Many places in the US stake claim to the blues, but none more so than the Mississippi Delta. The crossroads where Robert Johnson is fabled to have sold his soul to the Devil sits in the Delta, in a little town called Clarksdale. I had the privilege of going down to Clarksdale with Music Maker recently for the annual Juke Joint Blues Festival.
After a six-hour stint south on I-85, Corn and I picked up Albert White from his home just outside of Atlanta. Then two hours west to Birmingham, where we bedded down for the night. The next morning, we scooped up Sam Frazier, Jr. and drove the rest of the way to Clarksdale. Ardie Dean, who drove to meet us from his home in Huntsville, Alabama, joined us there.
Corn and I rose early on Saturday morning to set up the Music Maker booth. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather, and everyone we met was full of anticipation for Juke Joint. Around ten, I went back to the hotel to pick up Albert and Sam. As I approached Albert’s hotel room door, I could hear Sam’s harp blasting from within. I listened from the hallway for a minute; I could make out the sound of Albert’s unplugged electric guitar playing behind Sam’s harp. After knocking several times, the guys started laughing and Albert came to open the door. Sam was glowing and grinning from ear to ear. He looked at me earnestly: “Man, I haven’t had fun like this in ages. Just this right here already made the whole trip worth it.” It occurred to me that, even after decades of playing music through thick and thin, these guys still love playing the blues more than I could imagine.
Back at Juke Joint, Albert, Sam, and Ardie played all through the afternoon, consistently drawing a crowd of upwards of 100 people. The energy between the three guys was incredible, especially considering that Sam had just met for Albert for the first time the day before. True professionals. Many folks stopped by to tell us the Music Maker guys were putting on the best show of the festival—and these are people who know their blues.
The Como Mamas, a gospel trio from Como, Mississippi, also made an appearance at the Music Maker tent. Only Esther and Angelia could make it, but they still had an amazing performance. The deep southern spirituals, sung with such powerful voices, captivated the crowd as the festival started to wind Corn and I drove all the way back to Hillsborough the next day, a full twelve hours on the road, with stops in Birmingham and Atlanta to drop off Sam and Albert. The time went fast, though, as we had an awesome weekend to reflect on and laugh about. Music Maker had created an enormous presence at Juke Joint, all thanks to Albert, Sam, and Artie playing world-class blues. It was definitely a weekend that will be remembered, by myself as well as anyone that heard them play.
- Daniel Pigeon