Bartlett’s Annual Fall Car Show on Guffin Road

The homestead and surrounding acreage which belonged to Bartlett bluesman Lum Guffin still belongs to his descendants, and is occasionally rented out for events. Once a year, in the fall, it is the venue for a classic car show, which attracts competitors and fans alike. The weather is always beautiful, there is always a great soul and blues DJ, and usually good food and snacks from a couple of food trucks. I usually run into people I knew from Bartlett High School, and generally have a good time. After the judging is over, the kids love seeing the cars leave one by one. As they turn onto Guffin Road, they will usually peel out, which is of course what the young people want to see. It’s always a Sunday afternoon of good family fun, and one remaining institution in a rapidly vanishing African-American rural community between Bartlett and Ellendale.

As for Lum, he has been unjustly forgotten, although some Bartlett residents are working to change that. Tav Falco’s documentary film about him Key to the Highway (1978) has been posted to YouTube with Falco’s blessing, and an effort is being made to have him honored with a Tennessee historic marker on Guffin Road, which was once his private driveway. Unheard recordings of him seem to exist in the Tennessee State Archives in Nashville and the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, as well as a video of his fife and drum band at the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History in Washington, DC. Hopefully a new generation of Americans can be made aware of this most important bluesman.

Cigars, Wine, Blues and Soul at Chulahoma

If anyone is familiar with Chulahoma, Mississippi at all, it is probably as the location of the late blues great Junior Kimbrough’s long lost juke joint, which burned in the 1990s. True, the small crossroads has an annual blues festival, sponsored by singer and entrepreneur Beverly Davis, whose family owns the community grocery store and gas station. But aside from that, Chulahoma is basically just a four-way with a convenience store and an old former store across the road, and a Dollar General on the opposite corner. Near the border of Tate and Panola Counties in the Mississippi Hill Country, it is deep in an area known for blues, Black gospel, picnics and fife and drum music.

The annual Chulahoma Blues Festival is held in October, but in September of 2022, some promoters decided to try a new event called the Cigar and Wine Festival at Columbus Park, a large and spacious park south of Chulahoma just off the Tyro Road. The event featured a number of vendors, plenty of food trucks, motorcycle clubs, live music and a DJ. What it did not have, at least at first, was very many attendees, which was all the stranger since the weather was absolutely gorgeous. One of the three acts scheduled to perform had cancelled at the last minute, and Hill Country bluesman Garry Burnside was called as a replacement. Garry is well-known in Marshall County and in Oxford, and if he had been advertised on the event flyers and posters, there might have been a larger turnout. As it was, a singer named Cassandra the Soulchild from Memphis opened up the stage with her band, and Garry Burnside and his band followed, before Courtney Little from Memphis came on with his band, by which time there was at last a good-sized crowd, line-dancing in front of the stage.

Altogether, it was great food, great fun, a wonderful family atmosphere, and great weather. Here’s hoping the Cigar and Wine Fest returns for many more years.

Great Soul and Blues on Kentucky Lake

For 33 years, the Kenlake Hot August Blues Festival has been bringing great blues to a most unlikely place, the shores of Kentucky Lake at Kenlake State Resort Park near Hardin, Kentucky. Although there is no extensive record of blues in the area, the location is an inspiring one, with its stage set in front of the lakeshore, the iconic Aurora Bridge and a flotilla of boats in the background. With a state-owned resort hotel less than a mile from the festival site, accommodations are easy for performers and attendees alike. On the hill above the amphitheater seats, guests enjoy a wide variety of food and dessert trucks, as well as the festival store, which sells festival shirts, posters and records and compact discs of the performers.

For 2022, the Kenlake festival booked three African-American bands, which is notable in this era where so many blues festivals book all-white or predominantly-white lineups, and often including many artists that play genres other than blues. The opening band, A Different Sound was from Paducah, and while competent, they did not live up their name, as they were primarily a cover band. They were followed by Hill Country legend Duwayne Burnside, the son of the late R. L. Burnside, who gave the crowd an hour-long set of authentic blues. Behind him came Lexington, Kentucky-based bluesman Tee Dee Young, an artist with whom I was unfamiliar, but one deserving a lot more attention and acclaim. His band was quite impressive, and his voice and original compositions stood out. Toward the end of his set, people were on their feet dancing in the seats. By that point there were several hundred people in the amphitheater, and the hot day had cooled off. It was a pleasant end to an exciting day of blues.