Darryl Parker, organizer of the 5th Annual Oxford Blues Festival, recently received some inspiration — and validation — on a lonely stretch of Mississippi highway.
“I was traveling along when I saw a van full of people that had pulled off of the side of the road,” Parker remembered. “The folks had stopped at a sign on the Mississippi Blues Trail, which commemorated something that was no longer there. It was a just a sign. It illustrated to me just how far people will go to immerse themselves in the whole culture of the blues. They’re so eager they will stop on the side of a highway to see a sign and an empty lot. They don’t want to just hear the blues, they want to live the blues.”
Parker is looking to give event-goers just that — a living-blues experience — at the 5th Annual Oxford Blues Festival, which will be held July 17-19 at the Walton-Young House on the grounds of the University of Mississippi Museum.
In addition to live music, the festival will include multiple blues-related panel discussions, blues-themed visual arts and for the first time a unique blues-food buffet.
“I was sitting around with a couple of friends just brainstorming when someone suggested offering blues-themed food,” Parker said. “This would be dishes such as grits, hot tamales and red beans and rice — food that is talked about in many of the old blues songs. I thought it was a great idea, so we’re trying it this year for the first time.”
The festival will kick off on Thursday, July 17 with a VIP “Meet N’ Greet” with blues producer, composer and guitarist Jeff Jensen and the “Blues Menu” taster. These will be followed by a performance of the Jeff Jensen Band on the “stage” (front porch) of the Walton-Young House, a Mississippi Landmark that was built in 1880 and is located at the corner of University Avenue and Fifth Street adjacent to the University of Mississippi Museum.
At noon on Friday, July 18, the University of Mississippi Museum will host three blues panel discussions, all moderated by Ole Miss history PhD candidate DeWayne Moore. They will include a visual artist panel, featuring Highway 61 radio program host and Mississippi Blues Trail writer Scott Baretta and Living Blues magazine’s production manager Mark Camarigg; a blues scholar panel that will include Chandra Williams, Alan Orlicek and Euphus “Butch” Ruth; and a musicians panel offering performers Tas Cru, Rae Watson, Crystal Tucker and Adam Gussow.
Ticket holders on July 18 and 19 will also have access to the University of Mississippi’s Museum’s H.C. Porter art exhibit. Porter is a Jackson native and Vicksburg resident whose award-winning pieces will be paired with music and oral histories collected on the blues legends featured in her paintings.
The festival’s inaugural year offered music at various nightclubs around Oxford’s Square when Parker could not land an appropriate single venue. He said when the museum stepped in year two, it made all the difference.
“We want this event to build a sense of community.” Parker said. “The museum and the Walton-Young House give us a place for people to gather.”
“The university of Mississippi Museum is thrilled to be a host venue for the Oxford Blues Festival,” said museum director Robert Saarnio. “As an institution that celebrates the arts and the culture of North Mississippi in our exhibitions and programs, our continuing partnership with the festival is a great fit for us and the museum’s audiences.”
The live performers are varied, and include such acts as Eric Hughes, Big Joe Shelton, The Blues Doctors, Cadillac Funk, The Blues Boys and more. The headliner will be Mr. Sipp, a McComb native who started playing at the age of six and is dubbed “The Mississippi Blues Child.” Sipp, a songwriter, musician, producer and composer, is the 2014 winner of the International Blues Challenge. He has performed as far away as Russia and has played this year in Germany, California, Florida, and Illinois and points closer to home.
Ticket information is available at www.oxfordbluesfestival.com, including discounted tickets for early purchases. Children 12 and under can enter free with an adult. There will be a $5 cooler fee, and vendors will be on hand to sell barbecue and fried catfish.
Parker said the 5th Annual Oxford Blues Festival is expected to draw approximately 1,200 attendees.
“When I started this thing, I though, ‘Man, if we could get 10,000-12,000 people in here we would make a lot of money and the festival would be successful,”’ Parker said. “But, I’ve rethought that. If this festival brings the community together, teaches as well as entertains, it is a success.”