The 32nd King
Biscuit Festival opened to clear skies with temperatures
in the high 80s in the lovely little town of Helena on
the banks of the Mississippi river.
stage was the only stage to operate on the 1st day and
Memphis favourites Mississippi Bigfoot featuring
stalwarts of the Memphis scene Doug McMinn on drums,
Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms on keys and the outstanding
Josh Roberts on guitar got the festival off to a great
start with a lively set of mainly covers. The band also
featured Vince Johnson on harp and vocals and he
excelled on the classics Help Me and Boogie Chillun.
was a famous rockabilly guitarist who formed his band
The Pacers in 1956 recording for Sam Phillips on Sun
records. Sadly he died just two months ago and so his
band (whom I believe were all in their 80s) came on
stage to give an emotional set in his memory, and how
the crowd loved them.
Billingsley is a regular at the festival and President
of the Sonny Boy Blues Society and is a very fine
guitarist fronting a band featuring some of The Bigfoot
band and a superb vocalist Kim Reteguiz who gave a great
rendition of I’d Rather Go Blind.
from New York State was lead singer and harp player in
local favourite Levon Helm’s band and his band with a
great brass section played some great blues with 2nd
Time Round a great shuffle.
catch trumpeter Rodney Block’s set but I’m told it was
very good and included an audience walkabout but I was
back to catch a lively set from Joe Louis Walker with
the superb Black & Blue (from the CD Everybody Wants a
Piece) the standout track. He was also joined on stage
on vocals by the amazingly colourful New Orleans
character Fillmore Slim.
headlined the 1st night and was without a doubt,
sensational. In the true world of a blues man, the
band’s van had broken down on the journey up from
Louisiana and so Tab had spent 4 hours under the engine
making running repairs before arriving in time, complete
with oily fingers to blow the audience away. With his
crack rhythm section of the enigmatic Cory Duplechin on
bass and Jeff “Jellybean” Alexander on drums, he blasted
through a brilliant set of Louisiana swamp blues with
Night Train and Nothing Takes The Place Of You the stand
The 2nd day
sees the festival introducing 4 more stages and it
becomes difficult then to cover all of the acts and a
selection process then has to take place with new acts
taking precedence over acts seen in the past.
After a brief
stop at the Front Porch Stage to see the Hendrix of the
harmonica, Billy Gibbons, a visit to the Main Stage for
Tracy Nelson and her band The Bel Airs. Back in the
early 60s she recorded with Charlie Musselwhite then
became a part of the San Francisco scene with her iconic
band Mother Earth. Her voice was superb but the
highlight was when she duetted with Memphis legend Reba
Russell...brilliant. Reba and her band then took the
stage for their usual top drawer performance.
One of the
new young generation of African American blues
guitarists Akeem Kemp then gave a great set of self
penned numbers and covers on the Lockwood-Stackhouse
stage. A name to look out for.
saddening to hear that Leo “Bud” Welch was too ill to
follow on this stage and I visited him in his manager’s
trailer to chat to him and he wasn’t too good. However,
guitarist Ric Patton playing Leo’s guitar and rack harp
stepped in and gave a great performance playing some of
Leo’s numbers and some covers.
performers are always a feature of the festival and have
a great following including the unusually named but
brilliant father and daughter duo Tyrannosaurus Chicken,
Snooky Pryor’s son Rip Lee Pryor, Blind Mississippi
Morris, Guitar Mac and harp academic Adam Gussow.
Next up on
the main stage was the dynamic bundle of energy Nikki
Hill who gave a high octane set of powerful, rhythm ‘n’
blues with the soul drenched Strut and I Know You Don’t
Love Me No More and Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller the top
numbers. Also excellent was Laura Chavez on guitar.
