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King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena
King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena
    King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena
King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena
King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena
King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena
    King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena
King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena


September 5, 2003

18th King Biscuit Blues Festival Slated for Helena Oct. 9-11

By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

HELENA -- Conduct a search for "blues festivals" on the World Wide Web and one thing becomes clear: just about any town on the planet, even if it has no connection whatsoever to the history of the music, can host a blues festival. What sets Helena's annual King Biscuit Blues Festival apart from the run-of-the-mill, no-roots festival -- and what has enabled it to draw visitors from around the globe -- is this town's links to the very birth of the blues.

When the festival marks its 18th anniversary Oct. 9-11, performances by some 40 blues acts will again recall Helena's days as a blues hotbed, when the Mississippi River port sported numerous juke joints and cafes in which blues pioneers playing to packed houses gave expression to a new kind of music, a genre freshly born in the surrounding Delta region of Arkansas and Mississippi by combining the "field hollers" of workers picking and chopping cotton with other influences such as spirituals and minstrel songs.

Believed to be the largest free blues festival in the U.S., the event fills downtown with the sound of wailing guitars and heartfelt vocals, the smell and taste of barbecue and fried catfish, and a gathering of hard-core devotees and casual fans.

The festival is named after the "King Biscuit Time" radio program, now the world's longest-running blues radio show. It began on Helena station KFFA in 1941 with live blues performances featuring Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Lockwood Jr., Pinetop Perkins and other artists. Now in their mid-80s, Lockwood Jr. and Perkins are perennial favorites at the King Biscuit festival and will appear again this year along with other Delta blues legends such as Sam Carr, Sam Myers and Cedell Davis.

This year's line-up also features renowned practitioners of Chicago blues, including Magic Slim and the Teardrops, Bob Margolin and Otis Clay, leading contemporary performers such as Sherman Robertson and Charlie Musselwhite, and emerging blues performers seeking to build their own reputations.

The complete schedule is as follows:

Sonny Boy Williamson Main Stage

Thurs., Oct. 9
: 3 p.m. -- winner of the Sonny Boy Blues Society's talent contest; 4:15 -- Delta Moon; 5:40 -- Sterling Billingsley; 7:10 -- Hash Brown and the Browntones; 8:45 -- Travis Haddix; 10:25 -- Sherman Robertson.

Fri., Oct. 10: noon -- John Weston; 1:15 -- Sam Carr and the Delta Jukes; 2:35 -- Michael Burks Blues Band; 4 -- The Nighthawks; 5:35 -- Pinetop Perkins and Bob Margolin; 7:05 -- Duke Robillard Band; 8:45 -- Jay Geils, Jerry Portnoy, Darrell Nulish and David. Maxwell; 10:30 -- Otis Rush.

Sat., Oct. 11: noon -- Charles Walker; 1:15 -- Smokin' Joe Kubek and Bnois King; 2:35 -- Jelly Roll All-Stars; 4 -- Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets with Sam Myers; 5:30 -- Robert Lockwood Jr.; 7:05 -- Magic Slim and the Teardrops; 8:45 -- Otis Clay; 10:30 -- Charlie Musselwhite.

Houston Stackhouse Acoustic Stage

Fri., Oct. 10
: noon -- Andy Cohen; 1:20 -- Little Pink Anderson; 2:40 -- Precious Bryant; 4 -- Drink Small.

Sat., Oct. 11: noon -- Roy Book Binder; 1:20 -- Michael Sweeney; 2:40 -- Ernie Hawkins; 4 -- Louisiana Red.

Robert Lockwood Heritage Stage

Fri., Oct. 10
: 5:30 p.m. -- The Fieldstones; 7:05 -- Cedell Davis; 8:30 -- Ray Sharpe; 10:05 -- Johnny Nicholas.

Saturday, Oct. 11: 5:30 p.m. -- Little Arthur Duncan and Rockin' Johnny; 7 -- Texas Johnny Brown; 8:30 -- Willie King and the Liberators; 10:05 -- Chick Willis.

Featuring another musical form prominent in Arkansas's Delta region, the festival's Gospel Stage in the restored Malco Theater at 424 Cherry Street will host 11 acts from noon to 11 p.m. on Oct. 11. Set to perform are Fantastic Sounds, the Salem Harmonizers, the Spirits of Memphis, the Memphis Harmonizers, the Jordan Wonders, Sons of Wonder, New Life Singers, Brother Eugene Cooks and the Hughes Singers, Sister Barbara Bradley, the Smith Brothers, and the Helena Central High School Choir.

Cherry Street is the festival's "main drag." The stages are located along and near the street. A variety of food vendors and festival information booths are located there, and on Oct. 10 and 11 vendors in the street's King Biscuit Marketplace will be offering such goods as fine art, arts and crafts, jewelry, antiques and collectibles.

Complementing the festival's activities each day, late-night performances will be presented at Sonny Boy's Music Hall at 301 Cherry Street. The non-profit Sonny Boy Blues Society, which produces the festival, operates the hall and charges a cover for the shows.

The King Biscuit festival debuted in 1986 after a group of local blues fans seeking to honor Helena's heritage as a blues haven enlisted the help of MainStreet Helena, a downtown revitalization organization.

The festival Web site,, contains a performance schedule with links to Web sites with additional information on many of the performers. For more festival information, phone (870) 338-8798. Additional Helena information is available from MainStreet Helena by phone at (870) 338-9144.

The Arkansas Tourist Information Center located on U.S. 49 west of the Mississippi River bridge is also a good source of information on Helena attractions, which include the Delta Cultural Center, Phillips County Museum and numerous antebellum and Victorian homes.

(NOTE: Schedule information accurate as of August 28, but is subject to change.)



Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
One Capitol Mall, Little Rock, AR 72201, (501) 682-7606

May be used without permission. Credit line is appreciated:
"Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism"




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