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December 12, 2004

Blues Snapshots

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I enjoyed blogging recently about what a good time The Wife and I had on a trip to the Mississippi Delta, where we visited the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas. So why not pass along some visuals? Here's a small collection of my bad digital snapshots from our visit to the Biscuit. The foolhardy can click on these thumbnails for bigger views.

That's what a field of wet cotton looks like. The weekend we were in the Delta, the picking machines were supposed to be out doing their end-of-the-season picking. But it was 'way too muddy.

Does the governor of your state have his own r&b band? That's Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on bass, helping kick the Biscuit off. I loved his keyboardist. She might not look like it, but she was one funky musician.

Yep, it was a very wet weekend. We were told that attendance at the Biscuit was only 50 percent of what it usually is. Didn't stop everyone from feeling friendly and happy though.

The bluesman known as Sonny Boy Williamson 2 is the patron saint of the Biscuit, and his image and name are everywhere. (There was also a Sonny Boy Williamson 1. He had nothing to do with the Biscuit.) One thing I love about the South is that almost anywhere you turn, something looks like art. You're forever being suprised and delighted by what crosses your vision. Here: little blonde tomboy-girl, matron with New South hat and cellphone, and a rusty image of Sonny Boy.

It's always snacktime at the Biscuit.

The Wife and I can be adventurous eaters, for Yankees anyway. But there were some snacks we weren't about to try.

Part of the fun of the Biscuit is that music is everywhere, not just on the festival's three or four official stages. Musicians set up wherever they can and whale away for whatever you feel like giving them. I don't know whether it's regulated or not, but they were all considerate about not stepping on each others' toes, acoustically speaking. And nearly all of the musicians were damn good. This team got an R.L. Burnside-like, juke-joint, sexy-hypnotic thing going.

You can poke your head in any bar and feel pretty sure you're going to run into an informal and enjoyable scene like this one. The hillbilly on keyboards here showed up later that day on the main stage as part of a featured band. Isn't that great? A hillbilly bluesman! Gotta love the south.

Lunch time. I suspect the health inspectors haven't visited Miss Cora's place in a couple of decades. But, certified-hygienic or not, Miss Cora's soul food is delicious. No menus: if Miss Cora thinks you're alright, she invites you back into her kitchen to show you what's simmering on her stove. You point at what appeals to you, and she spoons it onto a paper plate. Friends of Miss Cora's came and went, making conversation, walking off with food, and leaving bags of groceries behind. I didn't see Miss Cora mark down a single transaction, including ours. I suspect the IRS doesn't bother Miss Cora much.

This Japanese guy seemed to have listened to a lot of T-Bone Walker, but he wasn't just an imitator. His own music had the true blues feeling. Many of the black people who walked by did double-takes; they seemed to love seeing an Asian guy playing the blues so well. (He advertised himself as "Yellowman Sings the Blues.") Between numbers, black people would go up to him and have him pose with them for photos.

Snack time again. This is a "funnel cake" -- dough that's been drizzled out in a webby pattern, fried, and then covered with powdered sugar. Mmmm. Man, there were a lot of fat people at the Biscuit. I don't mean hearty-Americans-enjoying-busy-lives-who've -lost-track-of-their-waistlines overweight. I mean double-wide, never-without-food-in-their-hands, good-lord-would-you-look-at-them fat.

Butch Mudbone, a Memphis bluesman, earned the Ironmusician Award for the weekend. He and his band set up on the sidewalk and played for at least six hours each day. Butch is a studly, mocking singer; a slashingly witty and confident guitarist; and has showman-extraordinaire personality to burn. We loved waching him perform and bought a couple of his CDs. During a break we chatted with Butch for a while. He told us that the clubowners on Beale Street don't pay Memphis musicians anything like what they deserve. That's why Butch comes to the Biscuit to perform on the sidewalk. The crowds in Helena loved Butch's act and music; I'll bet he and his band did pretty well for themselves passing the hat.

Butch's bassist was one of the most amazing bassists I've ever heard -- off-in-his-own-world brilliant. We were told he'd played with blues great Albert King for eight years. Isn't that fabulous: maybe he plays with Albert King, maybe he sets up on the Helena sidewalks for tips. It's all livin' the blues. The band's drummer was just what the music needed: loud, basic, and hard. He introduced himself saying, "Me? Hah! I'm out on work-release."

All kinds of people are blues fans. These Japanese kids looked like extras from a Jim Jarmusch movie.

Unlikely as it may seem, this stylish couple loved the blues too.

Snacktime once again. The Wife resisted temptation, but I caved and treated myself to a fried Twinkie. It was good. Six weeks later, I'm digesting it still.



posted by Michael at December 12, 2004


I hafta tell you that I luv me some fried gator tail! It is really good dipped in a spicy sweet sauce. Razoo's is the place in Cowtown for this little delicacy.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on December 12, 2004 10:47 PM

You put it that way and it does start to sound delicious! A spicy sweet sauce, huh?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 12, 2004 11:22 PM

Funnel cakes are a staple at any state fair in the south. The Texas one always has them. Great stuff.

