Blues Fest this weekend in the Grove at Ole Miss

Published 9:36 am Thursday, July 13, 2017

By Reid Posey

Blues music holds a vital position in the history and culture of the state of Mississippi, and this weekend offers an excellent opportunity for locals and visitors alike to celebrate and promote the power of the blues.

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This weekend marks the eighth edition of the Oxford Blues Festival. With its mission of preserving, protecting, and promoting blues music and culture, the festival will feature three days’ worth of blues-centered events, ranging from live music performances to educational panels.

The weekend’s events kick off on Friday night at Tallahatchie Gourmet with a diverse lineup of musical talent.

The first band up on Friday night will be 7 Mile Mushroom, a blues-influenced Southern rock act from Johnson City, Tennessee.

Next up will be Ben Wiley Payton, who will perform more of a traditional acoustic blues act, taking influence from the pre-World War II blues standards.

Rounding out the lineup on Friday night will be “The Great” Effie Burt, an accomplished local performer combining blues and jazz sensibilities to deliver a proper finale for the evening.

James Darryl Parker, founder and executive director of the festival, said that Tallahatchie Gourmet will be offering a special “blues food” menu, inspired by the music of blues giants such as Charlie Musselwhite and Muddy Waters. The special menu will feature soul food staples such as fried chicken, mashed potatoes, purple hull peas, turnip greens, cornbread, and banana pudding.

Friday night’s event will run from 6 to 10 p.m., and the cost of admission is $10.

Saturday’s events start at 11 a.m. at the J. D. Williams Library on the University of Mississippi campus, featuring a panel discussion between Blues Archive Curator Greg Johnson and festival performer Beverly “Guitar” Watkins. Afterwards, Johnson will present a selection of blues artifacts from the Blues Archive.

Festival goers can then make the short trek through campus to the Grove stage and settle in for a full day of live music.

Saturday’s music is slated to begin at 1:15 with a performance by Hill Country Stomp. The rest of the day will feature performances by R. L. Boyce, The King Bees, Beverly “Guitar” Watkins, and the Cedric Burnside Project.

All of Saturday’s events are free to the public, something that Parker said he hopes to continue offering in the future.

“We just want people to come out and enjoy it,” Parker said.

In place of a price of admission, Parker encourages those coming on Saturday to pledge a donation to the festival.

“If someone wants to donate, they’re welcome to donate,” Parker said. “It helps us keep the music alive and free.”

Parker said that they will also be selling raffle tickets for a drawing on Saturday night, featuring a guitar autographed by the festival’s performers.

Parker also said that although attendees are welcome to bring their own coolers with them to the Grove, a variety of local vendors will be at the festival to offer food and drinks. These vendors include Coyote Blues, Jamie Bullard Concessions, Ken Draper Concessions, Holli’s Sweet Tooth, Dickey’s BBQ, and 6 N Tubbs Pizza.

Unfortunately, last year’s edition of the festival had to be canceled in the face of some pretty nasty weather.

“It was raining so hard you couldn’t see the student union from the stage,” Parker said.

This year, however, there is a back-up plan in place just in case weather decides not to cooperate again. Parker said that if the inclement weather seems probable, Saturday’s music will be moved down the road to Nutt Auditorium.

The weekend will wrap up on Sunday with a Gospel Brunch at Mesquite Chop House from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., featuring a musical performance by A Family Affair Gospel singers.

General admission to the Gospel Brunch is free, and attendees are welcome to purchase food and drinks from the Mesquite menu while they enjoy the music. Like Saturday, Parker said that donations are strongly encouraged at Sunday’s event to help keep as much of the weekend free as possible.

“We just want to let people enjoy Oxford and enjoy the blues,” Parker said.