The Wade Walton Stage, named for the man who owned the blues club and barber shop on the spot when he was living, is always one of the most crowded and boisterous stages during Juke Joint Fest each year, and this year was no exception, as young blues artist Mr. Sipp performed with his band and drew a crowd of dancers directly in front of the stage. Unlike many older blues artists, Mr. Sipp is as equally at home with Jimi Hendrix as he is with traditional blues, and the people loved all of it.
Although last year’s Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival was actually rather depressing, with stage access cut off by a horrendous VIP compound, improvements had been promised this year, and fortunately, things were a lot better last night. Bobby Rush was on stage at the time I entered the festival grounds, and fans were able to set up their lawn chairs and blankets and enjoy the music directly in front of the stage. There were still some minor annoyances, like the whole festival grounds being fenced off (which doesn’t happen during Juke Joint Fest, and which I cannot see the point of since there is no admission charge), and people coming from Ground Zero are still required to walk the long way around to Third Street to get into the festival. But altogether, the experience was far more pleasant and fun, and it seems that the Sunflower River Festival is on the right path. Around the corner at the Wade Walton Stage, a southern soul DJ was having his own miniature blues festival, spinning for the few patrons of the rib shack next door.
The Wade Walton Stage is located in front of the late barber and bluesman’s barber shop, directly beside The Pit, which is justifiably famous for its barbecued ribs which people enjoy as they listen to first-rate acoustic blues. Big Jon Short is a one-man-band from Boston, Massachusetts, famous not only as a performer, but also for his Blues in Schools initiatives, as he has been a public school teacher for ten years. In February, Short released a full-length album with his band called 34 Special and a solo EP called Big Eyed Rabbit, both of which can be downloaded at http://jonshort.com/2013/02/two-new-cds-available/.
The Wade Walton Stage during Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale is directly beside The Pit Barbecue, which offers some of the best ribs in Clarksdale. It seems fairly empty on a Friday morning, but it will be wall-to-wall people by Saturday.