Jesse “Guitar” Robinson and Friends, Ghost Town Blues Band plus Big Joe Shelton and the Black Prairie Blues Ambassadors will lead the way in celebrating the blues Friday at the 23rd annual Black Prairie Blues Festival in West Point. Previously known as the Howlin’ Wolf Festival, the event is held every Labor Day weekend in the home county of the late legendary Wolf, Chester Arthur Burnett.
Doors open at the Mary Holmes College campus venue at 5 p.m.; music is slated to begin about 6 p.m., said festival director Jeremy Klutts. The indoor, air-conditioned concert is presented by the Prairie Belt Blues Foundation.
Jesse Robinson has taken on the status of blues legend throughout Mississippi and beyond. In 2016, he was paid high tribute, tapped to step in to lead the B.B. King Blues Band on tour after King’s 2015 death.
“It was an honor for them to call me to come help carry on his legacy,” Robinson told The Dispatch Thursday. “B.B. and I were very good friends; we used to do workshops at Valley State, and we’d probably been in some of the same cotton fields,” he continued, noting that both musicians hailed from the Delta. “We had a good Delta kind of brothership thing going. It was sad that we lost him.”
Born in Benton and raised near Tchula, Robinson began playing guitar at 6 in church, where his father pastored. The family moved to Jackson in the early ’60s, and Robinson returned there after a tenure in Chicago where he worked with bluesmen including Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Freddie King. Robinson was bandleader for Bobby Rush from 1981-1986.
The 2008 recipient of the Jackson Music Awards’ King Mose Memorial Award has performed in the Golden Triangle, but this is his first appearance at West Point’s festival.
“I’m looking forward to it. … The world needs some healing right now, and there’s always something in music that can help people and inspire people and bring warmness. Music is the universal language of the whole world. People just need some good music, and we want to be playing the type of blues that can touch somebody.”
Jesse Robinson and Friends are expected to begin at approximately 9:30 p.m. Friday.
Ghost Town Blues Band
This gritty Memphis-based band’s live shows are known for a second-line horn entrance, cigar box guitars and Allman Brothers-style jams, even a hip-hop trombone.
The group’s album “Backstage Pass” hit No. 4 this year on the Billboard Blues Album Chart, and they were the 2016 Independent Blues Award winner for Best Contemporary Blues Song. They were runner-up in the 2014 International Blues Challenge.
“If you haven’t ever seen Ghost Town, they’re high energy, and they’ve got a great horn section,” said Klutts, who saw the band in Memphis.
Ghost Town Blues Band is slated to begin at about 7:45 p.m. at the festival.
Joe Shelton and company
Big Joe Shelton of Columbus kicks off the festival at 6 p.m. with the Black Prairie Blues Ambassadors — Bob Damm, Ben Ferrell and Ed Swan. Bobby Shannon will join the Ambassadors for Friday’s performance. All are Golden Triangle musicians.
“We have a lot of really good musicians right here in the area, and it’s important to have these guys spread the word,” said Klutts, welcoming Shelton and the band’s return to the festival lineup this year.
Shelton is a 2012 Blues Music Award nominee for Song of the Year, for “The Older I Get the Better I Was.” His album “Black Prairie Blues” was a finalist for Best Self-Produced CD at the 2009 International Blues Challenge.
“We’re really excited to be back in the birthplace of Howlin’ Wolf,” Shelton said. “The Prairie Belt Blues Foundation is to be commended for carrying on the festival and celebrating the great Howlin’ Wolf memory and the memory of all the other musicians that came from this area.”
Barbecue, T-shirts and CDs will be available for purchase Friday.
No alcohol will be available, but small coolers will be admitted into the venue.
The Prairie Belt Blues Foundation is a state-chartered nonprofit organization promoting blues education in north Mississippi and perpetuating the legacy of Howlin’ Wolf and other area blues greats.
The foundation helped establish the Howlin’ Wolf statue in West Point, along with a memorial bench and marker honoring Lillie Handley Burnett, “Ms. Wolf.” The group and the Burnett family received the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame Award, the Walk of Fame Award on historic Beale Street, and the Peavine Award given by the Mississippi Delta Blues Hall of Fame.
In 2007, it was honored with the Keeping the Blues Alive Award. A museum opened in West Point in honor of Howlin’ Wolf in 2005.
Tickets are $20 in advance at blackprairiebluesfestival.com, Columbus Arts Council, Jack Forbus Insurance Co. (Starkville) or The Growth Alliance (West Point). Tickets are $25 at the door.
For more information, visit the website or facebook.com/blackpairiebluesfestival, or contact Klutts, 662-295-8361.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Black Prairie Blues Festival
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 31, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Mary Holmes College, West Point
TICKETS: $20 advance (blackprairiebluesfestival.com; Columbus Arts Council; Jack Forbus Insurance/Starkville; Growth Alliance/West Point). $25 at door.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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