Mississippi to host summer blues festivals

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PASCAGOULA, Miss. -- From the delta to the coast, Mississippi in the summer plays the blues.

The sounds float across the fields and settle in towns such as Clarksdale and Pascagoula, home to some of the biggest blues festivals in the South. The 12th annual Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival will take place Aug. 13 to 15 on the grounds of the restored Illinois Central Railroad Freight Depot in downtown Clarksdale.

The freight depot is the future home of the Delta Blues Museum, the cornerstone of a blues-centered revitalization effort for Clarksdale and the resource center for festival inquiries. Promoters expect the free event to draw about 8,000 visitors.

Clarksdale is located 38 miles from Tunica, Miss.

If it rains, the festival will be moved to the fairgrounds on Highway 49 South. Hours are 3 p.m. to midnight on Aug. 13, 10 a.m. to midnight on Aug. 14 and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Aug. 15.

Among the performers on Aug. 14 will be John Lee Hooker. The performance by Hooker will mark his homecoming to Mississippi after a 20-year absence. Friday's entertainment will focus on local talent, and Sunday's lineup will be all gospel performers.

In Pascagoula, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Blues Commission will hold its ninth annual Mississippi Gulf Coast Blues and Heritage Festival, rain or shine, on Sept. 11, beginning at 11 a.m.

The venue is the Jackson County Fairgrounds, which is located 22 miles from Biloxi via Highway 90. Blues Commission president Sam Walley said he expects 5,000 people to turn out for the all-day event.

Last year, a downgraded Hurricane Earl held the crowd to half that size. Headliners include J. Blackfoot, Mel Waiters and Clarence Carter. Carter, who is blind, got his first guitar when he was 11 years old and taught himself to play by listening to others and copying what he heard. He has five gold records and one platinum album. Tickets are $20 at the gate. Children under age 12 enter free. Festival profits go to youth programs in the coastal counties, Walley said.

Eventually, Walley said, the commission wants to establish a blues museum on the coast to attract out-of-state visitors.

To find out more about the Mississippi Gulf Coast Blues and Heritage Festival or to obtain advance tickets at a reduced price, call Walley at (228) 497-5615.

For information about the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival, call the Delta Blues Museum at (662) 627-6820.

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