Listen to the blues all week in BentoniaBy THE YAZOO HERALD,
The 2018 Bentonia Blues Festival is already going strong. This year's Festival started Monday evening at the Blue Front Cafe and will continue there each night until Saturday's festival that starts around noon at the Holmes farm at 313 Wilson-Holmes Road off Highway 49 North of Bentonia.
What began as a one-day community gathering of family and friends on the Holmes farm planned by Jimmy “Duck” Holmes in 1972 has now become a week-long celebration of the unique and haunting Bentonia style of blues that originated in the southern Yazoo County town. 46 years later, the Bentonia Blues Festival is the oldest blues festival in Mississippi.
“When I started this festival in 1972, it was to help preserve the Bentonia style of blues which is completely unique to this area. I knew then that it would be a great event, but I never knew it would be as big as it is now,” says Jimmy “Duck” Holmes whose parents opened the Blue Front Cafe in 1948. “The fact that so many people have become aware of this music and want to celebrate it every year with us here in Bentonia really warms my heart. Every year we have people here from a different country or state who has never been here before. The Bentonia blues is still alive, and it’s right here.”
The pre-festival celebration began on Monday, June 11th and will continue through Friday, June 15th, each evening at the Blue Front Cafe in downtown Bentonia. The Cafe, which no longer serves food but still serves cold drinks and snacks with a side of the real-deal blues, hosts a week of live music by musicians from near and far. This year's week-long juke includes performances by Ben Peyton, Dave Hundreiser, Arion “Baby” Bell, McKinney “Bluesman” Williams, Nico “Surubi” Mavrich, Randy “19th Street Red” Cohen, Robert Connely Farr, Roosevelt Roberts, Jr., Bud “Dr. Who” Carson, and Ms. Pleschette. Friday night the Blue Front Cafe will feature live performances by Grammy-nominated blues artist Cedric Burnside.
“The Bentonia Blues Festival brings visitors to Yazoo County from all over the world every year,” says Yazoo County CVB Executive Director Shanitra Finley. “The Blue Front Cafe is a bucket-list stop that draws visitors to Yazoo County all year, but the Festival and a full week of live blues at the Cafe makes this a great time to plan that trip. International travelers have begun planning their visits to the United States so that they can attend the Chicago Blues Festival one weekend and then come to Yazoo for the Bentonia Blues Festival the next weekend. It makes a great experience for them to see where the blues went and then come to Bentonia to see where it started. They get the full American experience.”
The Bentonia style of blues was made famous in the 1960s by Bentonia native Skip James, who learned the style from Henry Stuckey. Mr. Holmes learned to play the Bentonia style blues from and Mr. Jack Owens, a contemporary of James, who was featured in a Levi's 501 jeans commercial in the 1990s. James, Owens, and the Blue Front Cafe all have Mississippi Blues Trail markers in the Bentonia area.
Saturday's festival on the Holmes farm will include food and craft vendors and live music starting around noon. Blues fans will enjoy performances by Wes Lee, Mike Munson, Libby Rae Watson, Brother “Tito” Delter, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod & The Allstars, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, and the headline blues piano player and singer Henry Gray. This will be Grammy-nominated Gray's first performance at Bentonia who has more than 58 albums to his credit. Among other accolades, Grey was a 2006 National Heritage Fellow, nominated for Grammy awards and Blues Music Awards, and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.
For updates on line-up and more leading up to the festival, be sure to follow the Bentonia Blues Festival on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BentoniaBluesFestival, and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BentoniaBlues. This event is sponsored in part by the Yazoo County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Learn more about Yazoo County events and tourism including the Bentonia Blues Festival at www.visityazoo.org or call 800-381-0662.