If you listen closely, you can hear it…the sound of a wailing guitar and a gruff voice proclaiming the troubles he has faced and the women who have done him wrong. It’s the blues, and it has become the heartbeat of the Arkansas Delta, a region that has faced hardships ranging from abject poverty to devastating floods. You hear that adversity in the music, and it reaches into the depths of the listener’s soul. It’s the blues…a powerful, lyrical lullaby for anyone who has faced pain or tragedy or just had a really bad day. It sweeps over you like the waves of the Mighty Mississippi.
Each October, thousands gather in the heart of the Arkansas Delta to celebrate the blues. The King Biscuit Blues Festival, held in historic Helena, turns 30 this year and organizers of the world-renowned event have three days of music and fun planned Oct. 8-10 to celebrate the anniversary.
Again this year, the fun kicks off with Warm Up Wednesday and the Michael Burks Memorial Jam on Oct. 7, an opportunity for people to experience a “behind-the-scenes” look at how the event comes together. Food and beverage vendors will be open to the public and festival wristbands (required to access the Main Stage area) and Blues Bucks will also be available for purchase. The Michael Burks Memorial Jam takes place on the Main Stage beginning at 6 p.m. and admission is free.
Thursday, Oct. 8, features performances on the Main Stage by Danny Lancaster, the Sterling Billingsley Band, Brandon Santini, Zac Harmon, the Kentucky Headhunters and the Cate Brothers. Thursday night’s headliner is the one-and-only Bobby Rush. He’s mesmerized crowds in Europe and Japan, but Bobby is always most “at home” when playing blues in the Mississippi Delta region. Born in Louisiana, Bobby moved to Chicago in the mid-50s, where he performed with the likes of Freddie King, Luther Allison and Earl Hooker. Rush has been performing all over the world for more than 50 years, but he shows no signs of stopping.
The musical lineup for the Main Stage on Friday, Oct. 9, includes Marcus “Mookie” Cartwright, Charlotte Taylor & Gypsy Rain, Super Chikan, Reba Russell, Samantha Fish, Anson Funderburgh and the Paul Thorn Band. Headlining Friday night is Robert Randolph & the Family Band. Randolph, known for his steel guitar skills and dynamic live performances, was included in Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Times.”
Saturday’s Main Stage music includes performances by David Kimbrough, Earnest “Guitar” Roy, Don McMinn, the Kenny Smith Band, Larry McCray, Andy T & Nick Nixon, and Ruthie Foster. Closing out the evening is Taj Mahal, returning to the Biscuit for the third time. Born in Massachusetts, his father was a jazz pianist, composer and arranger of Caribbean descent, and his mother was a gospel singing schoolteacher from South Carolina. Both parents encouraged him to take pride in their diverse ethnic and cultural roots. He did and his music is the perfect blend of both cultures.
Through June 1, three-day wristbands for Main Stage performances at King Biscuit will be available for $30. Beginning June 2, wristbands will be $50 for the three-day pass. Individual day wristbands can be purchased for $30 for Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
To find out more about the 30th annual King Biscuit Blues Festival, or to see full schedules for all four stages, log on to www.KingBiscuitFestival.com or call 870-572-5223.