Como, Mississippi bluesman R. L. Boyce used to be famous for his yard parties, but in recent years he had stopped doing them after some health issues. So when his daughter Sherena informed me that he was having a yard party with live musicians on a Wednesday evening, I made arrangements to get off early from work and head to Como.
The weather was sunny when I arrived at R. L.’s house just across the railroad tracks from Como’s restored downtown area. A cool breeze was blowing, and only a few people had gathered, although the event was supposed to begin at 4 PM. Boyce, Colombian bluesman Carlos Elliot Jr, and Lightnin Malcolm were on the front porch setting up their equipment, and the drummer Steve Toney was setting up his drums in the yard because there was no room for them on the porch.
When the music got under way, the atmosphere became magical, with Malcolm, Carlos and R.L. playing Hill Country blues in the kind of setting it was intended for, an outdoor house party. One of the out-of-town guests sent someone to purchase hotdogs and charcoal, and fired up Boyce’s grill, cooking hotdogs for the guests and musicians, some of whom were in Mississippi for the Kimbrough Cotton Patch Blues Festival, which was to be held on the weekend. Soon the crowd in R.L.’s front yard grew larger, with young and old, local and out-of-town folks. A few kids were playing under the trees. As the evening continued, some folks began to dance, and cars slowed down as they drove past the house, trying to see what was going on. After a number of songs from R. L. Boyce and Lightnin Malcolm, there was a guest appearance from the hot new female blues singer Joyce “She-Wolf” Jones from Potts Camp, and she performed a couple of her original songs with the band. Eventually, around 8 PM, the sun went down, and with no real lighting in R.L.’s yard, things had to come to a halt. Only a handful of people remained at that point, and Sherena Boyce and I decided to head uptown to Windy City Grill for a late dinner, but we could hear R.L. still playing guitar as he sat on his porch in the dark. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of night.
Perhaps no town is as much a part of the Hill Country Blues tradition as the small town of Como, Mississippi in Panola County. It was the hometown of Mississippi Fred McDowell, and of Otha Turner, whose Rising Star Fife and Drum Band may be last band of its kind in America. Today, it is home to great restaurants like the Como Steak House and the Windy City Grill, the Como Inn bed-and-breakfast, and Jimbo Mathus’ Delta Recording Service, where great music is still being recorded. It’s also worth noting that at some point, Tallulah Bankhead briefly lived there!
I got up early and ate breakfast downtown at the Marriott because the panel I was to speak on at the Urban Music Summit was supposed to begin at 10: 30 AM. Things were actually running a bit behind schedule, and I ran into Janie Jennings as well as Carlos Broady, the super-producer from Memphis. I grabbed a lunch out at Harbor Town at the Movie and Pizza Company, and then made my way back to the convention for a listening panel that was to take place in the afternoon. During our critiques of artists, the sky turned black in the west and warning sirens started going off downtown. Later, after the panel was over, I drove down to Hernando to Windy City Grill for dinner, discovering that large areas of Hernando were without power and that there was a considerable amount of damage. To my dismay, I found that there was absolutely no power at all in Bartlett or Raleigh. Worse, in front of the movie theatre on Stage Road, trees had been uprooted and strewn across the parking lot. The nearby Starbucks was one of the few places with power and open for business, so I sat in there awhile, drinking coffee, and listening to people talk about the storm, which some were calling a tornado. When I got back to my house, the power was still off, but it was clear that we had suffered major damage. The tree in our front yard had broken apart, and parts of it had struck the corner of our house, and two large trees in the back yard had fallen and demolished our neighbors’ fence to the back of our house. I lay in the dark, trying to call the insurance company on my cellphone, but I couldn’t get through.