Kingfish and Terry “Big T” Williams Rock The Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival

Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival / Google Photos

Founded in 1988, the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival is the older of Clarksdale’s two main annual blues festivals, but in recent years it has seemed to struggle as the Juke Joint Festival in April has grown in popularity. Nevertheless, it still attracts many people to Clarksdale each August, and after an ill-fated expansion effort in 2012, the festival has finally returned to its roots as a regional blues festival in downtown Clarksdale. This year, I was thrilled to see that the fencing around the festival grounds in previous years had been done away with, allowing free access to and from the festival to the surrounding streets and venues of downtown Clarksdale, and attendees again had access to the front of the stage, unlike 2012 when the whole area had been reserved for VIP’s who had donated large sums of money to the festival. Unfortunately, we were late in getting to Clarksdale this year, but when we arrived at the main stage, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was on stage, amazing the crowd with his guitar skills, backed by Chris Black on drums and Paul Rogers on bass. He was followed by Terry “Big T” Williams, a perennial favorite in Clarksdale, whose Family Band includes the prominent Delta saxophonist Alphonso Sanders. The crowd seemed somewhat smaller than in previous years, but that may have been due to the threat of rain, which persisted all day Saturday.Nevertheless, the rain stayed away while we were there, and with the barricades gone, festival-goers swarmed around the downtown Clarksdale, visiting shops and restaurants, and several venues sponsored their own performances to coincide with the festival weekend.

Albert King Jr and the Final Touch Band at @GroundZero; Bill Howl-N-Madd Perry and Terry Big T Williams at Red’s Lounge

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When I left the Delta Blues Alley Cafe, I walked across the street to Ground Zero Blues Club where the Final Touch Band was playing featuring Albert King Jr on bass, who claims to be the son of the late blues guitarist Albert King. The club wasn’t particularly crowded (which was unusual), and I had no problem finding a seat near the stage. After the first set was over and the band went on break, I left Ground Zero and walked back to Red’s Lounge on Sunflower Avenue at Fourth, where Bill Howl-N-Madd Perry was on stage performing. There wasn’t a huge crowd there either, but as Red’s was a smaller venue, the room seemed crowded by comparison. After Perry performed a few blues numbers, he invited up a local singer named Junebug to do a song, and then a fellow bluesman named Terry “Big T” Williams. The patrons were a good mix of local residents and out-of-town visitors, and the mood was jovial. Bill Perry came back up around 11 and played until midnight, when I left to make the long drive back to Memphis.

Check out Bill Howl-N-Madd Perry and Terry Big T Williams’ performances here:’s_Lounge,_Clarksdale_MS,_2_6_15.rar

Bluesman Terry "Big T" Williams Performing at the River Arts Festival

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For whatever reason, the music at this year’s River Arts Festival seemed oriented toward folk, rock and country, with far less jazz, blues, soul or gospel than previous years’ festivals. But one exception was Clarksdale-based bluesman Terry “Big T” Williams, who played all Saturday afternoon on the festival’s far northern end of Main Street, occasionally accompanied by Latin percussionist Rico Rumba as well. Big T’s repertoire stretches from traditional blues to soul tunes like Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog.” Occasionally, groups of festival goers would stop to listen before heading further down to the art exhibits.

Terry “Big T” Williams, Rip Butler and Gladys #SunflowerBlues2013

Terry “Big T” Williams is a modern Clarksdale bluesman and sometimes operator of a juke joint on the southside of Clarksdale on Madison Avenue. He records for the Broke & Hungry label out of St. Louis, which is run by Jeff Konkel in conjunction with Roger Stolle of Cat Head. His style of blues is remarkably traditional for a modern bluesman, and his shows typically include vocals from Rip Butler and a female singer named Gladys. His performance Saturday at the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival was quite enjoyable.