When the Bentonia Blues Festival outgrew its place in front of the Blue Front Cafe in downtown Bentonia, Mississippi, it moved to a former Black baseball field north of town on land that seems to belong to the family of Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. Unfortunately, being what it is, the largely treeless flat field offers no refuge from the mid-June heat, making Bentonia Blues Festival one of the hottest blues festivals anywhere. What little shade there is can be found around the parking area near the front of the road behind the stage, where teenagers play basketball.
However, despite the withering heat, several hundred blues fans turn out annually to enjoy some of the best blues Mississippi has to offer. Unlike many other festivals in and out of state, the Bentonia Blues Festival is a free festival, with the only charge one for parking a vehicle.
This year’s line-up included Como blues legend R. L. Boyce, former member of Junior Kimbrough’s Soul Blues Boys Earl “Little Joe” Ayers, Dominican blues musician Tito “Harlem Slim” Deler of New York City, the Eric Deaton Trio from Water Valley featuring Kinney Kimbrough on drums, and of course the man everyone came to see, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, founder of the festival and a living legend of the Bentonia style of blues.
Toward the late afternoon, some clouds and rain developed in areas, and things began to cool off some, as the son went down. After Eric Deaton’s performance, Sherena Boyce, R. L. Boyce and I decided to head down Highway 49 to Pocahontas, Mississippi in order to eat dinner before the long ride back to North Mississippi. Although thoroughly tired, it had been a remarkable day of fun and great music.
Pontotoc blues musician Terry “Harmonica” Bean was the last artist I got to see at this year’s Juke Joint Festival before I had to drive back to Memphis to play my own gig. He was playing on the New World Stage in front of the New Roxy Theater with a fairly decent crowd there to here him. As always, the Juke Joint Festival was a full day of fun, the overwhelming majority of it free.
I learned about the Blues At Home Blowout at the Lamar Lounge from attorney Tom Freeland’s excellent North Mississippi Commentor blog, which is a great online destination for all things Oxford, from music, to legal things to Faulknerian lore, so even though I had just gone to Oxford the week before, I had to go again. The line-up displayed on the poster was absolutely amazing, and I frankly could not imagine how all of those artists would be able to perform even in the three hours or so allotted for the concert. As it turned out, not all the performers listed appeared, but even so, the three hours were jam-packed with blues, and everything got worked in by the expedient of having Jimbo Mathus on drums for everyone, and keeping the same bass player throughout, and they did a yeoman’s job, although I’m sure they were quite tired when it was all over. The event was actually an after-party for Mississippi artist H.C. Porter‘s remarkable Blues At Home exhibit at the University of Mississippi, and fearing that I wouldn’t get a table in front of the stage otherwise, I showed up at the Lamar Lounge two hours before starting time. As it turned out, Jimbo Mathus performed a dinner hour set on guitar with his bass player for an hour before the starting time for the concert. He then switched to drums, and the first performer of the night came on stage, 82-year-old Leo “Bud” Welch, who released his first album Sabougla Voices this year on Fat Possum Records‘ Big Legal Mess subsidiary. He was followed by Hattiesburg/Jackson bluesman Vasti Jackson, a musician I had often heard my poet friend Charlie Braxton mention. Vasti Jackson was followed by Natchez blues guitarist Y.Z. Ealey, who is a brother of Southern soul star Theodis Ealey, and whose style showed a considerable influence from swamp blues and swamp pop. He was joined by Broke and Hungry Records artist Terry “Harmonica” Bean sitting in on harmonica. Mickey Rogers was up next, a blues guitarist I had seen last year on a trip to Indianola, and then Jackson-based Jesse Robinson came up, a guitarist I was really not familiar with, but whose guitar skills amazed everyone in the room. Behind him came Kenny Brown, the hometown favorite who grew up with blues legend Joe Callicot in Nesbit, Mississippi and who studied with the late R. L. Burnside. His music can always get an Oxford crowd to their feet, and what little space was available for dancing was soon filled. Finally, the headliner of the night, Bobby Rush came and performed very briefly, as he had driven down from an earlier performance at Rhodes College in Memphis. Altogether it was an amazing night of Mississippi blues, from a number of different performers than the ones often seen in North Mississippi, and there was a sort of lagniappe when, quite unexpectedly, Vasti Jackson and Bobby Rush launched a brief guitar and harmonica duo on the back patio near the barbecue pit. All in all, one of the most memorable Mississippi blues nights ever.
Terry “Harmonica” Bean had been on stage for awhile when he was suddenly joined by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, the organizer of the Bentonia Blues Festival. The two blues greats performed several tunes together during the late afternoon.
Mississippi bluesman Terry “Harmonica” Bean had already been on stage for most of the day at the Bentonia Blues Festival when his own performance time came up. Bean is a traditionalist who plays both the harmonica and the guitar and stomps his foot to keep the time. He told the crowd Saturday that he has nothing against bands, but that the way he plays is how blues was done before there were bands.
Despite being from South Carolina, Shane Pruitt and his band strike up the Hill Country standard “Coal Black Mattie” aided and abetted by Terry “Harmonica” Bean on the blues harp at the Bentonia Blues Festival, 6/15/13
The Spartanburg, South carolina-based Shane Pruitt Band was formed in 2006 and released their debut album State of Grace two years later, to much critical acclaim. At Bentonia Saturday they were joined on stage by Terry “Harmonica” Bean from Pontotoc, who added his harmonica skills to their rock-solid foundation.