August 27, 2011 2:21:00 AM
Blues festival fans are an intrepid bunch, used to putting up with muggy temperatures, dust or mud to get their live fix. But the annual Howlin'' Wolf Memorial Blues Festival every Labor Day weekend in West Point offers a welcome break.
Six acts will perform indoors Friday, Sept. 2, at The Civic located at 130 Sixth St. In air-conditioned comfort, audiences will hear (in this order) The New Delta Jukes, Deacon Jones and the Late Night, Mark "Muleman" Massey with Billy Earheart, Marquise Knox, Matt Hill with Preston Hubbard, and Grady Champion, according to Richard Ramsey, program director of West Point''s Howlin'' Wolf Blues Society, which presents the festival.
The line-up offers a slate of award-winning and honed artists. Doors will open at 4 p.m., with the first act going on at 5 p.m.
Canton native Grady Champion bested more than 150 blues artists from all over the world to win the 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn. Wielding a torrid harmonica, Champion''s bluesy "soulful mix" comes with a side of R&B.
Dave McIntyre of Blues Access wrote, " ... Grady''s voice not only made me think of Robert Johnson, but the way he worked the crowd seemed as though Johnson''s, or Luther Allison''s, fire and raw sense of what the audience needs was being born inside him." Champion is also an accomplished songwriter and producer.
Matt Hill''s raw, uninhibited blues won him the 2011 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut. His deep Chicago style is spiked with a touch of boogie woogie, rockabilly and rock ''n'' roll. The former Piedmont Blues Preservation Society''s Blues Challenge winner has been featured in Blues Review magazine. Hill will be joined by Preston Hubbard of the original Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Prodigy Marquise Knox is the Living Blues Award winner for Best Debut and was a double-nominee for 2010 Blues Music Awards. Born in 1991 in St. Louis, Mo., (he lived in Grenada for a time), Knox has already earned the attention of the best, performing with the likes of B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins and David "Honeyboy" Edwards.
"I can''t say enough about Marquise -- 20 years old and a real bluesman!" Ramsey said.
Mark "Muleman" Massey describes his music as a modern-day mix of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Albert King and traditional blues. "We call it blues with rhythm ... you can check your pulse with it, said the Clarksdale musician.
This past winner of the Gin Mill Blues Challenge competed in the 2009 International Blues Challenge. His eventful past includes serving as a pall bearer to Little Jimmy King and playing at Stephen Seagal''s home for the actor''s birthday party. Massey will be joined onstage by Billy Earheart, the Grammy-winning keyboardist from the Amazing Rhythm Aces and Hank Williams Band.
Veteran music man Dee McKay fronts the high-energy Deacon Jones and the Late Night, comprised of multi-talented area musicians who bring three front vocalists, guitar, bass, Hammond B3, piano/synthisizer, harmonica, tenor and soprano sax, trumpet and drums to the mix.
The fluent harmonica of Adam Gussow underpins The New Delta Jukes, who open the festival at 5 p.m. The associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi plays with a "technical mastery and innovative brilliance that comes along once in a generation," said a review in American Harmonica Newsletter.
Gussow and friends will be joined by Delta guitarist Shine, who played with Sam Carr''s band and is a cousin of Ike Turner''s, noted Ramsey.
The Howlin'' Wolf Blues Society of West Point hosts this yearly tribute to its native son, Chester Arthur Burnett -- the Wolf -- each September, the night before the city''s Prairie Arts Festival. The society, a state-chartered, nonprofit corporation, was established in 1995 to promote blues education in North Mississippi and to perpetuate the achievements of Burnett, as well as other area bluesmen.
"This is gonna be another roof-raising Wolf Festival, with guitar and T-shirt giveaways, and some of the finest blues you will ever hear," pledged Ramsey.
HOWLIN'' WOLF MEMORIAL BLUES FESTIVAL
Who: The Howlin'' Wolf Blues Society of West Point
What: Indoor music festival, six acts
When: Friday, Sept. 2; doors open at 4 p.m. Music begins at 5 p.m.
Where: The Civic, 130 Sixth St., West Point
Tickets: $15 in advance at the Rosenzweig Arts Center in Columbus (closed Monday), Jack Forbus Insurance in Starkville, Bits ''N Pieces in West Point, or online at wpnet.org/Howlin_Festival.htm. $20 at the door. For more information, contact Richard Ramsey at 662-605-0770, or email [email protected]
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.