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‘The world’s got the blues right now’: Mississippi art and music take a hit

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Clarksdale's Juke Joint Festival is just one of the many cancelled music and art events in Mississippi. (Photo by Peter Burka - Juke Joint Festival, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59477543)

Seven months ago, Rita Brent, Jackson native and comedienne, signed to an entertainment agency and left Mississippi to pursue her comedy career in New York. From acting gigs to comedy shows — performing with the likes of Rickey Smiley and Cedric The Entertainer — Brent secured “plentiful opportunities,” in Harlem and New Jersey. 

“I was performing in Jackson maybe a couple of times a week and New York, it’s just been amplified, (it is) unbelievable how much work I’m getting. I feel like I’m becoming a better comedian,” Brent said in a phone call with Mississippi Today.

But on one early March night, everything hit pause. Brent noticed the confirmed cases of COVID-19 spreading across the country, specifically in her new New York home, and soon all her scheduled appearances and shows were cancelled. Hearing concerns from her family, Brent and her partner, Freda Clark, packed up and headed back to the South.

For Brent and other artists, the fear around the novel coronavirus has separated them from their audiences for the foreseeable future and no one knows when live, in-person performances will resume. In Mississippi, the result is the loss of costly, revenue-driving events, and performers unsure of their next paycheck, left “twiddling our thumbs,” one bluesmen said.

“There is no life, life is music. That’s non-existent right now,” said Sean “Bad” Apple of Clarksdale. Apple, a one-man band with 30 years of playing experience, was set to open his Bad Apple Blues Club last month. “Not only can I not open my club, I can’t perform, I can’t do anything. So we’re just stuck at a standstill here.” 

Over it’s 16-year lifespan, Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival prevailed through excessive rain storms and power outages – 2020 is the first year its organizers cancelled the event. Co-organizer Roger Stolle called the decision “heartbreaking.”

“It’s pretty crippling for anyone who has a business,” Stolle said. “(For) musicians, it’s like you’re kind-of out of luck. You just can’t get a gig.”

The annual “half blues festival, half small-town fair and all about the Delta” event serves as an economic staple in the community, bringing in people from over 46 states and 28 countries at one time. The three-day fest requires extensive planning, Stolle said, adding they have to coordinate over 100 street vendors, music venues, workshops and panel discussions, student writing competitions, and contests like the monkey-riding-dogs.

“People who drive in and pump gas before they leave to people buying bottled water in Walmart to shop in our stores downtown to eat in our restaurants,” he said. “When you really look at the spending of a tourist who comes into town, even if they’re not affluent, even if they’re thrifty, you still gotta eat.”

World-renowned blues musician and Pontotoc native Terry “Harmonica” Bean said he had to cut his international tour short back in January. 

“The world’s got the blues right now,” he said. Bean, who grew up with 18 brothers and six sisters, comes from a family of bluesmen who’ve played with the likes of B.B. King and other Mississippi icons. With no shows, and no computer to livestream, he said he plans to mow yards and pick up cans to make some extra money. 

“Everybody will be fine for another week or so, but after that we’ll desperately need to be earning money and working,” said Will Griffith, frontman for the Oxford-based group The Great Dying. Like many artists, Griffith doubles as restaurant staff, another source of income that’s dried up. “It’s pretty scary.”

Vicksburg-based mixed-media artist H.C. Porter said spring and summer shows like the now cancelled Ridgeland Fine Arts Festival are crucial for selling paintings, photographs, sculptures and other visual art. 

“The way that I’ve built my work through the years has been events and outdoor festivals,” she said. Porter estimates those shows generate about 80 percent of her income. 

Music streaming dropped about 8 percent in the week of March 13 to March 19, according to a recent article from Rolling Stone, around when self-quarantining began around the country.

“Many people listen to music on their transit to and from work,” Bay St. Louis rapper MGM Mike Mike said. Mike was on the verge of dropping his new album, “Stupid Genius,” this month, but put the release on hold after cancelling his promotional trips to Houston and New York.

