This is the second year of the Kimbrough Cotton Patch Blues Festival, which celebrates the legacy of Junior Kimbrough and his sons David, Robert and Kinney, and this year’s festival, held on Mothers’ Day, was hot weather-wise, and musically as well. Rather than being held inside The Hut in Holly Springs, where the Friday night jams had taken place, the Sunday afternoon line-up was held on a large stage outside, where a crowd enjoyed a number of familiar and not-so-familiar blues artists, including the Hoodoo Men from Nashville (I had not heard of them, but was pleasantly impressed), Cameron Kimbrough, Joyce Jones, R. L. Boyce, juke joint dancer Sherena Boyce, Eric Deaton, Lucious Spiller, and of course the Kimbrough Brothers. Also of interest was a new beer called Kimbrough Cotton Patch Kolsch, named in honor of the Kimbrough family, and released by the 1817 Brewery out of Okolona, Mississippi. These folks also have something called “Hill Country IPA,” and are one of a number of new microbreweries springing up in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South. Since I had to work the next day, I was not able to stay until the end of the festival, which I was told came about midnight or so, but year 2 of the Kimbrough Festival was a rousing success.
Although Proud Larry’s is first and foremost a rock club, Oxford, Mississippi is deep in the Mississippi Hill Country, and has been the scene of many a classic blues performance. Nearly all the greats of the Hill Country have performed there, including the great Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside. So it came as no surprise that they kicked off the Labor Day weekend with a Friday night appearance by R. L. Burnside’s son Garry, with his band featuring Kody Harrell of Woodstomp, singer Beverly Davis, and Cedric Burnside on drums, followed by Eric Deaton, a bluesman who learned the Hill Country style from time spent playing with R.L. Although the holiday weekend had many entertainment options, the club was surprisingly full, and the crowd unusually attentive, considering that all too often, young Oxford crowds view the music as background to serious drinking. Both the musicians and the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves, and it was basically just a good time.
Como, Mississippi is a town that sits on the border between the Mississippi Delta and a region known as the Hill Country. The styles of blues from each region are distinct, but elements of them meet in this historic location, famous for both guitar blues,Black fife and drum band music, and gospel singers and musicians. All of these influences shaped the young R. L. Boyce, who began playing drums for his uncle Othar Turner’s fife and drum band in the late 1960’s. Boyce turned 62 this year, and to celebrate his birthday, his daughter organized a large picnic in Como Park featuring barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs, and a line-up of the best regional blues musicians. The evening’s festivities kicked off with an incredible gospel singer and guitarist named Slick Ballenger, who was mentored by both Othar Turner and R. L. Boyce, and as Boyce was a long-time drummer in fife and drum bands, it was appropriate that there were two fife and drum bands at the picnic, the Hurt Family from Sardis, Mississippi and Sharde Thomas’ Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. It was possibly the first time the Hurt Family had performed in a place other than their own family picnics near Sardis, and eventually Willie Hurt was playing the fife with Sharde’s band as well. As the evening progressed, Kody Harrell, R. L. Boyce, Duwayne Burnside, Dre Walker, Greg Ayers and Robert Kimbrough all performed on stage until things came to a halt about 11 PM. The first annual R. L. Boyce Picnic drew a crowd of about 600 people, and gave Como something it has not had in many years, a true blues festival.
Usually people don’t celebrate their birthdays by working, but that is what Hill Country guitarist Eric Deaton did at The Crawdad Hole in Water Valley in May. Billed as a birthday party for Eric Deaton at the venerable restaurant that is owned by another great musician and record label owner, Justin Showah, my friend and I were astounded to find that Eric was performing himself with his band. We had figured that he would be chilling and enjoying other musicians playing, but his band sounded great and we had a lot of fun. It was equally fun to reconnect with Justin, and to enjoy some of the best steamed shrimp within a hundred miles of Memphis. His restaurant occasionally books live music, and I assume he still occasionally does things with his superb small record label, Hill Country Records.
Eric Deaton grew up in North Carolina, but moved to Mississippi after high school to study with the masters of Hill Country blues, Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside. Today, Deaton is one of the most important performers and preservers of the unique Hill Country style of blues. On Friday night, Deaton began his set with a guest drummer in place of the missing Kinney Kimbrough, but Kimbrough finally appeared half way through the set, and Deaton was also joined by guitarist Garry Burnside, one of R. L.’s sons. The music, although amplified and electric, was authentic Hill Country blues and nothing else.
Breakfast with Charlie Braxton and two of his sons at Broad Street Baking Company. Then I drove back to Memphis, but detoured into Water Valley to meet Justin Showah, the owner of Hill Country Records, who had an order of Eric Deaton Trio CDs for me to pick up for Select-O-Hits. The talk in the little grocery store there in Water Valley had been about the weekend death of Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson.