A Prairie Arts shopper takes a close look at original artwork from one of the event’s many exhibitors in this Dispatch file photo. The Prairie Arts Festival is Aug. 30 in downtown West Point. Photo by: Dispatch file photo
Howlin’ Wolf Blues Festival performer Carolyn Wonderland has been described as a blend of Janis Joplin and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
The 2014 International Blues Challenge winner Castro Coleman — Mr. Sipp — will open the Howlin’ Wolf Blues Festival at the Mary Holmes College Auditorium in West Point. Aug. 29.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
August 23, 2014 11:33:40 PM
As sure as September follows August, Labor Day weekend brings the Prairie Arts Festival and Howlin' Wolf Memorial Blues Festival to Northeast Mississippi. West Point's mega-weekend Aug. 29-30 is a bonanza of music, fine arts, crafts and food. Events kick off with the 19th annual Howlin' Wolf Festival Friday Aug. 29 at the Mary Holmes College Auditorium. Doors open at 6 p.m.
The following day, nearly 400 fine arts exhibitors and other vendors are showcased at the 36th annual Prairie Arts Festival in downtown West Point from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The two events will draw thousands to the Clay County city.
'Howl with the Wolf'
The blues fest features George Porter Jr. and the Runnin' Pardners, Carolyn Wonderland, Lightnin' Malcolm and Stud, and 2014 International Blues Challenge winner Mr. Sipp: the Mississippi Blues Child.
Porter, an elite bassist well-known as one of The Meters, has worked with Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett and many others. "George is bringing his blues-influenced New Orleans funk to the Wolf stage," said Richard Ramsey, vice president of the Prairie Belt Blues Foundation, presenter of the music event.
Castro Coleman -- Mr. Sipp -- bested 170 other bands to win the IBC Challenge in Memphis. The McComb native has performed on more than 50 national recordings. This year he is also the recipient of the first Bobby Rush Award, presented by the Jus Blues Music Awards.
"Mr. Sipp is wide-open, full-tilt boogie," Ramsey said. "When he hits the stage at 6:30 Friday night Aug. 29, there's no looking back."
Wonderland is described as a triple threat -- vocals, stinging Texas guitar licks and tight backup band. "She'll blow your socks off with her smokin' hot Texas blues," Ramsey said of the artist who has been featured on "Austin City Limits."
Lightnin' Malcolm, 2009 winner of the Blues Music Awards' Best New Artist title, recently finished a European tour with the North Mississippi Allstars, opening for Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. In 2011, he acted as musical director on Hubert Sumlin's and Honeyboy Edwards' final tour.
"Once Lightnin' gets to shufflin' his feet to the hill country beat, the hypnotic groove will grab you and won't let go ... " said Ramsey. "This is the hottest lineup we've had in years."
Tickets are $15 in advance at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center, in Starkville at Jack Forbus Insurance, and at Culin-Arts in West Point, or go to wpnet.org. Tickets at the door are $20. For more information, contact Ramsey at 662-605-0770 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Mary Holmes College Auditorium is located at 222 Mary Holmes Drive, Highway 50 West in West Point.
The festival is sponsored, in part, by the Mississippi Development Authority and its Mississippi's Creative Economy initiative.
Through community service, education and advocacy, the Prairie Belt Blues Foundation works to promote, preserve and educate the public about the importance of the musical heritage called the blues.
"It's like we've been on a four-lane highway, and now we're narrowing down to a two-lane road, where we get very specific with details," said Lisa Klutts, referring to the current planning stage for Prairie Arts. It is one of the largest arts-and-crafts festivals in the country. Klutts is director of tourism with the West Point/Clay County Growth Alliance and is the West Point Main Street manager.
The festival is known for its juried and fine arts, as well as numerous other vendors that fill Sally Kate Winters Park and the surrounding streets of downtown West Point.
"We have pretty much everything from A to Z," said longtime volunteer Missy Norwood, who helps coordinate vendors. "There will be handmade jewelry, homemade candles, paintings, pottery, wind chimes, collegiate yard signs, homemade hand creams ... " The list is long.
In addition to handcrafts, a limited number of resale booths carrying items such as boutique clothing and handbags are included. Vendors hail from not only Mississippi, but Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida as well, Klutts said. Nancy Waggoner of Carthage designed this year's Prairie Arts logo and is the event's featured artist.
Festival highlights also include a 5K, music stages, classic car show, chainsaw artist, Kidsville and more.
A new Prairie Arts innovation this year is a shuttle from Columbus to the festival site. A bus will depart from the K Mart parking lot on Highway 45 North in Columbus at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 30, Klutts said. It will pick up at the festival at 2 p.m. for the return trip. Tickets are $10 round trip. Ensure a seat by making a shuttle reservation through the Growth Alliance, 662-494-5121.
Klutts and co-organizers are also honing in on being cool.
"We're really trying to focus on keeping people cool, on offering relief from the heat," Klutts explained. Tents, fans and hydration stations will be available, if needed.
Prairie Arts takes months of intense preparation and an army of volunteers, but people like Klutts and Norwood wouldn't have it any other way.
"Around April or May every year, I start really getting excited," said Norwood. "I'm like a hunter when deer season is coming -- I can't wait."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.