The marble lobby of this old bank in Clarksdale has been turned into a performance space known as The Bank. It was one of the main venues for the Juke Joint Festival this year.
At last year’s Juke Joint Fest, there was no place to buy coffee in Clarksdale, but this year there was Yazoo Pass, a really good coffee bar on Yazoo Avenue that also features sandwiches and the current trend of frozen yogurt in cups charged by weight. Yazoo Pass became a center of activity during the festival, perhaps because of its location between stages at Bluesberry Cafe and Yazoo Park on one end, and the Bank Stage in the former Coahoma Bank at the other end.
The Juke Joint Festival is held annually in April in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and is probably the biggest tourist event in the city, and one of the biggest in the state. Originally a one-day event, the festival now stretches across all or part of four days, with movie screenings, concerts, a parade, kids’ activities and more. Central to the event are legendary Clarksdale jukes, such as Red’s Blues Lounge and Messengers Pool Hall, while newer clubs, such as Bill Luckett and Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero are also important venues. On Saturday, there are arts and crafts, and numerous outdoor stages across the downtown area and in the adjacent New Era district.
I drove down to Clarksdale last Thursday to meet up with Justin Showah, the owner of Hill Country Records, who was playing the opening night of Juke Joint Festival with Jimbo Mathus’ Mosquitoville touring show at the Delta Cinema. Once in Clarksdale, I met up with Robert Kimbrough, one of blues legend Junior Kimbrough’s sons, and got caught up in the street performances and general festivities. I bought some vinyl records, saw some performances outdoors and at Ground Zero Blues Club, and ate dinner at the famous Abe’s Bar-B-Q. I had always thought of Juke Joint Festival as a local festival, like most small Southern towns have, but it’s really more of a South By Southwest of the blues. A lot of fun, and it really wouldn’t get going good until Friday and Saturday!