GREENVILLE — This may be the second year that people across the country are singing the blues as a result of the recession, but in the Mississippi Delta, the blues have always been a way of life. On Sept. 21 in the small Delta town of Greenville, a long list of musicians and blues fans from around the country and the world will celebrate the blues for the 25th year in a row with the Annual Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival.
“Probably 90% of tourists who come to the Delta are looking for blues music,” said Betty Lynn Cameron, executive director of the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce. “This is a fantastic attraction because it gives them what they’re looking for. They want that dirt floor, foot stomping basics-of-life-story music that the blues were founded on, and that’s what they get with a blues festival like this.”
The Delta Blues and Heritage Festival is the largest one-day event in the state, and hotels as far away as 40 miles in every direction fill up far in advance for the event. The festival is also the second oldest blues festival in the country. The oldest is the San Francisco Blues Festival, which will turn 30 this year and is scheduled for Sept. 28-29 in San Francisco’s Great Meadow at Fort Mason.
“This event means a lot for the Delta,” said Deloris Franklin, director of the Mississippi Action for Community Education or MACE/Delta Arts Project.
Two years ago about 12,000 attended the festival, and while last year’s attendance was somewhat less at 7,500 as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, event planners, business leaders and others in the area are hoping for around 15,000 visitors this year.
“It’s supposed to be a great year and we’re hoping this will be one of the best we’ve had,” Franklin said.
Bill Seratt, executive director of the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau and president of the Mississippi Delta Tourism Association, said the Delta depends on the Delta Blues and Heritage Festival for a $1.25 million to $1.5 million economic impact every year, and that is with no multiplier.
“It’s a good million-dollar day for the Delta,” Seratt said. “With this year being the silver anniversary of the event and with all the things they have lined up, this will be the biggest and best show ever and one of the biggest crowds they’ve seen in years.”
Joy Guravich, sales director of the Best Western Regency Inn in Greenville, looks forward each year to seeing guests arrive for the big event.
“We get so many foreign visitors during the blues fest every year,” Guravich said. “I think that’s what I like the most.”
Guravich has lived in Greenville for 30 years. Over the more than two decades that the Delta Blues and Heritage Festival has been held there, it has been not only a tremendous financial boost to the Delta, but also a cultural one.
“It’s a chance to make new friends,” Guravich said.
Buck’s Restaurant also sees an increase in business over the weekend of the blues festival. Aside from the fact that Buck’s is the restaurant hired to feed the artists who play at the festival, Buck’s owner S.B. Buck said the number of restaurant goers in Greenville increases exponentially as a result of the festival.
“During that week coming up to the blues festival, we see a lot of individuals with different ethnic backgrounds come in and out of the restaurant,” Buck said.
Heather Haik, manager of the Greenville Mall, also sees the impact of the Delta Blues and Heritage Festival, albeit to a somewhat lesser degree than the restaurants, hotels and motels in the area.
“That weekend’s a good weekend out of the month of September for us,” Haik said. “We love having it here. It’s a great thing for the Delta.”
This year’s blues festival kicked off on July 20 at the grounds between MACE and Delta Towers, and much more is in store before the festival takes place. Arts in Education: “Blues in Schools” will take place at the Greenville Convention Center Sept. 9 and 10, and a jazz tribute will be held at the Bass Cultural Center in Greenville on Sept. 19. The Nelson Street/Little Wynn Festival and a concert at the Washington County Convention Center will take place on the eve of the Delta Blues and Heritage Festival.
This year’s blues festival will feature The Robert Cray Band, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Charlie Musselwhite, Denise LaSalle, “Sir” Charles Jones, Butch Mudbone, Barbara Carr and a host of others at the main stage. The jukehouse stage will feature such musical talents as Eddie Cusic, Mickey Rodgers, Kern Pratt & The Accused, Eden Brent and others. And at the Gospel Stage, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Slim and The Supreme Angels, The Shepards, Albert Folk, Metcalfe Mass Choir, Sharkey/Issaquena Mass Choir, The Greenvillettes, and One Man Gang will perform. Advanced tickets are $15 and will be sold from Sept. 3 through Sept. 20. Ticket price at the gate is $20.
For more information on the festival, contact MACE at (888) 81-BLUES, or log onto www.deltablues.org.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at email@example.com or (601) 364-1042.