August 25, 2012 9:12:12 PM
Jan Swoope - email@example.com
Come rain or shine, West Point will honor its most famous son -- the legendary Howlin' Wolf -- at the 17th annual Howlin' Wolf Memorial Blues Festival Friday, Aug. 31. It's part of West Point's one-two punch for Labor Day weekend: The Clay County city will host its 34th annual Prairie Arts Festival the following day.
With a lineup boasting celebrated performers like Nick Moss and the Flip Tops, Marquise Knox and Texas Johnny Brown, Friday's blues bash promises to once again draw fans from near and far.
Long held at the Civic Auditorium, the Howlin' Wolf Festival moves to a new location this year on the Mary Holmes College campus.
"We're looking forward to hosting the festival in the historic Mary Holmes Gym, at 1032 Highway 50 West," said Richard Ramsey, program director of the Howlin' Wolf Blues Society, which presents the festival. "More room, new tables and chairs and great parking. I think all our regulars will appreciate the change."
In addition to Howlin' Wolf, this year's event is dedicated to the memory of the late Dr. Joe K. Stephens of West Point. Stephens served on the Blues Society board of directors and annually helped co-organize the festival. He passed away in March.
It also honors Howlin' Wolf's longtime guitarist, the late Hubert Sumlin, who died in December 2011. A West Point festival favorite, Sumlin was listed on Rolling Stone magazine's roster of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
"We take pride in bringing the best of the blues to our fans and this year is no exception," pledged Ramsey.
Music begins at 7 p.m. with a man who has already been honored with his own Mississippi Blues Trail marker in his hometown of Ackerman -- Texas Johnny Brown and the Quality Blues Band.
The former Atlantic Records and Duke/Peacock recording artist born in 1928 traveled the world with Bobby "Blue" Bland and Junior Parker. His honors include the 2000 Houston (Texas) Press Music Awards for Best Guitarist and Best Male Vocalist, W.C. Handy award nominations, and two Real Blues magazine awards.
At 8 p.m. the spotlight falls on Lightnin' Malcolm. Well known to Mississippi's blues fans, this electrifying hill country guitarist won the 2009 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist and served as musical director on Hubert Sumlin's and Honeyboy Edwards' final tour of their lives. He appears in West Point with Cameron Kimbrough.
Marquise Knox returns to the Howlin' Wolf stage at 9 p.m. Only 22, the St. Louis musician with Mississippi roots has already garnered a Living Blues magazine Best New Debut Artist and a Blues Music Award nomination.
"Marquise puts on quite a show, that's for sure. He can lay it down; it's pretty amazing what he can do," said Jeremy Klutts of West Point, stage manager of the festival.
Following a guitar and T-shirts giveaway at about 10 p.m., Nick Moss and the Flip Tops headline from 10:30-11:45 p.m.
This master of the Chicago blues is acclaimed for his fiery guitar work and soulful vocals. He's earned numerous award nominations, including a Blues Music Award nod for Blues Band of the Year.
"The quality of this year's show is unsurpassed. It's one of the best nights of entertainment in the South," said Ramsey. "And it all honors the blues titan that hot-wired rock and roll -- Howlin' Wolf."
How to go
Gates open at the Mary Holmes Gym Friday at 6 p.m. Small coolers are allowed. Food vendors will be on site.
Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Advance tickets are available in Columbus at the Rosenzweig Arts Center; in Starkville at Jack Forbus Insurance; and in West Point at Bits 'N Pieces. Or order online at wpnet.org/Howlin_Festival.htm.
Other Wolf attractions
"At the Prairie Arts Festival Saturday, everyone should go visit the statue, the Blues Trail marker and the Howlin' Wolf Blues Museum downtown," encouraged Ramsey. The museum is located at 307 W. Westbrook St. Its guest log reflects visitors from almost every state, as well as Japan, Norway, Germany, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and the U.K.
For more information about the Howlin' Wolf Festival, go to wpnet.org. Or contact Ramsey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 662-605-0770. Check out festival performers on youtube.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.