“Since the coronavirus, a lot of people are at home,” he said. “It’s just not working out for the streaming part.”

Singer-songwriter Hadley Hill of Pass Christian is a 24-year-old mother who was preparing to get married this summer. Hill, who relies on the checks from her three weekly concerts, said it’s scary not being able to plan long term.

In between her now online college classes and homeschooling her 7-year-old, Hill began live-streaming herself performing on Facebook, using apps like Venmo as her virtual tip jar. 

“People need the art in the world right now,” she said. “People are turning to movies and Netflix for their entertainment, but we can provide that as well. People are looking for it.”

Like Hill, Brent has found creative ways to pay her bills. Leveraging her social media presence, she released a new song, “Quarantine Shuffle,” announced bookings for virtual comedy shows, and started “The Rita and Freda Show,” a donation-based talk show about love, relationships, and wellness.

“It’s really challenging me creatively,” Brent said. “What can I do from home? What is something I haven’t done that I’ve been sitting on? Now is the time we can manifest those things.

“You don’t have to panic if you’re an artist, a singer, a poet. You are the gift. So all you have to do is release your gift and trust that it will be fruitful for you. It doesn’t matter what it is, release it on all platforms, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, you have to have a presence so people know you’re there.”

Other artists echoed Brent’s optimism.

“It’s going to be alright,” Bean said. “If it wasn’t for any music or entertainment, the world would be in bad shape. Us musicians will be out and ready to go when they call us.” 

“I think that the minute we get a green light to play music again, I think it’s going to be very welcomed,” Griffith added. “People are going to want to listen to live music so bad. There might be a little light at the end of this.”

Local and national organizations have set up relief funds for artists, while other groups have started live-streaming shows and digitizing artwork:

  • The Mississippi Blues Trail Musicians Benevolent Fund is granting money to blues musicians. 
  • Larger organizations such as the Blues Foundation and the Recording Academy are also providing monetary support through programs like the MusiCares Coronavirus Relief Fund and the HART (Handy Artists Relief) Trust.
  • Live Music on the Coast is using its Facebook page to stream frequent live performances of different musicians on the Coast, helping them to receive virtual tips and donations. 
  • Shared Experiences USA is compiling a schedule of live stream arts and music performances for viewers.
  • In Oxford, the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council organizes the [email protected] Festival featuring local artists

A list of some of the cancelled or postponed art and music festivals:

  • Mar. 21-22: Arts Alive! Bay St. Louis POSTPONED; tentative dates: Sept. 19-20
  • Mar. 28-29: Ocean Springs’ 27th Annual Spring Arts Festival POSTPONED until TBA
  • Mar. 28: Hal’s St. Paddy’s Parade & Festival, Jackson CANCELLED
  • Apr. 2-5: Amory Railroad Festival – POSTPONED until TBA
  • Apr. 4: Anotherfest, Cleveland – POSTPONED until TBA
  • Apr. 4-5: Art in the Pass, Pass Christian CANCELLED
  • Apr. 4-5: Ridgeland Fine Arts Festival CANCELLED
  • Apr. 15-19: Crawfish Music Festival, Biloxi – POSTPONED until TBA
  • Apr. 16-19: Juke Joint Festival, Clarksdale CANCELLED
  • Apr. 16-18: Delta Blues Dulcimer Revival, Clarksdale – RESCHEDULED to 11/5-7, 2020
  • Apr. 18: Cleveland Crosstie Arts and Jazz Festival – CANCELLED
  • Apr. 19: Cat Head Mini Blues Fest, Clarksdale – CANCELLED  
  • Apr. 24-25: Double Decker Arts Festival, Oxford POSTPONED to Aug. 14-15
  • May 1: Que on the Yazoo, Greenwood – REPLACED with a tailgate and block party, date TBA
  • May 8-9: Gumtree Festival, Tupelo CANCELLED

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Entertainment

Local artists opening for rapper Fredo Bang Nov. 27

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Organizer Lil Sleepy, left, and rapper Rob G, one of the local artists in the show. (photos courtesy the artists)

Multiple local Vicksburg music artists will open the performance for rapper Fredo Bang on Nov. 27, at the Claiborne County County Convention Center.

