Eddie C. Campbell of Chicago will headline, along with Robert Belfour, the 2012 Freedom Creek Festival June 2 in Aliceville, Ala. Photo by: Courtesy Photo
May 26, 2012 3:18:15 PM
BY JAN SWOOPE
Ten years ago, Rick Asherson got his first taste of Willie King's Freedom Creek Festival, that down-home celebration held in a field behind King's humble home in rural Pickens County, Alabama. There, by a cinderblock-and-plank stage under trees strung with lights, blues fans doused in bug spray and sun screen camped in lawn chairs and danced in the dirt when the spirit moved.
For Asherson, a native of London, England, it proved to be an epiphany. A decade later, and three years after King's 2009 death, Asherson is carrying the torch, committed to keeping the event alive. The 2012 Freedom Creek Festival is set for Saturday, June 2, in Aliceville, Ala.
"I first came to Alabama to attend the Freedom Creek Festival in 2002, where I met the late, great Willie King," Asherson said of the Living Blues magazine Blues Artist of the Year. "The festival was so inspiring -- great music, wonderful people, very welcoming, warm and friendly -- that I thought to stay a little longer and check things out."
An accomplished musician, Asherson wound up in the band Willie King and the Liberators, along with his wife, blues artist Debbie Bond. He also performed on and co-produced King's last two albums.
"Now, I'm inspired to continue the festival as best I can," he shared, "guided by Willie's mission to bring great music to a very under-served part of the country and help bring people together of all walks of life, to mix and mingle, as Willie would say, in the heart of the land where the blues was born."
This year's festival is headlined by music veterans Eddie C. Campbell and Robert "Wolfman" Belfour. Other acts include the Mississippi Nightingales, Clarence Davis, Ms. Johnnie and the Jammers, the Alabama Blues Project Band, Russell Gulley Trio, Big Joe Shelton, Mr. Gip, Mississippi Blues Boys, the Willie Lee Halbert Band.
Music begins at 11 a.m. and goes "until late" at Cookieman's Place, Highway 17, 1438 Wilder Circle, in Aliceville. Admission is a suggested donation of $10 to the Rural Members Association, which was founded by King. Camping is free.
Cookieman's Place offers shade outdoors, and an indoor alternative if weather dictates, the organizer noted. Food will be available at the festival and in nearby Aliceville.
Both Campbell and Belfour have international reputations, Belfour as an exponent of Mississippi hill country blues, and Campbell as a powerful performer of electric, Chicago-style blues.
"I love coming to the South. I was born in the South," said Campbell Thursday by phone from his home in Chicago. The former Rooster Blues label artist was born in Duncan, "about 20 miles from Clarksdale."
The music he'll bring to Freedom Creek is influenced by a long list of artists he paid his dues with.
"I was Jimmy Lee's band director for years; I played with Little Walter a lot, and Willie Dixon for about three years," he cited. "I guess you'd say my music has the feeling of everybody I played with." That list includes West Point native Howlin' Wolf.
"I like to make the audience feel at home," Campbell continued. "When you come out, you come out to have fun and to enjoy yourself, so I always try to entertain people."
Belfour, born in the small Mississippi community of Red Banks, near Holly Springs, moved to Memphis in 1959, where he eventually made his riff-oriented way to Beale Street and, later, to the Fat Possum recording label. His first album, "What's Wrong With You," came out in 2000. His second, "Pushin' my Luck," followed in 2003.
Although decidedly uncommercial, Freedom Creek Festival has gained an international reputation, including reviews in the United Kingdom's "Rhythm and Blues" magazine for the past four years.
Asherson said, "I think it continues Willie's mission to bring a festival which showcases local musicians alongside internationally-renowned acts -- and brings attention to the rich local culture and challenges that exist in the region."
The festival is made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Alabama State Council on the Arts, with assistance from the Alabama Blues Project.
For more information, visit willie-king.com, email [email protected], or call 205-366-1307
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.