Thursday, May 29, 2008
By SUE WATSON
Lovers of the old Mississippi Hill Country blues and contemporary blues get a third shot at the experience of favorite local artists, country food, camping out, and 14 hours of live music a day on July 4 and 5 in Potts Camp.
Plans are being finalized for this year’s North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, organized by Sara Davis and Kenny Brown. Local participation and sponsorship is important to keeping and building this annual event, according to Davis and Brown. Businesses are being invited early to buy advertising to post at the event - one of the major ways that festivals like the Hill Country Picnic become a tradition instead of one- or two-year stands.
Last year’s festival drew about 2,300 to the 1,100-acre camping and concert ground at Potts Camp. A survey taken at the 2007 picnic shows that local and regional blues fans were among 256 on-site campers, and international visitors to the picnic came from as far away as England, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Canada, Mexico and France. In the U.S. visitors arrived with license tags from 31 states, not including Mississippi.
With that kind of a draw, the message is clear. People from around the world are connected to the blues originating in the Mississippi Hills and they are willing to travel long distances to enjoy the blues experience with others of like mind.
The festival takes place in the scenic rolling hills of Potts Camp, a small Mississippi community whose population has remained about the same for a century or more, but whose beauty has been a magnet for those seeking a place to relax, unwind and let their hair down for over a century.
In past years they arrived by train to recuperate from stressful lives with mud baths on the banks of the Tippah River, where they either camped out or lodged in a local hotel at night.
Today, they arrive by personal car, by plane, by van or motorcycle to listen to the blues, put down a tent, and to eat Hill Country barbecue, fried catfish and watermelon and everything else that goes with a Southern music festival.
Brown has firsthand experience at the international appeal and influence of Hills Country Blues through travel and playing with first, second and third generation blues musicians from north Mississippi. He said they organized the picnic to enhance appreciation for the music and to educate the general public about the unique art form of the Mississippi Hills Country blues through live performance, preservation and interpretation.
This year a one-day workshop on July 3 has been added by request.
“In addition to providing visitors a chance to interact with Hill Country musicians, the workshop is expected to give picnic-goers a reason for arriving a day early,” Brown said. “All levels of expertise will benefit from one-on-one workshop instruction. We will cater to the more- and to the less-advanced students.”
Workshop sessions will be led by Brown, Cedric Burnside, DuWayne Burnside, Garry Burnside, Wendy Garrison, Dave Kimbrough and Kenny Kimbrough, disciples of the great Hills Country blues artists who originated the unique style of instrumentals native to the old South.
In conjunction with the picnic, the Holly Springs Tourism Bureau will unveil the first Historic Blues Trail Marker commemorating the late R.L. Burnside and David “Junior” Kimbrough at noon in downtown Holly Springs. Workshop musicians will join the ceremony.
“The public is invited to the unveiling ceremony which will recognize these famous bluesmen,” Brown said. “And our workshop instructors will also perform several acoustic blues numbers during the ceremony.”
Last year’s picnic featured 17 performing artists and the 2008 Picnic has invited 28 acts.
For more about the Picnic and sponsorship, visit the official picnic website (www.nmshillcountrypicnic.com).
To register for the blues workshop or for any other information, contact Sara Davis at 662-801-7272.
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