Saturday, March 04, 2006

AR Dem Gaz addresses Helena Blues fest

Nice editorial about the change of name of the former King Biscuit Blues Fest of Helena(-W. Helena) in the DemGaz. The festival has been renamed the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival and the annual festival may be in jeopardy of folding. The owners of the King Biscuit Flour name decided to request $20,000 from festival organizers. The festival is free to the public and many folks I know from all corners of AR attend the fest because of it. The town where the festival is held is in the AR Delta and has the economy to reflect it, thus all the folks they draw to town are relied upon for a yearly economic jolt. My view is that the fest should be named the Sonny Boy Williamson Blues Festival and the art of harmonica should be showcased, since Sonny Boy played the harmonica brilliantly. The casino across the bridge in Lula, MS has been a salvation for the fest by its sponsorship. Too bad the King Biscuit name has been moved to touristy Beale Street in Memphis. Each year, a competition and recording opportunity should be afforded the new harmonica contest winner in honor of Sonny Boy.

Hopefully, the battered, bruised, embarassed town can salvage some of what's been good for the community in light of recent political and school district disasters there. Certainly, the KBBF didn't attract the greatest names in Blues(though many of the greats of Blues whose names aren't as recognizable to most folks who claim an interest and love for Blues, but really don't know anything about the history and the less-known greats), but it's a free festival and the likes of B.B. King, Etta James, Robert Cray, and other headliners just cannot be attracted. It's a pity those folks haven't felt compelled to appear at least once in the past 20 years to pay homage to Helena's role in the history of the Blues and their ode to one of the great legends of the Blues. It's not like there are that many places of historic interest in the story of the Blues. Let's see, um, Memphis, Chicago, New Orleans, Greenville, MS, and Helena, AR seem to be must-visit sites for Blues enthusiasts.

Time for those who have benefited from their performance of the Blues to step up and raise some money to keep the festival alive and perhaps recover the King Biscuit name for the fest. Not going to happen, I suspect. The festival is worthy of preservation, like many old homes and buildings in the dying town. The entire state of AR who actually understand the importance of the uniquely American artform should rise to save this festival from possible death.


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