King Biscuit Festival Day 1

Day 1 of King Biscuit

We skipped the first day of the King Biscuit Festival for our day in Vicksburg.  Today, we would join the masses to listen to blues music, eat great food, and imbibe a bit.  The weather promised to be a bit warm today with a cooler evening.  At least it wasn’t raining like the last time.  The high would be 88 and sunny.

We got up and shuffled about our morning before we packed up and headed over to the Rest Haven for breakfast.  Now, we are in the south and things move at a different pace here.  We got inside and someone let us know to just sit down.  It was fairly full, but mostly regulars by the look of them.  They weren’t in any hurry, so we thought we shouldn’t be either.

It took a bit to get menus and the waitress\cashier\owner came by to take our order.  We ordered omelets, side of gravy, grits, and toast with coffee.  Somewhere along the way, my side of gravy got lost.  It took about 15 to 20 minutes to get it to the table.  It was worth the wait though.  The sausage in the omelet and gravy were wonderful.  This was a great start to the day ahead.

Before we left town, I had to stop by the grocery store for supplies and try to find a hairbrush.  I left mine at home and had nothing to curl these bangs with.  Uncurly bangs are a recipe for disaster.  I couldn’t get them out of eyes!  I picked up picnic supplies for the stage area as well as some snacking stuff.  When we checked out, I saw the manager from the restaurant where we just left go across the front of the store.  He nodded hello.  Wow, I felt like I belonged in town.  Forgot how a small town could be.

After getting gas at the busiest station I’ve ever been in, we let the navi (GPS) take us out of town.  I had no idea where this was going.  It seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere.  Rich assured me it was headed to Helena.  We went past a Blues marker and Rich mentioned he saw it.  Then I saw the Stovall Farms sign.  No way?  This is the Stovall Plantation site?  Where Muddy Waters grew up and worked?

I turned the car around to go back to the sign.  Sure enough, it was a Blues marker for the location of the house where Muddy Waters grew up and lived.  This is the house where his grandparents brought him after his mother died when he was 2.  So cool to find this thing.  We took pictures and then got back on the road.

We popped out onto Hwy 49 going west across the Mississippi River into Helena, Arkansas.  Since we had been here once before, I knew right where I wanted to park.  The local high school has parking for $5.  The donation goes to help their athletic department.  Seems like a really good cause.  The location is close to the festival and easy to get out.  The young ladies were in place and ready to take money.

We walked down to Will Call to pick up our wristbands for admission.  The festival itself is free.  However, seating in the Main Stage area costs you.  I figured it was worth the first time to see the faces of the performers.  And it was.  So I paid again to sit down and face the stage.   We picked up our commemorative t-shirts at the same time.

Back at the car, we loaded up the wagon with chairs and other necessary items to enjoy the day.  After entering the stage area, we found that the right side of the stage was pretty open.  It meant hopping the wagon over the railroad tracks, but that was pretty easy.  We set up chairs and settled in.  Then it was time for a foray into food.

Down on the street, we walked through the vendors to determine what might be good.  We settled on curry goat from the International Food tent.  They were cooking up all kinds of good things on large griddles.  I hadn’t had curry goat in a few years.  Time to try it once again.  Rich got tamales from one of the local vendors. With our food, we headed back to get beers and settled down to music.  Rich got an Oktoberfest and I got something called Love Honey, which was a bock.  The beer helped since the curry was a little more than on the spicy side.  Still great though.

The first act was Blind Mississippi Morris.  He must have been blind to where that bright neon green suit!  Put your eyes out!  He was a great harmonica player though.  Next, The Mike Wheeler Band came on.  These guys are from the Chicago area.  Really enjoyed listening to them play.  This would be our first CD buy of the festival.

Rich went down to Bubba’s to stand on line for a CD and get Mike to sign it.  That’s one of things I love about these festivals.  You buy a CD and get to talk to the people you just saw.  Rich had to wait for a while since a lady with Big City Rhythm and Blues was talking to Mike.  He came back with a great story about standing there with Mike while she talked.  Nothing like getting the gossip from the source.  We’ll be checking out the Mike Wheeler Band at home, too.

Kenny Neel and his entire family seemed like they were on stage as the next act.  Mr. Teddy, the owner for a juke joint in Louisiana where Kenny’s family has played for something like 6 generations, introduced Kenny.  The brothers play in the band.  Kenny brought a nephew on to play for the crowd.  He said he was working to bring up the next generation of Neels to carry on the tradition.

Mike Zito came out next.  I’ve tried to see him play before with no luck.  Strange, he sounds little like John Mellencamp.  I did enjoy the music though.  Anson Funderburk and the Rockets came out next.  This band is a local favorite and plays here every year.  This year, they had a new lead singer named Ray.  I didn’t catch his last name, but he was awesome.  For those who don’t know the name, Anson Funderburk was a member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds back in the day with Kim Wilson.

