addition, there will be live music showcases both Friday and Saturday nights at Purple Haze near Beale Street behind the Westin Hotel.