After a brief
visit to The Front Porch to see Clarksdale favourite
Robert “Bilbo” Walker, there was a delightful set from
acoustic guitarist Veronika Jackson on the Lockwood
Stackhouse stage. Equally adept on the banjo, the top
numbers were Elizabeth Cotton’s Freight Train and
Precious Bryant’s I’m Going Home On The Morning Train.
before the festival there was a function in Helena which
recognised the outstanding contribution that Texan
legend Anson Funderburgh has made to the festival. He
has appeared at every one of the 32 festivals and has to
be one of sweetest guitarists ever. With Andy T and Bob
Margolin on guitars and Austrian Christian Dozzler on
keys and accordion in his band The Rockets, he gave his
usual immaculate performance on the main stage.
A mix up in
my timings meant that I missed the young acoustic
guitarist Jontavious Willis whom I really wanted to see
and also veteran soul singer Charles Wilson who played
often in the UK around 15 years ago with UK band Mo
Indigo however it was at the main stage for the final
two acts where in recent years blues influenced Southern
rock bands have featured.
First up was
festival favourite Paul Thorn and his superb band who
combines great song writing with a dry laconic wit. This
time his set entitled The Mission Temple Fireworks
Revival was more blues and gospel influenced than ever
before and featured the McCrary Sisters, four amazing
gospel singers. Songs performed included You Gotta Move
and Aaron Neville’s Don’t Let The Devil Ride. It was a
act J J Grey and his band Mofro have been described as a
Southern blues and soul rock band and were making their
1st appearance at the festival having built up a massive
following from their home state of Florida. J J has
released 9 albums including 6 on blues label Alligator
and featured many of the more popular tracks in an
absolutely superb set. Included were Lochloosa, Country
Ghetto, Orange Blossoms and the anthemic soulful
Brighter Days – oh what I’d have given to have heard
Otis Redding sing this brilliant song!
stage on the final day opened up with another of the new
generation of young African American guitarists with the
amazingly talented Marcus “Mookie” Cartwright. Alongside
him was veteran Muddy Water’s guitarist Bob Margolin and
Robert Kimbrough Sr. and Carla Robinson on bass and
together they delivered a great set of blues. The future
looks good for the personable young Mookie.
then stayed on stage to be joined by Billy Flynn
unusually on harp, Bob Stroger on bass, Tom Holland on
guitar and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums and
together they belted out some great Chicago blues.
meantime at The Front Porch Stage, I caught short
sections of sets by Austin “Walkin” Cane and the
wonderful Willie Cobbs before I gained some religious
uplifting at the Lockwood Stackhouse stage and became
sanctified after listening to the wonderful set by The
Rev John Wilkins and his band. It really was wonderful
especially with the 3 accompanying gospel singing
ladies on the closing Get Right Church and ended with
the good Reverend leading prayers at the end of his set.
At the same
stage, the famous Burnside name was represented by R L
Burnside’s son DuWayne and his band and he did justice
to his legendary dad and also to Junior Kimbrough with a
cracking version of All Night long. Only criticism..
perhaps too much wah wah pedal.
And so it was
to the main stage for the tail end of the set from Andy
T Band with Alabama Mike and the final two acts of the
festival. The penultimate act was Arkansas native, the
ever popular Larry McCray and his band with brother
Steven on drums, the eccentric Kerry Clark on bass and
Ms Clever on keyboard. During a fantastic set, he was
joined by Bob Margolin and then by the lovely 16 year
old young lady Erin Coburn who had the audience on their
feet with her superb version of The Thrill Is Gone
played on an electric ukulele. Another name to watch out
headliners Government Mule again introduced some blues
influenced southern rock with Warren Haynes outstanding
on lead guitar and with shades of The Allman Brothers
showing through the band gave us superb versions of John
The Revelator and Smokestack Lightnin’ before being
joined on stage by Larry McCray and Bob Margolin for a
fantastic four track finale. A great end to a great
it must be said that this really is a brilliant blues
festival but a festival is only as good as the people
who work so hard to make it a success and so a big thank
you to the many dedicated volunteers and helpers from
Helena and Arkansas. I’m already looking forward to the