For the second year, fans of Mississippi blues came to Holly Springs to celebrate the legacy of Junior Kimbrough and his sons David, Robert and Kinney at the Kimbrough Cotton Patch Blues Festival. Held over a three-day period, the festival was primarily centered around a former VFW hut known simply as The Hut, which suitably has the ambiance of an old Mississippi juke joint. Set in a hollow down from a higher street, it sits behind some trees which hide a spooky old Masonic lodge which has been abandoned, but inside on Friday night, the atmosphere was bright and cheerful, despite the failing air conditioner and the incredible heat. The great David Kimbrough Jr was on stage, with his brother Robert on bass and his brother Kinney on drums, and a small crowd was listening attentively in the chairs out in front of the stage. As the night progressed, the event turned into a jam session, with other artists and students from the earlier workshops joining in, and an even larger crowd milling around outside where it was cooler. Among the other cool things was that an Okolona beer company, 1817 Brewery had introduced a new variety of beer called Kimbrough Cotton Patch Kolsch in honor of the Kimbrough family, and it was being sold at the event.
When I left Our Grandma’s Sports Bar, I headed out to Pete’s Grill on Sunflower Avenue to catch the Duwayne Burnside and David Kimbrough performance. Pete’s is another juke joint in Clarksdale that generally has live music only during the Juke Joint Festival, but it is a perfect venue for live blues, just a block or so from the legendary Riverside Hotel. Unfortunately, the performance started late, as the musicians were waiting for someone to arrive with an amp or microphone, and the first set only involved Duwayne Burnside, as David Kimbrough was nowhere to be seen. Of course Duwayne is one of Mississippi’s most gifted blues performers, so it was still an enjoyable show, and I heard that later, after I had left, that David did show up and perform with Duwayne. But Lightnin’ Malcolm was performing out at the Shack Up Inn, so I decided to head out there and see if I could catch him.
The North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, sponsored annual at Waterford, Mississippi by Sarah and Kenny Brown, is arguably the most important annual event in the world of Hill Country Blues. It helps preserve the legacy of R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, and allows their descendants and disciples an opportunity to perform in the county where it all began, and takes on aspects of a music festival, a jam session and a family reunion all in one. But this year’s festival got off to something of a rocky start due to a series of violent thunderstorms, with lightning and hail that caused the festival grounds to become a mud-bog, and which caused a significant delay in the schedule. Fortunately, it all passed over eventually, and indie-blues/country/rock star Jimbo Mathus came out to perform with his band, followed by David Kimbrough Jr’s band, although David’s brother Kinney handled the vocal chores since David had a touch of laryngitis. And finally, Friday evening’s lineup was closed out with Duwayne Burnside fronting his newest band, which was extremely tight indeed, and which sounded great. Just as they were leaving the stage, the first flashes of lightning from a new round of storms appeared, but no rain could bring anyone down after all that great Hill Country blues.
For many years, Hill Country bluesman Junior Kimbrough had a juke joint in rural Marshall County that was a destination for those in the know. People from all over the world made their way to the spot, where blues continued “All Night Long”, as the song said. The juke moved a couple of times over the years, then burned to the ground, and never reopened. So when I heard that Junior’s son was opening a new juke called Junior’s Juke Joint #2 near Holly Springs, I was thrilled. The new juke is much closer to town than the old ones had been, just north of the Rust College campus along Highway 7. The bright blue building was already abuzz with activity when I arrived, and I saw a number of people that had just come from the blues concert on the square, just as I had. Little Joe Ayers performed first, and as he was on stage Shannon McNally and Garry Burnside came in. Shortly thereafter, Junior Kimbrough’s son Robert Kimbrough got on stage and performed several tunes, and then the man of the evening appears, the juke’s owner himself, David Kimbrough Jr. As he performs a number of the Hill Country blues standards, his dad’s as well as R. L. Burnside’s, the floor fills up with willing dancers. When I left at midnight, things were still going strong. Junior’s Juke Joint #2 will be a must-visit attraction in Holly Springs.
Beginning in July each summer, the town of Holly Springs, Mississippi sponsors Thursday night blues concerts on the courthouse lawn in the town square. While the events do attract tourists, it’s not just a tourist-oriented event, as Marshall County is an important place in Mississippi blues history. Two of the greatest Hill County bluesmen, R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, were from Marshall County, and made their careers and reputations in the area. The county is also home to the annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, held each summer in Waterford, and the county seat of Holly Springs is the location of Akei Pro’s Record Shop, a virtual blues-lover’s paradise, full of old vinyl records and some compact discs, as well as bluesman Duwayne Burnside’s local club, Alice Mae’s Cafe.
