Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival by Robert Tooms

Posted on 10/19/2009 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Return to the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival: Part Two

Houston Stackhouse, Jr.

(Memphis, Tennessee) After a fun filled evening playing with John Primer on Thursday, October 8, I returned to Memphis to play a gig at the Warehouse on Friday and arose on Saturday to launch once more for beautiful Helena, Arkansas. The trip across the delta was pleasant and I noticed that there was still quite a bit of cotton left in the fields of Mississippi. When my parents were young, the public schools out in the country were let out for about a week during cotton-picking time and I remember crawling around in the fields when I was a small child during my beloved grandmother's cotton-picking adventures. This was before the business of cotton picking was all done by big machines.

Cotton fields and an ancient cotton gin

My friend Sterling Billingsley, Helena blues player

Sterling Billingsley Band

It's always heartwarming to see old friends and hear great bands like that of Sterling Billingsley and his cool blues combo. After Thursday night's show with John Primer I got to hang out for a while with Sterling and Houston Stackhouse, Jr., son of the legendary blues man for whom a stage at the festival is now named. I got to play this stage later on Saturday night with Papa Don McMinn. Houston Stackhouse, Sr., was a seminal blues player from the 1930's and he taught Robert Nighthawk how to play guitar and mentored many fine blues players. His son is likewise very dignified and friendly. He has contributed much time and effort to this festival as well.

My buddies Michel Hofkins and Paul Vissers from Belgium

I saw tons of friends that I had not seen in a while and my friends from Belgium and my pal Dr. Pete from Wales were all in attendance for the day's entertainment. Paul has a wonderful club in t' Goor, Belgium and he and Michel have been instrumental in helping us tour Europe for the past three years. they make a yearly pilgrimage to this festival and are becoming thoroughly southernized.

Although it was a bit cool, the harsh rains that had soaked the fest on Friday had blown over and everybody was ready for some lowdown blues music. This is probably the friendliest most relaxed setting for a festival anywhere in the world and the event always draws in fans and musicians from around the globe.

Josh Roberts of the Reba Russell Band

Josh plays the slide guitar

My band mate and friend for 20 years, Reba Russell

George Sluppick fills in on drums

My comrade and road dog in arms Doug McMinn has been under the weather for a while and our old friend George Sluppick came to our rescue to fill in on drums for the Reba Russell Band. George and his father used to play on Beale Street during the 1980's when there was only a handful of us trying to play on the street. There were only two clubs open back then. These were the first days of the resurgence of Beale Street and I remember George when he and I were both much younger fellows. George is an excellent drummer and he will be replacing my friend Kevin Eddy in the Memphis based Delta Highway band.

Reba put on one hell of a show and the blues fans really showed us the love. There's nothing like playing for a few thousand howling blues fans and I am truly blessed to be able to still do it.

Festival organizer and lifelong friend Bubba Sullivan

Also seen at the main stage was Bubba Sullivan of Bubba's Blues Corner, an awesome record store on Cherry Street in Helena. Bubba has been a stalwart proponent of the festival since its origins when it was known as the King Biscuit.

A huge crowd gathers early on Saturday for the festival

The stage faces the Mississippi River and the crowd settles in directly in front of the big stage, many sitting up on the river levee. This is a get down kind of crowd with many festival-goers camping nearby and the three day party is the biggest event of the year in this area.

Check out these fun camping folks at:

John Hammond

Our friend John Hammond hit the stage after yours truly and the Reba Russell band finished out set. John put on a moving performance as alwasys and played harmonica in first, second and third positions. John drove down from Jersey City and the crowd was delighted he did as they were enthralled with his singing, guitar playing and harmonica blowing. The man is a giant.

John Hammond hits the note

Bob Margolin and Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

I was delighted to see my old friend Bob Margolin(steady rollin', no controllin', ain't bad at bowlin') with whom I recorded a cd on Big Bill Morganfield, Muddy Waters' son. We recorded the album a few years ago on Front Street in Memphis and it is still available on the Taxim label. Here's a link:

Blues fans ready to party

After the gig we sauntered across the Mississippi River to the Isle of Capri casino where the sure bet, the giant crab leg buffet was rolling along in high gear. After eating a boatload of America's deadliest catch, I returned back across the bridge to Helena and headed for the Houston Stackhouse/Robert Jr. Lockwood stage where I was slated to appear with Papa Don McMinn at 8 pm.

Papa Don McMinn

Don put on a great show, so good that the crowd demanded that he stay and play about 4 extra numbers. We were joined by his son Rome on bass and Snoop on drums who filled in for Don's other son, drummer extraordinaire Doug McMinn. I hauled the mighty Hammond organ and 122 super-Leslie to the stage and we romped on into the night until we could romp no more. After our show my old friends and band mates Blind Mississippi Morris and Brad Webb hit the stage and I was so tired that I had to drive down the back alley and head for Highway 49 and then north on 61 to my home, Memphis.

Blind Mississippi Morris Cummins

Next year plan a trip to the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival. You will not be disappointed.

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©2009, Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms


Next week we take a look at the long awaited Elmo and the Shades CD!

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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