Something about a blues festival makes white people want to dance. Maybe it’s the music, maybe the beer, or maybe the unadulterated fun of it all. Luckily, we have the premier blues festival in the world right here in the Arkansas Delta. That is the King Biscuit Blues Festival, of course, coming up in October.
It takes place in a town now oddly called “Helena-West Helena,” the result of a merger between two cities several years back. You guessed it: the towns of Helena and West Helena. It seems the merger was easier than coming up with a new name. So …
Anyway, the King Biscuit has come to the banks of the Mississippi River for as long as I remember, except for a few years when someone stole the name and they had to call it something else. But, they recovered the name and now, as John Steinbeck would say, the Blues World once again runs in greased grooves.
The Blues are more popular with the Caucasian population that with the African-American. The ties with “Rock and Roll” are quite evident, not so with “Hip Hop,” so the crowds filling the venue are markedly white. And the old Blues performers are dying off, replaced now by a mixture of rockers, pop icons, and whatever you would call Paul Thorn, a perennial favorite. Of course you might, at the King Biscuit catch a performance by a legend like B. B. King.
Anyway, it is loads of fun, despite a decision on the part of those putting on the festival to begin reserving all the good seating locations for “VIP” supporters. Others arrive mid-week and camp out for the duration, rain or shine. Cherry Street fills with vendors and anyone not having fun may have their passports revoked. One can just imagine the ghost of Robert Johnson walking out of the old Kitty Cat Club to see what the commotion is all about.
For history buffs, one can take a break and visit some of the work being done to memorialize the “Battle of Helena,” that took place on July 3, 1863. On the day of the attack 4,129 Union officers and men, under General Prentiss, repulsed 7,648 Confederate troops under General Holmes.
My great-grandfather was there for that event which was probably less fun than a blues festival. At any rate, there is much to see, including the Delta Cultural Center, impressive architecture, and the grave of Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, killed at the Battle of Franklin, TN, and remembered as the only Civil War General who never failed in a mission.
So, if you aren’t doing anything the week of October 8-11, drop in on the King Biscuit Blues Festival. It’s the best our state has to offer, and … they will even let you dance, if the spirit moves you.
“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” - William James“
"The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.” - James Brown“"
"The Blues ain’t nothin’ but a good man feelin’ bad.” – Jimmy Rodgers