One of the most unexpected area concerts of the year is happening in Clarksdale, Mississippi, this weekend, during the 25th annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, which takes place in downtown Clarksdale Friday, August 10th, through Sunday, August 12th.
The festival will have a more-celebrated-than-normal headliner this year in the form of onetime Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. A lifelong blues scholar whose love of the form fueled the hard-rock band's sound, Plant collaborated with Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page on the 1999 album Walking Into Clarksdale and has visited the historic blues town many times.
Plant has also made Memphis a tour stop of late, playing the Mud Island Amphitheatre in 2008 with bluegrass icon Alison Krauss in support of their album Raising Sand and at the Orpheum in 2010 with his Band of Joy.
Plant will play the Sunflower festival on Saturday, taking the main stage at 10 p.m. alongside an "entourage" of 10 other musicians, including noted folk-country singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, West African musician Juldeh Camara, and composer/guitarist Justin Adams.
But Plant will be among the more than 40 artists on the three-day, multi-stage schedule. The headliner Friday night will be "chitlin circuit" soul legend Bobby Rush, one of the great entertainers in any genre. Preceding Plant on the main stage Saturday night will be Mid-South blues legend Charlie Musselwhite, a harmonica master and winner of more than 27 Blues Music Awards. The Saturday lineup will also feature Robert Belfour and Sharde Turner & the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band on the morning and afternoon acoustic stage and north Mississippi stalwarts such as the Kenny Brown Blues Band, Jimbo Mathus, and James "Super Chikan" Johnson on the main stage.
The festival closes on Sunday with a gospel lineup headlined by Vicki Winans, a member of one of the genre's signature musical families.
Meanwhile, the Delta Blues Museum, at 1 Blues Alley, just down the road from the festival, will host the dedication of a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker for the Sunflower festival on the museum's grounds at 10 a.m. on Friday and will conduct a museum fund-raiser featuring Musselwhite, Lightnin' Malcolm, and others at the nearby Shack-Up Inn at 2 p.m. on Saturday. (There's a donation required for admission.) The museum will also have extended hours during the festival, opening from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
The Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival has been free since its 1988 inception, and despite the presence of Plant, it remains so this year. For more information, see sunflowerfest.org.
for Elvis Week
Visiting Elvis fans will get a taste of contemporary Memphis music during Elvis Week this year in the form of the Memphis Means Music Fest: a concert organized by the Memphis Music Foundation in conjunction with Graceland that will take place during the day on Friday at Graceland's Main Stage Entertainment Pavilion.
The concert starts at 10 a.m. with singer-songwriter Chris Milam and continues with Star & Micey, the Memphis Dawls, Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, John Paul Keith, and Aron Shiers, before wrapping up with a 3:25 p.m. set from Memphis songwriting heavyweight Keith Sykes. (Here's betting some Elvis fans get a particular kick out of the Dawls and Keith.) Each artist is scheduled to combine original material with their own spins on classics from the King. The event is free.
On a related note, the Music Foundation is taking submissions for the Memphis-music sampler it's compiling for this fall's Indie Memphis Film Festival, a collection of local sounds that will be distributed to film and television music supervisors and creative directors to promote Indie Memphis and to showcase local music for potential licensing opportunities.
The theme of this year's sampler is "lust." The deadline for submissions is August 25th. For full guidelines and entry information, see memphismeansmusic.com.