Delta natives and blues fans of all walks of life will gather in Greenville to kick off the Mississippi Delta Blues and Heritage Festival this Saturday.
On the 40th anniversary of this staple festival of the Delta, Mississippi Action for Community Education will also unveil the Delta Blues Park, 80 acres of land dedicated to the preservation of the history of the festival and the music. MACE President Mable Starks said she hopes this will set up a permanent foundation for the festival to continue into the future.
“Just being there and having that experience of the authentic blues is a great time to be had, and you will just fall in love with this music,” Starks explained.
The festival began as a way to celebrate the heritage of Freedom Village, where the festival was held for its first seven years. The town was established by a group of African-Americans who were forcibly removed from plantations after exercising their right to vote.
Starks said she was told almost 2,000 people showed up to the first festival in 1977, where acts played on stages set up in flatbed trailers.
“Every major artist has made an appearance out there,” she said. “Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Muddy Waters.”
This year’s lineup is full of what Starks calls “all A-line” artists.
“You’ve got to come to this show from the beginning because your favorite artist may open the show up,” she said to warn potential concert goers.
Grammy winner Bobby Rush, soul singer Willie Clayton and songwriter and harmonicist Grady Champion will all take the stage Saturday. Blues phenomenon and Delta native Christone “Kingfish” Ingram will also perform that afternoon.
Starks said attendees should expect a host of special guests to appear at the festival. She also believes last year’s crowd of around 15,000 could double or triple this weekend.
A self-described “Delta girl at heart,” Starks grew up down the road in Hollandale and returned to the area in 2009 after living in New York for 25 years. She said she became involved with MACE as a way to reconnect with her own heritage after a colleague in New York claimed to know more about the blues than she did.
Starks and MACE are hoping to involve young people in the festival and make them aware of the culture and music in their own backyards. MACE dedicated one of the festival’s four stages to the youth and hopes to see many students Saturday.
“I don’t want our young people to have the same experience I had – that you go away and have someone tell you about your music, and then you come back and find out about it,” Starks said. “We want our young people to promote it and preserve it and to go out and spread the word.”
The festival, only a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Oxford, kicks off at noon at 1135 Dycus Road in Greenville.