Toddy Cameron may be a New Orleans resident, but he's been faithful to his
first love - Clarksdale - since he graduated from its high school in 1967.
He is one of thousands who will descend on the small Delta Mississippi town
April 12-15 for the ninth Annual Juke Joint Festival.
"For me it has the feeling of a 1960s era parade in downtown Clarksdale,"
said Cameron, who comes from New Orleans each year for the festival. "The
feel for me has evolved into an annual reunion of music and friends who are
becoming more like family. It's always fun to see those familiar faces who
make it back year to year."
Cameron wistfully remembers roaming downtown Clarksdale streets as a child.
"During Juke Joint Festival that feeling comes back around," he said.
"Clarksdale fits my hand like an old, well-worn glove. It might be me just
getting old and reverting to that second childhood - but I like it.
"You have that kind Southern hospitality from the locals who work hard as
gracious hosts. You have the artists out there visiting and partying with
their fans between gigs. And then you have the frequent out-of-towners, like
me, along with the "newbies" who might be from anywhere in the world."
Clarksdale, once home to bluesmen Son House, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker,
Ike Turner and the late blues pianist Pinetop Perkins among other artists,
comes alive each year with blues-lovers dressed in wild hats,
anything-almost-goes attire and T-shirts with the names and nicknames of
blues greats, past and present.
Festival goers are wooed by the familiar downtown smells of Delta barbeque
and spicy boiled crawfish. Family events and activities are held during the
day and into the early evening. Blues music can be heard almost around the
clock, and Clarksdale's nighttime venues offer blues enthusiasts roots music
and cold beer in what one Southern author has referred to as "The Most
Southern Place on Earth."
"I go for the music and the people; the weather is usually mild, too," said
St. Louis native Robert McDonald, who has been to every Juke Joint Festival
since 2005. Like most folks in the Delta and the blues world, McDonald has a
nickname; friends call him Unc.
Few festival goers "roll" as hard as Unc, who can be seen imbibing, laughing
and "living the blues life" in downtown Clarksdale, at The Shack Up Inn and
all points in between.
Saturday is his favorite day, said Unc. "I like that one wristband gets you
in all the different juke joints to see your favorite artists. Clarksdale is
the crossroads and the home of Delta blues. It's where it all started. Many
of the greats have come from Clarksdale. When I am there, I am living the
Juke Joint Festival's 2012 edition will feature 100 blues acts over the long
weekend. It is a blues-lovers smorgasbord, which began its celebration last
year in honor of the 100th birthday of Clarksdale "Crossroads" blues legend
"One of my favorite things about Juke Joint Festival is that we get a whole
big group of folks who come back year after year," said award-winning
author, Juke Joint Festival co-organizer and blues documentarian Roger
Stolle. "Many of them also bring new friends with them, often bragging about
how many years they've been attending.
"It really becomes something of a Delta homecoming for fans of blues music
and the state of Mississippi. Last year, we had Juke Joint Festival
attendees from at least 21 foreign countries and 45 U.S. States. That kind
of tells you all you need to know."
Stolle's second blues film, "We Juke Up In Here: Mississippi Juke Joint
Culture at the Crossroads," premieres opening day at the Delta Cinema.
"The only downside is that the 'regulars' will book up about half of the
hotel rooms for the next year on the day they check out," he said.
As the new year dawned on the Delta, there were no hotel rooms left in
Clarksdale for Juke Joint Festival 2012. However, its largest sponsor, the
Isle of Capri Casino, opened up a couple hundred hotel rooms in February at
a special rate for the fest (booking code JUKE12).
The casino plans to run a continuous bus shuttle from the Lula casino to
downtown Clarksdale on Friday and Saturday. Rooms can still be secured in
Tunica, Bateseville and Cleveland-all locations approximately 45 minutes
Sure to be missed during this year's festival are two men whose passing will
impact Delta blues. Shaw native and blues guitar legend David "Honeyboy"
Edwards played his final note in August. The 96-year-old was a regular
performer at Juke Joint Festival, making his last appearance in April 2011.
Gary Miller, owner and publisher of the Blues Source record store in
Clarksdale, passed away in December. Blues Source was a music lover's retail
and online gem.
Sunday's festivities culminate with three afternoon and evening events
well-attended by frequent out-of-towners. The last hour of the Cat Head Mini
Blues Fest-a festival within a festival-begins at 3 p.m. in front of Cat
Head Blues and Folk Art on Delta Avenue.
The next event begins as the Cat Head Fest ends. At 4 p.m. in the Juke Joint
Chapel at the world-renowned Shack Up Inn at Hopson--an eclectic smattering
of old sharecropper shacks with corrugated tin roofs and cypress
sideboards--Sunday afternoon Shack favorites Lightnin' Malcolm and Cameron
Kimbrough's two-man blues duo will hypnotize the Delta flatlands with
rhythmic, Hill Country-style blues.
The hardcore, diehard, blues-loving faithful can be found in the chapel or
on the grounds drinking beer, throwing a football, debating what blues
artist has the best technique or dancing beneath the stage, trying to decide
what time they need to leave to catch the Blues Jam at Red's Lounge three
miles back in Clarksdale.
Frequent Juke Joint attendee and California resident Ed Shackeroff, who
spent most weekends as a child at his grandparents third-floor apartment in
Clarksdale's famed Alcazar Hotel, said Clarksdale is rich in an honest
history that can be felt.
"Clarksdale is a sapling of regrowth in a previously fallow field. People
want to nurture it, lest it wither forever," he said. "The locals have
achieved a bohemian artistic flavor, and visitors can easily see and feel
this. The locals genuinely want to share their experience with visitors.
Fortunately, in the past 10 years, economic and cultural seeds were planted,
and they are sprouting. The Juke Joint Festival has played a major part in
the emerging regrowth."
Want to go?
Clarksdale's Juke Joint Festival is scheduled for April 12-15. Rooms are
still available in Tunica, Batesville and Cleveland - all within 45 minutes.
For more information, visit www.jukejointfestival.com