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Clarksdale vacation report, year two

Sunday, September 17, 2006 1:42:01 PM

It's been almost a month since my vacation to Mississippi, but I wanted to get a quick post in about the experience. Once again we went to the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Last time we also visited New Orleans, Memphis, Biloxi, and did the blues traveler thing throughout the state of Mississippi, but this time the trip was shorter and focused on the festival, with a little poker playing thrown in a the beginning and end of the trip.

We played 2 poker tournaments at the Horseshoe casino (where we stayed last time) that were fun. I've been doing pretty well in online poker tournaments, but it takes a lot of experience to be able to do well in a live tournament. The concentration and skill level is intense in the live tournaments. At the beginning, the more inexperienced players are eliminated, but when you get down to about half the field it starts getting more competitive. In the first tourney I had a couple of bad plays and had to rebuy, but my final hand was just plain bad luck. I had pocket threes in fairly late position, with one small raise in front of me. I called the small raise, as did the big blind. The flop came down with a three in it, so I hit my set, but the player to my right bet about half my stack. I went all in, the blind called, and the player to my right also called. Our cards went over and I was pretty confident -- the player to the right had a flush draw and the blind had two pair (can't remember the exact cards). The turn came down and gave me a full house. Then the river came down and gave the guy on the blind a bigger full house. I was sent packing around 50th out of 110 people.

The festival started Friday evening, so we spent the early part of that day in Helena, Arkansas. Helena also has a festival every year in October that always draws the top blues talent, both regional and national. It was also the home of the King Biscuit radio show. They still broadcast a small blues show from the Delta Cultural Center every day, which is open to the public. It's the longest running broadcast in history, starting in 1941. We got to the town just in time to see the broadcast, which turned out to be an interview with Big George Brock , who was later playing in Clarksdale. He also sang and played harmonica using his expressive style, and talked about his early years as a boxer, having once fought Sonny Liston. The museum where the radio broadcast originates from was loaded with cool memorabilia, such as guitars and amps from Robert Nighthawk and other blues greats.

The festival began Friday afternoon with the following lineup:

Friday, August 11, 2006 - Main Stage - John Lee Hooker Lane
4:30 p.m. - Delta Blues Museum Students
5:00 p.m. - Eddie Lee Coleman Band
6:00 p.m. - Maximum Blues Band - From the Sunflower's Sister Festival in Quebec, Canada
7:00 p.m. - Jimbo Mathus Knockdown South
8:00 p.m. - Duwayne Burnside & the Mississippi Mafia
9:00 p.m. - Latimore

We got to town a little early and headed to the Cat Head store -- probably the single best place to find blues CDs, books, magazines, artwork, pictures, and other memorabilia anywhere. Playing in the store was a young white guy named Lightnin' Malcolm, who turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire festival. This guy could sing and play and tell stories like he had been travelin' the south playing juke joints for 60 years, but he looked about 22. He also showed up on stage with many of the acts, playing guitar, bass, and even drums for one act. The performance in the store was great, mixing old Muddy Waters tunes with other blues classics, originals, and even some songs from Jessie Mae Hemphill, the legendary hill country songstress who had passed away about 2 weeks before the festival.

Another standout was the Maximum Blues Band from Quebec. I never got the name of the woman who was singing, but she was an amazing vocalist. Duwayne Burnside was pretty good, but he plays a much rougher electric blues than I am used to, with heavily distorted guitar. I saw his legendary father R. L. Burnside play in DC many years ago, and the highlight of the set was a version of one of R.L.'s songs.

That evening we went to a little juke joint called Red's, which featured Big Jack Johnson playing all night. The music was spectacular, and the joint was something to behold. It rained and water literally came pouring through the roof onto the pool tables, and nobody seemed to care.

The next day the standouts were Kenny Brown, Gas-man Jones, and Cadillac John & Bill Abel. Once again I missed Mr. Tater, but he later surfaced on stage for a song with one of the bands. I have no idea what he was singing, but everybody loves Tater. He is an original. Mr. Tater's picture actually made it to the New York Times recently. George Brock rocked the house, and Super Chikan put on a great show as well. Super Chikan was also the subject of a Washington Post article this week -- he actually played at the Kennedy Center yesterday. I wish I had found out about it before the show. We saw Terry "Harmonica" Bean last year as a one-man-band and was very impressed, but this year he played on the main stage with a full band and rocked the place.

The full lineup on Saturday was:

Saturday, August 12, 2006 - Main Stage - John Lee Hooker Lane
2:00 p.m. - Wesley Jefferson Southern Soul Band
3:00 p.m. - David Lee Durham & the True Blues Band
4:00 p.m. - Big T & the Family
5:00 p.m. - Terry "Harmonica" Bean & Bill Abel Blues Band
6:00 p.m. - Big George Brock & the Houserockers
7:00 p.m. - Early Wright & Julius Guy Award Presentations
7:15 p.m. - Sam Carr - Tribute and Award Presentation
7:30 p.m. - Super Chikan & the Fighting Cocks
8:30 p.m. - Shardee Turner and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band
9:00 p.m. - The North Mississippi Allstars

Saturday, August 12, 2006 Acoustic Stages
Othar Turner Acoustic Stage - Clarksdale Station (Historic Passenger Depot)
10:00 a.m. - Tater Foster
10:30 a.m. - Pat Thomas
11:00 a.m. - Eddie Cusic
11:30 a.m. - Big T & Arthneice "Gas Man" Jones
12:00 noon - Kenny Brown
12:45 p.m. -Shardee Turner & the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band leading
procession to the Main Stage

Delta Avenue Park
1:00 p.m. - Louis "Gearshift" Youngblood
2:00 p.m. - Cadillac John & Bill Abel
3:00 p.m. - Jimmy "Duck" Holmes
4:00 p.m. - T-Model Ford
5:00 p.m. - James "Super Chikan" Johnson

After the fest, we played cards again and entered another tourney. The second tourney was a little better for me because of the experience of the first, but as the blinds got bigger and bigger and I wasn't getting any cards, I had to make some moves. I was able to keep afloat for a while stealing a few blinds, but finally got down to the point where the next blind would have eaten all my chips. I went in with JK, and had the blind call me with an ace. I hit a king on the flop, but he ended up hitting his ace on the river and sending me back to my room at about 36th out of 110. Both tourneys would have paid about $8000 or more to the winner. My wife had a similar experience in both tourneys. She is a much better card player than me, having played in national level bridge tournaments for many years. Bridge is way over my head. Poker is about the level of sophistication and memory skills I can handle.

This may become a yearly event for us. Clarksdale is simply a warm, friendly place, and a mecca for lovers of the blues, both for its rich history and the amazing talent that still seems to ooze from the place. The food is also a standout. Barbeque, chicken, and ribs are cooking on every street corner, with smoke wafting throughout the town making your mouth water. Dave and Matt at Blitzblog really sum up the experience of Clarksdale in their blog entries at

"Clarksdale Mississippi is one of the most important cultural places on the planet Earth. It most certainly is the heartbeat of America, more so than New York, LA, Chicago or Washington DC. Combined. Of course you would not know that if you just give it a glance. It’s not what lies underneath, it’s what you hear when you are there. It’s what you ever so slowly begin to feel as your hips start shaking and your feet start moving into a rhythmic dance. And then you begin to shout and sing at the same time and you make perhaps the most profound discovery of your life. You find your soul. Clarksdale Mississippi is the land where the music began, American music that would change not just this country, but also the world. "

I couldn't have said it better.

Category tags: Music, Poker, Blues

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