WWOZ's Jennifer Brady reports:
Six hours north of New Orleans is a small town, population 84, called Waterford, MS. Friday June 27th – Saturday June 28th at the crossroad of Highway 7 and Highway 310 was the 9th Annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic. Hill Country Blues fans gathered from New Orleans, Richmond, VA, Asheville to Raleigh, NC and beyond. Naturally, a few groups of Ozillian~New Orleanians packed picnic baskets, tents and road-tripped north for this 2-day adventure.
The bonafide blues hoe-down was situated on the outskirts of Mississippi National Forest near Holly Springs, MS - hometown of blues greats: R. L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough & Othar Turner. Guitarists Robert Belfour, Reverend John Wilkins along with Burnside & Kimbrough family members together are carrying on the traditional, soulful style of blues inspired by Hill Country legends like Mississippi Fred McDowell and Johnny Woods.
Friday night, we arrived at 9 p.m. and nearly missed the turn off Highway 7. Cracked open an ice-cold beer from the trunk, grabbed a flashlight and walked through the pines toward the music. David Kimbrough, Kenny Brown, Duwayne & Garry Burnside had exactly what we needed to unwind at the end of a long week and a long drive.
On Saturday, the Picnic stage was scheduled to run from 11 a.m. until midnight, but the weather had other plans for Hill Country revelers.
Midday Saturday, the show announcer told us to listen for raffle winners at 3, 5 & 7 p.m. but for now, "The Boy Scouts have cold watermelon!" -- a perfect accouterment for 90° weather.
Highlights included Reverend John Wilkins’ gospel rendition of “(Night Time Is) The Right Time” and Cedric Burnside’s take on his grandfather’s song, “Miss Maybelle” which ran chills up my arm on a hot summer’s day.
As the sun began to set, a band of dark clouds streaked the sky behind the stage and began blowing toward the audience. A cool gust of wind tested the tent stakes. We lowered our canopy, refreshed everyone’s drinks and waited. Five more bands were scheduled to play so we didn’t want to give up – yet lightning and thunder inevitably shut it down.
Despite the torrential rainstorm that cut the picnic short, our tents held up while we enjoyed another one of Betty Davis’s smoked turkey legs. Made it back to our cozy, dry tent and had a good night's sleep. Next morning we packed up and waited till it was our turn to have the picnic’s tractor tow us out of the mud and send us on our muddy way. Long-time picnic goers said this was the first time the weather was this uncooperative.
When planning a trip to Hill Country:
B.Y.O.E. (Everything). Bring your tent, lawn chairs, blanket, ice chest, cash for ice, BBQ, fried catfish and most importantly the raffle. (No ATM on site.) We each purchased $5 to $10 in raffle tickets and several of us won! I was the winner of a jar of dill country pickles. Friends from New Orleans won a coyote painting, a handcrafted quilt sewn by Othar Turner's daughter complete with patch portrait of Othar, a handmade juke joint mosaic and a gift basket from Cathead Vodka. Local artists were also selling handmade cigar box guitars and barroom birdhouses, if those strike your fancy.
More picnic ideas: We enjoyed drinks with homemade mixes from our kitchens like Andrew Grafe’s blueberry-cantaloupe puree, blended strawberry-blueberry smoothie ice cubes, coffee brewed via single camp stove and a French press. Veteran blues picnic campers from New Orleans prepared rabbit jambalaya and trout courtbouillon on site.
Accommodations: NMHCP offers primitive camping for tents and RVs. No electricity or running water on site. There are 3 open-air outdoor shower stalls providing quite an invigorating summertime experience. Other nearby accommodations include: Wall Doxey State Park, B&B’s and motels 10 minutes away in Holly Springs.
The NMHCP is not only an unforgettable time with great music and community; it is also for an important cause. The Picnic is a fully registered 501(C) 3 non-profit organization. As stated in their mission statement it was “created to enhance appreciation and educate the general public about the native art form of North Mississippi Hill Country Blues music—through performance, preservation, and interpretation. When you attend the event, you are supporting the mission of [the] organization.”