For more than 60 years,
a publication centered on life in Mississippi.
Today is May 9, 2021

Juke Joint Festival

The show must go on in 2021

By Steven Ward

Juke Joint Festival

One of the ideas behind starting the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale in 2004 was a mission to “mix locals with tourists from around the world.”

That’s how Juke Joint Festival co-founder Roger Stolle, owner of the Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store, partly described the popular event’s birth.

Another element, he said, was “to put business in the businesses” with an eye toward helping spur Clarksdale’s downtown revitalization.

“Combined, these two missions would show that Clarksdale blues music and Mississippi history are important to the rest of the world, and that there is the potential to put green in the coffers of local entrepreneurs, spurring further growth and investment in downtown,” Stolle said.

Because of COVID-19, last year’s festival was forced online as a virtual experience.

But Stolle said the 2021 festival needed to be live and in person again — and that could be achieved by putting pandemic safety measures in place. This year’s festival runs from April 15 to April 18.

“We’ve invested in tons of paper masks, hand sanitizer dispensers, tons of disinfectant products, dozens of stanchions (pole/belt barriers), plexi virus shields for indoor musicians, all kinds of health signage, mask/distancing compliance security staff, etc.,” Stolle said.

Although Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves lifted all state mask mandates in early March, Stolle said “masking and all other protocols will remain in place.”

“We will only change if state or local governments make us do more at that time. We’re trying to do business and music — safely and involving as many venues/musicians as we can,” he said.

Although Stolle, festival co-founder Bubba O’Keefe and festival chair Nan Hughes were still working on final music lineups, events and activities in March, some musicians and events had been announced by press time.

Guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram will play the free outdoor kickoff show on April 15 at 5 p.m. The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour will put on a special Juke Joint Festival edition Friday, April 16 at 6 p.m. Saturday will feature a sampling of the festival’s usual daytime stages and nighttime venues, featuring acts from Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band to James “Super Chikan” Johnson.

Stolle said the unofficial motto of the festival is “Half blues festival, half small-town fair and all about the Delta.”

“In 2019, the festival featured over 100 blues acts, but it also featured racing pigs and (literally!) monkeys riding dogs herding sheep. The animal acts, kids’ activities and arts and crafts vendors bring out locals and regionals who might not otherwise attend a “blues festival,” he said.

The music brought in tourists from almost all 50 states and over two dozen foreign countries. Stolle also said the festival has helped impact the population and business community with investments in Clarksdale from people in a dozen U.S. states as well as countries like Australia and Brazil.

The Juke Joint Festival has been an important cultural and economic event for Clarksdale.

“It’s been one of the cornerstones of Clarksdale’s ongoing downtown revitalization. It has brought new energy and interest to our town — not only during the event but also year ‘round,” Stolle said.

“Because it is more than just the area’s biggest blues festival, it engages multiple demographics locally, regionally, nationally and internationally in a big way.”

Site designed by Marketing Alliance, Inc.