I was late in getting to the second day of the King Biscuit Blues Festival because I had visited the massive Coldwater Trade Day sale in Coldwater, Mississippi first, but what I found when I arrived in Helena was not much different than what I had seen the night before. If anything, the daylight revealed more of the deterioration and dilapidation that has overtaken downtown Helena, including perhaps the most shocking ruin, an old motel on Walnut Street with shattered windows and gutted rooms. I did manage to catch a few decent blues acts, including the Jesse Cotton Stone Blues Band on the stage at Thad Kelley Courtyard, and Hill Country great Duwayne Burnside at the Lockwood Stage on Rightor Street near Bailee Mae’s Coffee. Behind him came the Phillip Stackhouse Band, which drew the largest crowd I had seen all day, including some enthusiastic dancers out in the street in front of the stage. Afterwards, the barbecue fest seemed to be winding down, and there were literally no other acts I had ever heard of scheduled to appear, so, although I considered trying the new Southbound Tavern for dinner, I decided to leave and drive down to Sumner, Mississippi to the Sumner Grille for dinner instead. At Sumner, there was some sort of an outdoor music concert in the square, with a country-rock band performing, but the restaurant itself wasn’t very crowded, and I my filet mignon was delicious as always.
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.
Fans of the unique Mississippi style of blues known as Hill Country blues are of course very familiar with Marshall County, as it was the home of both Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside, arguably the two most important Hill Country bluesmen. And they are probably also familiar with the Foxfire Ranch at Waterford in Marshall County, where a superb summer schedule of live blues occurs nearly every Sunday at 5 PM, under a shelter known as the Hill Country Pavilion. But this year, the Hollowell family, which owns the ranch, decided to sponsor an all-day concert of blues, and somewhat surprisingly, chose to do it in March, which is slightly earlier than the start-up of the festival season, which generally occurs in April.
Although the weather can be chilly and unpredictable in March, this year’s inaugural Foxfire Blues Festival was warm and pleasant, with plenty of sunshine. A large portable stage had been set up in the valley at the back of the large hill on which the pavilion stands, and a moderate crowd sat on blankets on the hillside, enjoying performances by Little Joe Ayers, Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry, Heavy Suga and the Sweet Tones, The Duwayne Burnside Band, Kenny Brown, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Lightning Malcolm. For a first-time festival, the event was fairly well-attended, it rolled smoothly, and the crowd enjoyed a beautiful day of great music.
Considering the close distance between Holly Springs, Mississippi and Memphis, it is strange that blues legend Duwayne Burnside doesn’t appear more often in Memphis. In fact, I only recall seeing him perform at the Beale Street Music Festival or the Levitt Shell, usually with Kenny Brown or the North Mississippi All-Stars, so when I saw that he and his band had been booked to play the new Lafayette’s Music Room, I made it a point to go. Duwayne is a first-rate guitarist, of course, and he performed with his brother Garry Burnside as well, featuring a number of classic blues songs, some from the Hill Country tradition of his Dad R. L. Burnside and the late Junior Kimbrough, others from Elmore James and other sources. Duwayne performed two long sets of great blues, and brought the house down. I definitely hope we’ll see more of him here in Memphis.