Among the artists selected for the show are Rob G, Dizziboi, Platinum Diesel, Devon 24k, and Dyme Charity. Opening for a nationally recognized rapper like Fredo Bang gives them a great chance to increase their exposure and expand their audiences.

Vicksburg native Lil Sleepy is responsible for organizing the big event and recruiting local artists.

“This is basically what I do, and I try to keep it going as a traditional thing, just like the graduation parties and the New Years Eve Bash I throw,” Lil Sleepy said.

DJ KG (photo courtesy the artist)

The event will be hosted by MC Skooter, Bri, KC, Dixiee and Jada Jay. Local DJs KG, DJ Trap, and DJ 100 will be there as well to entertain the guests.

“It’s a great event, and every year it’s getting bigger,” DJ KG said. “It’s giving local artists what they need by having them perform when a known rapper will be in attendance.”

Tickets for the event can be purchased on Eventbrite, or at Roe’s Rims and Accessories on Clay Street, Supreme Bladez Barbershop at 2713 Halls Ferry Road, or Headquarters Barbershop in downtown Vicksburg. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $75 for the VIP booths.

The event is expected to have a great turnout just as it did in 2018, which was the last time Fredo Bang performed in Port Gibson.

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Entertainment

Vicksburg Daily News presents ‘Festival On The River’

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Credit: Tobi Lee and the Mustang Sally Band

Vicksburg Daily News is pleased to announce “Festival On The River” will be held this coming Saturday, Oct. 24, in downtown Vicksburg. This event is presented in conjunction with the City of Vicksburg and the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. 

Daytime activities will be held at and near the Levee Street Marketplace, 1001 Levee St., from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Food and merchandise vendors will be on hand displaying unique items for sale. The Vicksburg Warren County Tractor Club will be on hand with antique tractors. Garry James will be picking on the porch for your musical entertainment.

Beginning at 5 p.m., come up the hill to the Washington Street Park, at 1001 Washington St., for an evening of musical entertainment. DJ Shaggy from KHits 104.5 will be your host on the stage powered by Cook Tractor Company. Also appearing will be “The Blues Experience” featuring Calvin “Dr Who” Carson and Mark “Duvelle” Doyle and three-time Josie Award winning group Tobi Lee and the Mustang Sally Band from Nashville.

There is no admission charge for either of these family-friendly events. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets, along with your mask, and be prepared to socially distance. The street will be closed to traffic during the concert.

For vendor information, contact Mary Landers at Levee Street at 601-638-7191. For all other inquiries contact Tommy Parker at 601-218-1524. 

We hope to see you there. Come join us, and let’s show the world #Vicksburgisopenforbusiness!

Visit Levee Street Marketplace on Facebook and Festival On The River-Vicksburg, Mississippi, for updates this week.

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Entertainment

Eddie Van Halen dead at 65

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Eddie Van Halen in 2007 (photo by Anirudh Koul from Montreal, Canada - Eddie Van Halen Shredding His Guitar @ "Eruption" - Van Halen Concert, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5141962)

Rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Eddie Van Halen, co-founder of the eponymous band Van Halen, is dead at 65.

Van Halen died after a decadelong battle with throat cancer at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica Tuesday with his wife, Janie, son, Wolfgang, and brother, Alex, at his side, reports TMZ.

Van Halen formed the band in 1972 with his brother, Alex, on drums and David Lee Roth as lead singer. Sammy Hagar joined the band in 1985 on lead vocals after Roth left.

Considered by many to be one of the best rock guitarists in the business, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar was the basis for the band’s many hits, among them “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Unchained,” “Hot for Teacher,” “Panama” and “Jump.”

Van Halen was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

“He was the best father I could ever ask for. Every moment I’ve shared with him on stage and off stage was a gift,” his son, Wolf, wrote on social media Tuesday. “My heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss.”

“I love you so much, Pop,”

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