Grammy nominee Vasti Jackson will open the two-day Blues for Willie Friday at 7 p.m. at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center, followed by the Old Memphis Kings at 8:30 p.m. Get tickets at columbus-arts.org, or call 662-328-2787. Photo by: Courtesy photo
The Debbie Bond Blues Band will be in concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The documentary "Down in the Woods" begins at 1 p.m. Saturday. A barbecue dinner starts at 6:30 p.m.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
The Old Memphis Kings, formed by Caleb Childs and Drew Blackwell, play at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
March 2, 2019 10:08:21 PM
Ten years ago, in March, bluesman Willie King of Old Memphis, Alabama, packed the Columbus Arts Council's Omnova Theater with fans who reveled in the music, just as they had when he'd frequently played there before. No one knew it would be his last performance. King died unexpectedly the next day. Each March since, the arts council has remembered a dear friend with a celebration of the blues King was passionate about and the message he always preached -- accept and love one another.
Blues for Willie 2019 is Friday and Saturday, March 8-9, and will feature Grammy nominee and Albert King Lifetime Guitar Award recipient Vasti Jackson, the Debbie Bond Blues Band and the Old Memphis Kings. The two-day fest also includes a free screening of the Willie King documentary "Down in the Woods" at 1 p.m. Saturday, plus a ticketed barbecue dinner at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, prior to that night's show.
"It was 10 years ago, but it seems like it was just yesterday when Willie played his last time," said Beverly Norris, CAC acting director. "We had a special night with him; he did a great show and talked about how good he felt. It was such a shock to lose him the next day."
Many musicians taking part in Blues for Willie had close ties to the former Living Blues Magazine Blues Artist of the Year. Debbie Bond and her partner Rick Asherson toured with King throughout Europe and in the U.S. Caleb Childs and Drew Blackwell of the Old Memphis Kings were mentored by King. Their band's name is a tribute.
Blues for Willie opens Friday at 7 p.m. with Vasti Jackson, followed by the Old Memphis Kings at 8:30 p.m. in the Omnova Theater of the Rosenzweig Arts Center.
Jackson is an acclaimed guitarist, songwriter, singer and producer known for "sweat-drenched, soul-ripping live performances." Vasti (pronounced Vast-eye), won the Albert King Award, recorded with Dr. John and Cyril Neville and performed at the United Nation in 2015. In 2016, he released his CD "The Soul of Jimmie Rodgers", which earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album.
The McComb native has toured extensively around the world, played on B.B. King's Grammy Award-winning album "Blues Summit," and has been a musical director and guitarist for artists including Denise LaSalle and Bobby Bland.
"Vasti played here just a few years ago, and people just loved him and immediately started asking for him to come back," Norris remarked.
Saturday lineup, tickets
Saturday's events begin at 1 p.m. with the free showing of "Down in the Woods," which lasts about an hour.
"The documentary is like a great, casual conversation with Willie," Norris said. It contains more than performance footage. "It also features him at home, in his community. It really shows his care and concern for his community."
A barbecue dinner at 6:30 p.m. is $10; tickets must be purchased before Saturday.
The Debbie Bond Blues Band goes on stage at 7:30 p.m. at the arts center located at 501 Main St.
Concert prices per night are $15 in advance/$17 at the door for arts council members; $20/$22 for non-members. A two-night concert package is $25 in advance/$27 at the door for members; $30/$32 for non-members. Youth (18 and under) tickets are $10. Purchase them at columbus-arts.org, or call 662-328-2787 (closed Mondays).
Blues for Willie sponsors include Visit Columbus, Black Prairie Blues Festival, David and Mona Sanders, Doug and Amy Robertson, an anonymous donor in memory of Lilla Pratt Rosamond and John Brown, the Mississippi Arts Commission, Art Works, Coca-Cola, Mitchell Distributing and Holiday Inn Express.
IF YOU GO:
WHO: Columbus Arts Council
WHAT: Blues for Willie 2019 (concerts, documentary, barbecue dinner)
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, March 8-9, various times
WHERE: Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center, 501 Main St.
TICKETS: Purchase at columbus-arts.org or call 662-328-2787
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.