The sun was going down at the point.  It had been a very hot and sweaty day for us.  The temp was somewhere around 90 with the sun beating down.  We had our umbrellas on the chairs to shade us, but that didn’t cut the heat.  After the sun went behind the trees, we realized we didn’t bring our jackets.  It was chilly out on the levee with no coat.  I had a blanket I brought, but Rich didn’t get a cover up.  Luckily, the temp was only in the mid 70s by the time the show was over.  Still warm enough not to freeze, but a bit chilly with the wind.  Coats tomorrow for sure.

The next group was from New Orleans.  The Rebirth Brass Band was a group of young men who won a Grammy this year for their work.  They were absolutely amazing.  Two trumpets, two trombones, one sax, and 2 percussionists.  They made the music into an art form.  Rich didn’t care for the brass (and a little woodwind and percussion) too much, but he admitted it was very good.

That brought us to the headliner for the evening.  John Mayhall is 82 years old.  He is known as the Grandfather of British Blues.  He and his band, the Bluesbreakers, have started or promoted the careers of some the premier musicians in Britain.  Here are a few:  Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jack Bruce, Mike Taylor, Peter Green, Walter Trout, and Coco Montoya.

From a history perspective, this is one of those guys you have to see.  His show turned out to be really great.  He did it all.  He played guitar like a master, handled the organ and synethizer with ease, and managed a pretty good harmonica.  The drummer and bassist with him were from Chicago.  They were great at rounding out the sound for him.

At the end, they were fighting over who got to introduce John to the crowd as the final bow.  John seemed OK with letting them fight for the mic.  The drummer won the contest and handled the job with precise drummer skill.  By the way, John and I share a birthday about 50 years apart!

Now for the bad news.  We were into the Anson Funderburk part of the show when a group of 5 girls and three boys sat on the grass behind us.  Immediately, they started talking loud to hear each other over the music.  These kids were somewhere in their 20s.  They didn’t pay any attention to the music around them.  One by one, the people around them moved.  They didn’t notice that they bothered anyone.  Rich refused to move, but it gave me excuses to turn around and stare at them from time to time.  At one point, I thought Rich was going to yell at them.  They were babies who had no idea how rude they were.

Around gossip, Facebook, and other inane things, it turns out the girls drove down on a lark.  They had no place to stay and little or nothing with them.  They were sitting on the ground and couldn’t see anything.  The boys at least had a hotel room.  From the conversation I couldn’t help but overhear, the girls were sleeping in the car down by the marina that night.  Wow, that’s more than I would have done at that age.

When John Mayhall came on stage, this group of kids seemed to know the name.  However, they knew the first two lines of one song.  That’s about the extent of their knowledge.  I was totally amazed that they would spend that kind of money to sit on the grass and not listen any of the music.  What a waste of time and money.  I wondered how they afforded that for all of them.

When the music was over, we stood up to pack.  The area behind was littered with dozens of beer cans and containers.  The kids got up and didn’t attempt to pick up after themselves.  I wanted to scream at them for being so ignorant about their surroundings or what someone else was going to have to do to clean up their mess.  Who lets their children do this sort of thing!

Let it go!  It took a while to breathe deep and let the stress drain from me after dealing with that mess.  I wanted to so punch a parent for not doing their job.

We got back to the car through the crowd.  After unloading the wagon and packing things away, it was time to hit the road.  We got in line and made our way to the bridge over the Mississippi.  Now this bridge is very steep.  I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as we drove over it in the daylight.  It wasn’t any better at 10:15 PM.

Traffic was slow going down 49.  At one point, we were all passing a VW mini bus that couldn’t do over 50 at best.  Once we got to 61, it was 70 miles an hour all the way into Clarksdale.  Some of the cars were going a bit faster than that.  I couldn’t tell you how fast because they zoomed by and left only tail lights.  We arrived at the hotel and gathered our stuff to take up.

We got into the lobby as other festival attendees were returning.  Everyone was talking about the experience and asking questions.  Once up stairs, it was hot showers and decompressing before turning in for the night.  There’s always tomorrow.

Stovall Plantation site
Stovall Plantation site
Rich with the Muddy Waters' boyhood home site
Rich with the Muddy Waters’ boyhood home site
Our set up for the day
Our set up for the day
Hanging in the shade from the heat
Hanging in the shade from the heat
All settled in to watch the music
All settled in to watch the music
First act on stage
First act on stage
Kenny Neel on stage
Kenny Neel on stage
Mr.  Teddy at the end of Kenny Neel's set
Mr. Teddy at the end of Kenny Neel’s set
Mike Wheeler trying to walk through the crowd
Mike Wheeler trying to walk through the crowd
Mike Zito and band on stage
Mike Zito and band on stage
Anson Funderburk and the Rockets
Anson Funderburk and the Rockets
Rebirth Brass Band
Rebirth Brass Band