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.
Blues singer Beverly Davis’ family owns the only store in Chulahoma, a small town about halfway between Senatobia and Holly Springs in the Mississippi Hill Country, and in October of 2021, they allowed her to hold the first annual Chulahoma Blues Festival in a cleared field behind the store on Highway 4.
Chulahoma has a long history with the blues. Photographer and blues researcher Michael Ford visited in the early 1970s, and the rural community was home to blues legend Junior Kimbrough’s second and most famous juke joint until it burned down in April of 2000. More recently, the area has continued to be the scene of occasional blues yard parties and at least one clandestine juke joint.
October is still hot in the Mississippi Hill Country, and this particular Saturday afternoon was steaming, but a fair number of people turned out to see Beverly Davis as well as Duwayne Burnside and the Garry Burnside Band, and the weather cooled off after the sun went down. There was plenty of good food, great blues and dancing in front of the stage, and like so many Hill Country events, the feeling that we were standing on historic ground where these kinds of events have been going on for over a hundred years. The festival is intended to be an annual event.
On November 4, 2017, Senatobia launched its inaugural Blues and Brews festival in Gabbert Park, in unusually warm and wet weather. In fact, dense fog enveloped the whole park, and made it hard to see the crowd from the stage area. But a small crowd braved the wet (although not technically rainy) weather to celebrate the unveiling of an historic marker in honor of Sid Hemphill, and the rededication of another to Black country pioneer O. B. McClinton, as well as beer, good food, and great blues. Of particular interest was the opening performer, Glen Faulkner, a master of the one-string guitar from the Gravel Springs community, which was also home to the better-known Otha Turner and his fife-and-drum band. Faulkner has been recorded little, perhaps because he doesn’t sing, and clearly was not feeling his best, having to be helped onto the stage. But once on stage, he demonstrated his absolute mastery of his somewhat unusual instrument, treating the audience to his version of Hill Country standards like “My Babe” and “When I Lay My Burdens Down.” Faulkner was followed by Little Joe Ayers, one of the original generation of Hill Country bluesmen who for many years was part of Junior Kimbrough’s band, and then by Kent Burnside, one of R. L. Burnside’s grandsons, who rarely appears in this part of the country, although he performs frequently in the Midwest and internationally. Mark “Muleman” Massey was next on the lineup, followed by Garry Burnside and his girlfriend Beverly Davis, along with the seldom-seen guitarist Joe Burnside, to close the evening’s festivities. There were quite a few local food vendors as well, including Alma Jean’s Southern Kookin and Bliss Handcrafted Ice Cream. It was a memorable night of blues on an unusually warm day in November.
Although Proud Larry’s is first and foremost a rock club, Oxford, Mississippi is deep in the Mississippi Hill Country, and has been the scene of many a classic blues performance. Nearly all the greats of the Hill Country have performed there, including the great Junior Kimbrough and R. L. Burnside. So it came as no surprise that they kicked off the Labor Day weekend with a Friday night appearance by R. L. Burnside’s son Garry, with his band featuring Kody Harrell of Woodstomp, singer Beverly Davis, and Cedric Burnside on drums, followed by Eric Deaton, a bluesman who learned the Hill Country style from time spent playing with R.L. Although the holiday weekend had many entertainment options, the club was surprisingly full, and the crowd unusually attentive, considering that all too often, young Oxford crowds view the music as background to serious drinking. Both the musicians and the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves, and it was basically just a good time.
This year’s On Location: Memphis International Film and Music Festival launched something new, a gala blues concert at Cooper-Walker Place in Memphis’ Cooper-Young neighborhood. Hosted by Memphis’ own blues diva Redd Velvet, the concert featured performances from Butch Mudbone, Cash McCall, Beverly Davis, Garry Burnside and Cedric Burnside, and drew a crowd of music lovers and film makers alike. Veteran Memphis drummer Terryl Saffold and bassist Cecil McDaniel anchored the rhythm section for the earlier acts, and it was quite an enjoyable event.