August 13, 2008
I am far from dazzled by the lineup announced so far for this
year's Big Spring Jam, but promoters don't need me there to
turn a buck. If there's good weather, the Jam's bound to draw
Plus, the event is geared toward folks younger than me,
promoters said earlier this week. They are spending more
money on acts and getting great response on their bookings,
they said. Rock on.
But having attended the 21st annual Sunflower River Blues
and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Miss., I doubt any Jam
could top last Saturday's day-long schedule that included
blues legends Jimbo Mathus, Willie King and the Liberators,
James "Super Chikan" Johnson, Jimmy Burns and
Of course, you have to love the blues to enjoy that. And
you have to
sit or stand in the unforgiving sun in August in the Mississippi
Delta - although the weather this time
was much better
than some years - to experience it.
Jimbo and Super Chikan have played here before - Chikan
at a previous Jam - and Willie, a colleague says, once taught
the blues to schoolchildren in Decatur.
But getting these folks together in one day is powerful
stuff to a fan like me. Sorry, Buckcherry and T-Pain. I'm
glad you're coming for your fans. I'm sure you won't miss
Then there's the difference in atmosphere of the two music
Folks from everywhere come to Clarksdale, where legend
says the blues was born when Robert Johnson cut a deal with
the devil one midnight. Standing at U.S. 61 and 49, he learned
to play a guitar as it had never been played before.
The festival is held a few miles away, next to the Delta
Blues Museum, where you can get pertinent information about
Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker and other great
A colleague who made his first trip this year called it "the
most unpretentious music festival I've ever seen," and
indeed it is. You could chat with people like Chikan and
Jimbo as they strolled through the crowd before and after
shows - or you could dance with Willie when he did his guitar
walk if you were a lady with a mind to.
The Jam is too big, too structured for such interaction.
It is what it is, and that's fine. But it doesn't have the
air of a post-Sunday services picnic as the Sunflower festival
does - at least until the evening shows when 3,000 or so
people make the venue semi-crowded at best.
Huntsville has concerts in the park with some of this flavor,
but they don't run all day. And the audience isn't as diverse
as the Clarksdale festival.
Maybe we're just too big or don't have the history or folks
here. Maybe folks here want a different kind of music. The
Jam promoters think so.
But for my money - and the Clarksdale concert is free;
it gets by on beer sales and the passing of a big paper
grocery bag for donations on Saturday night - I'll take
the Sunflower festival every time.
And I will boldly predict that you won't hear anything
at the Jam like Shemekia Copeland singing "I'm a wild,
wild woman and you're a lucky, lucky man."
Unless, of course, the Jam folks quickly get on the phone
to her manager to work something out.