On September 25, I headed down to Holly Springs for the soft opening of a new juke joint, Junior’s Juke Joint #2, being opened north of town by David Kimbrough Jr, son of the late Junior Kimbrough. The opening date was chosen to correspond to the final Thursday night event of the year on the square, so I headed there first, and found a large crowd listening, dancing and enjoying the music of blues singer Brown Sugar and her band. After her performance, I ran across and grabbed a dinner at JB’s on the Square (good food) and then made it back in time to see indie singer Shannon McNally, who was performing with a band that included Garry Burnside (another son of R. L.’s) on guitar. North Center Street was also in a festive mood, with a large crowd outdoors, and good Southern Soul records playing in Alice Mae’s Cafe. In a large parking lot north of Akei Pro’s, there was a crowd of people hanging out and grilling food. After Shannon’s last song, there was a procession of Corvettes that came through the square, and the final Thursday night Blues on the Square event for 2014 came to a close.
David Kimbrough Jr. is another of the sons of Junior Kimbrough, an amazing guitarist whom we don’t see quite as often since he moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, but I recall his dulcimer playing at last summer’s North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, and a memorable concert last year at The Cool Spot in Holly Springs with his brothers Kent and Robert. Any opportunity to see him should not be missed.
While registering for the Southern Entertainment Awards at Resorts Casino in Tunica, I looked on my phone and saw where a concert of Hill Country blues was taking place at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center in Oxford. The weather had gotten really bad, with high winds, thunder and lightning, but I decided to drive over that way from Tunica, stopping for dinner at the Oyster Bar in Como. The concert had already started when I got to Oxford, and Sharde Thomas was on stage with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. I learned that the event was being held for the attendees of the Southern Literary Festival, which was being held on the Ole Miss campus nearby. After the fife and drum band, Hill Country blues legend Duwayne Burnside came on stage with his band, including David Kimbrough Jr on drums, and played a selection of traditional and modern blues songs, getting the most applause for his reading of his father’s “See My Jumper Hanging Out On The Line.” (The strange title of that song had always mystified me, until I read recently that rural women who were cheating on their husbands used to hang a man’s jumpsuit on their clothesline as a signal to their boyfriends that the coast was clear and they could come over). Duwayne Burnside was followed by the Rev. John Wilkins, whose style of gospel is largely based on the music of Hill Country blues, despite the religious tone of the lyrics. Although I had seen all the performers elsewhere in the past, it was an exciting and enjoyable performance.
Last Friday night, as David Kimbrough Jr struck up the first few notes of his first tune at The Cool Spot in Holly Springs, I realized something momentous was happening that ought to be preserved for the future, so I recorded the entire show with a recording app in my iPhone. Of course the recordings were made under less than optimum conditions, but I have used the editing software in Audacity to clean the tracks up as best I can. Enjoy this authentic Hill Country blues played by three of Junior Kimbrough’s sons, David, Robert and Kenny. David’s album Shell-Shocked can be purchased on iTunes here. Kenny also recorded an album under the name Kent Kimbrough on Hill Country Records, and that can also be purchased on iTunes here.
Only once before had I heard David Kimbrough Jr, at this year’s North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, and at that event, he played the dulcimer with his drummer, but tonight, amongst his friends and relatives in Holly Springs, he played the Hill Country blues style for which his dad was justifiably famous. Backing him was his brother Robert Kimbrough on bass and his brother Kenny Kimbrough on drums, and the music, atmosphere and dancing must have been something like being at Junior’s old juke joint back in the day, except that everything had to end early because clubs are supposed to close at 2 AM in Holly Springs. As it was, the crowd didn’t want to leave, and the club owner finally had to run everybody out at about 2:30 in the morning!
I had heard that David Kimbrough Jr. would be coming from Arkansas to Holly Springs to play at a club called The Cool Spot, so I drove down there, and when I arrived, Garry Burnside was on stage with his band, and there was already a good-sized crowd in the place. David Kimbrough arrived shortly after I got there, and I learned he would be playing with Robert Kimbrough and Kenny Kimbrough on the evening’s second set. I also met a photographer for a Mississippi based urban entertainment magazine called MissHaps, which covers the state’s entertainment and club scene. The venue was of some interest, too. It was actually rather huge, with a large outdoor courtyard and deck that featured a projection screen on which videos were projected. It appeared that the other side of the courtyard was perhaps another club, or maybe a restaurant. It was actually a cool place to hang out and party, and I wonder if they’ve ever had live bands outdoors on the courtyard, which would be really cool indeed.