Miss. hosts NYC picnic, sends blues to Chicago

June 8, 2012 8:39:02 AM



JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi is exporting some of its southern-fried culture to the folks up North this weekend. 


Blues musicians from the state -- including the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, made up of two brothers and a sister from Tupelo -- are playing at the Chicago Blues Festival, which runs Friday through Sunday in Grant Park. 


And on Saturday, cooking teams will serve fried catfish, hushpuppies and sweet tea at the annual Mississippi picnic in New York's Central Park. 


The Mississippi picnic in Central Park started in 1979. It attracted about 2,000 people on a rainy day in 2011. 


Malcolm White, head of the Mississippi Arts Commission, said Thursday that tourists look for things that make places unique or authentic. He says Mississippi's musical and culinary traditions are selling points. 


"The creative economy is a very powerful export we have," White said. "We get to dazzle others with our amazing culture." 


Amazing and, well, different. 


At the 2011 Mississippi picnic in New York, a young woman wearing a tiara and a "Miss Catfish" sash greeted visitors. She was an actual pageant winner, from the World Catfish Festival in Belzoni, Miss. 


Husband and wife Phil and Carol Hardwick will work at the Mississippi picnic in New York this year, as they have in the past. He has a Jackson-based job for Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government, and she is executive director of the Mississippi Economic Development Council, an association of chamber of commerce and development officials. 


Phil Hardwick said the picnic offers Mississippi expats in New York a chance to get a taste of home, and it gives New Yorkers and tourists a chance to sample a taste of the South even if they've never crossed the Mason-Dixon line. 


"For those who are in Central Park that day who happen to pass by, they look and see a Mississippi I don't think they've seen before," he said. 


Mississippi performers scheduled for the Chicago Blues Festival include Johnny Rawls, Eddie C. Campbell, Vasti Jackson, Mark "Muleman" Massey, Terry "Big T." Williams, The Delta Music Institute, Dexter Allen, The Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, Pat Brown, Eden Brent, Patrice Moncel and others, according to the state's economic agency, the Mississippi Development Authority. 


"Our Mississippi Juke Joint Stage will be filled once again with amazing artists that span from across our beautiful state offering the crowd a taste of where the blues all started," said Alex Thomas, program manager for the Mississippi Development Authority's music trails program. 


The Mississippi stage will also host panel discussions, including one about Jackson-based Malaco Records.