My girlfriend and I had planned on going to see Cameron Kimbrough, who we thought was playing in Helena, Arkansas, but it ultimately turned out that he was playing in Warren, Arkansas instead, which is a three-hour drive. There was no chance of making it there before he went on stage, so we had dinner at the Holiday Lodge on Sardis Lake at Harmontown and then headed to the Blues Shack for the second day of the R. L. Burnside Memorial Jam. Holly Springs bluesman Little Joe Ayers was on stage when we arrived, playing to a crowd that was somewhat larger than the one on Friday night. After Joe performed, then Duwayne Burnside and Kenny Brown got on stage and performed such Hill Country classics as “All Night Long” and “Meet Me in the City.” Although we were having a great time there, we ultimately cut it short because my girlfriend wanted to catch Cedric Burnside, who was playing at Proud Larry’s in Oxford, so we left out and headed down that way.
Duwayne Burnside, son of the late R. L. Burnside, is one of the best guitar players in the country, and in September each year, he sponsors the R. L. Burnside Memorial Jam at the Blues Shack, which is out in the middle of nowhere off of Highway 310 and Old Oxford Road near Waterford, Mississippi. Don’t be expecting a big formal festival like the Hill Country Picnic. Instead, you pay your $10 entry fee at a gate on a gravel driveway and come to a small wooden stage in front of a mobile home. The pleasant smell of barbecue smoke from an oil drum drifts through the air, and a small crowd is mesmerized by such musicians as Duwayne Burnside, Kenny Brown, Garry Burnside and Little Joe Ayers, in a more intimate setting where the line between performers and fans is non-existent. Duwayne might come down off the stage for a break and sit at your picnic table, or he might be behind the food stand pouring beers or fixing food plates. With plenty of children running around and having fun, it feels more like being invited to a house party than a festival. And that is an experience not to be missed.
Hill Country blues legend Duwayne Burnside was celebrating his birthday with a party and bonfire at the Blues Shack in Waterford, Mississippi, so I decided to go down. Unfortunately, it was the coldest night so far of the year, and the turnout wasn’t nearly as large as I had expected, mostly close friends and family, but Duwayne and his brother Garry Burnside were glad to see me. At previous Blues Shack events, people tended to hang out near the stage, but at this one, people kept around the bonfire for obvious reason, except for the younger kids, who were running all around. An old harmonica player was on stage, playing with one of the younger boys on drums. After awhile, I headed back to Holly Springs because Kent Kimbrough was also celebrating his birthday at Junior’s Juke Joint #2.
On the Friday night of the Labor Day Weekend, I headed down into Marshall County, Mississippi for the first year of what is to be an annual picnic in memory of the late Hill Country blues guitarist R. L. Burnside. The event was being held at a place called the Blues Shack near Malone, Mississippi (although it was advertised as Waterford, Mississippi), which was just off of Highway 310 on the Old Oxford Road, not far from the old Burnside Blues Cafe location. The crowd was smaller than I had expected, perhaps because there was a threat of rain, but the blues was absolutely magnificent, with R.L.’s son Duwayne Burnside playing alongside two other great Hill Country guitarists, Kenny Brown and Little Joe Ayers. The small crowd and the outdoor stage in front of the shack gave the event the feel of a family get-together, and there was barbecue smoking on the oil-barrel grill beside the stage. Younger musicians came and went from the stage, and the music was still going strong when I left at midnight, with thunder and lightning visible to the west.