The 20th Annual Mississippi Valley Blues Festival

by Jimmie Jones

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society held its 20th Annual Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Le Claire Park along side the Mississippi River in down town Davenport, Iowa, July 2 - 4. The MVBS is an all volunteer non-profit organization that finance these annual festival from grants, sponsors and revenues from previous festivals.

The festival lineups included 32 groups with 28 performances on two stages, eight free workshops for adults and seven workshops for children on what is called the BLUESKOOL stage. The festival also included a huge fire works display that lasted 30 minuets on Saturday, July 3 and the 40th Anniversary of the U.S. Civil Rights Act Celebration with guest speakers.

Headliners on the band shell (electric) stage were Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers on Friday, July 2, Gatemouth Brown on Saturday, July 3 and Taj Mahal and Hula Blues on Sunday, July 4. Headlines on the tent (acoustic) stage were Geno Delafose and French Rockin' Boogie on Friday, Bob Margolin's All Stars Blues Jam featuring Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Mookie Brill on Saturday and Charlie Musselwhite on Sunday. Prior to the Bob Margolin set a birthday cake was presented to legendary blues pianist Pinetop Perkins who will be 91 on July 13. The Blind Boys of Alabama would have been a headliner but the Scott County Regional Authority who sponsored the Blind Boys requested that their set begin at 8:00 am on Sunday which the SCRA felt would be the best time for families with children.

Award ceremonies were held for blues legend Gatemouth Brown and Delmar records and Chicago's Jazz Record Mart owner Bob Koester. First, blues poet Dr. Sterling Plumpp read poems he had composed for the awardees. Next, Davenport Mayor Charles Brooke gave the awardees the Key which he said represented all four cities of the Quad Cities. Finally, Mississippi Valley Blues Society President Bob Covemaker presented the awardees with the River Road Lifetime Achievement Award.

Blind Mississippi MorrisThe biggest surprise for blues lovers attending the festival was Slick Ballinger and Soul Blues Boys. Slick is a 19 year old white boy born and reared in North Carolina who has truly dedicated himself to the blues. While still in High School, Slick spent an entire summer on a plantation in
Mississippi living with the late blues legend Othar Tunner where he learned about the blues and gospel from Othar and neighbors. After that summer, Slick made as many trips to Mississippi and Memphis as he could to check out the blues scenes while still in High School. Slick current lives in Mississippi and the band he brought to the festival consisted of himself on guitar and vocals plus two highly talented African American musicians, Blind Mississippi Morris (photo at left) on harmonica and a dynamite drummer. Slick is also a master showman. Blind Mississippi Morris told a friend of mine that Slick Ballinger is the real thing and has the entire Mississippi Delta blues tradition down from top to bottom.

 Slikc Ballinger

 Geno Delafose

 Ernest Khabeer Dawkins

In addition to all types of blues and R&B groups/artists, the festival always includes at least one gospel, one zydeco and one Jazz group. This year, the Blind Boys represented gospel, Geno Delafose represented zydeco and Ernest Khabeer Dawkins and the New Horizons Ensemble (one of the top Associations for the Advancement of Creative Musicians bands out of Chicago) represented Jazz. Ernest's band not only put on a fine performance before an appreciative audience on the tent stage Friday but that evening they broke up the free after the festival jam at the "Lodge," the festival hotel, performing from 3:00 am till closing time at 4:00 am.

Among other outstanding groups/artists performing at the festival were Johnny Drummer, Carol Fran, Eric Sardinas, Kenny Wayne, W. C. Clark, Ann Rabson, Guy Davis, the Persuasions, Sweet Betty, Billy Branch and Kenny Neal.


Louis Bellson

Louis Bellson born July 6, 1924 in Rock Falls, Illinois celebrated his 80th birthday on July 7 2004 at the new River Music Experience in Davenport, Iowa. Louis is still keeping the Jazz and blues fires burning.

 Louie Bellson then

 Louie Bellson at his 80th birthday party

Article and photos by Jimmie Jones

Jazz Now Interactive September 2004 Vol 14 No. 5 - Table of Contents

Copy right: Jazz Now, September 2004 Vol 14 No. 5

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