Posted by: mallarme on December 12, 2004 11:42 PM

So, that "stylish couple" you and your wife?

Posted by: onetwothree on December 12, 2004 11:42 PM

Enjoyed the photos, especially those with your hands (usually filled with food). Physical evidence of a blowhard...unless you'd used stand-in hands. Fried Twinkie? Must had burned off all of those nasty trans-fats and actually made the Twinkie a healthier treat.

Posted by: DarkoV on December 13, 2004 09:30 AM

Bit by the festival bug. Maybe you can make my tiny one next August? I'll save you a tent...

Ignore that Pattie woman - she's from way out west [kidding, Pattie]. To me, gator needs something capital-H Hot to punch it up. It's as bland as chicken, but with a rubbery mouth feel. Good stuff, though.

Great pictures, sir. Looks like a time...

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on December 13, 2004 09:31 AM

Mallarme -- There are still state fairs? I gotta get in better touch with these things...

Onetwothree -- If only I looked so suave in overalls.

DarkoV -- I hope the frying burned off some of the transfats but I doubt it. The Wife and I both were rolling our eyes at each other by the end of our Delta stay. I had one evening where my breath got really short -- what was in my stomach was taking up so much room that I couldn't breathe deeply enough. The Wife was lying on her back and said, "Y'know, I didn't used to believe in heartburn. Now I do." But it all tasted good. Maybe you have to grow up on it, though, if it's going to be a steady diet. We tried one night to have a break and ordered fish and veggies. They arrived ... and the fish was fried and the veggies were under a thick blanket of gravy. Good stuff, but not the relief from richness we needed at that moment ...

Scott -- It was my first music festival in years and years. And it was much more friendly and enjoyable than any of the youth-oriented hippie-ish things I once attended. Blues fans are fun and friendly people. The Biscuit is a nice size too -- you never feel overwhelmed. I'll bet your festival's a friendly and downhome one too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 13, 2004 12:15 PM


It's our next breakthrough concept! First, the blog, next, our (drumroll, please) Cultural Vacation Guide. Think of the research! Think of the tax writeoffs! And, once our recommendations became highly prestigious (hey, it could happen, look at Zagat), think of the bribes we'll take from the cultural venue operators!

Dang, I'm so hot, my hair's on fire!

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 13, 2004 07:02 PM

(A) Are there still state fairs? My goodness--what Ivy Leaguers don't know! Of course there are--the Texas State Fair is a Big F*@king Deal. They have a chili cookoff (note: Nieman Marcus's chef always wins it) and a parade with African American Marching Bands (see "Drumline") on Opening Day. Major C&W stars always perform. But they are big other places, too. All the 4-H Kids enter their cows and sheep in Indiana State Fair and then proceed to learn one of the Big Lessons of Life when they figure out what winning means. And eating corndogs, of course---first corndog I ever had was at the Indiana State Fair. Michael Jackson, pre-cosmetic surgery during his "Off the Wall" period performed at the Indiana State Fair when I was in college. Sheesh. Are there still state fairs?

2) I think Friedrich may have also eaten a fried twinkie before his last post. MY GOD--think of what we're really talking about here. A FRIED TWINKIE?? Who would have even thought of that? "Y'know Mabel, those twinkies need some more oil and fat---let's fry 'em."

Posted by: annette on December 13, 2004 10:33 PM

Friedrich, I'm with you, if you think there's money in this festival thing. I run one, and there ain't none that I've seen from that end of things. Roping Yankees in, though -- that seems like a money maker. Those nuts will pay for anything authentic. "A Guided Tour of the Hunyak Nation." With fried Gator Twinkie Sausages, on a Stick. Crikey, you could sell them breaded & fried nutrea, call it French Poodle, and they'd feel like they had a real cultural experience.

Michael, how much would you pay for a pair of pre-stressed overhauls of your own? More importantly, how much would your publishing friends pay? $75? $100? Sniff, sniff -- I smell opportunity walking by.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on December 13, 2004 11:15 PM

PS The Texas State Fair aint got no chili cookoff, and Neiman-Marcus' chef wouldn't be caught dead there if there was. Terilingua is the place you oughta go for chili. And -- fried Snickers at the fair, holmes.

PPS Why do I picture MB's "blanket of gravy" as naught but a light roux?

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on December 13, 2004 11:23 PM

Living Blues magazine, the longest-running blues periodical in the US, is currently involved in planning the 3rd annual Blues Today Symposium, Feb 17-19, 2005, in and around Oxford and Ole Miss.
In addition to the mag, the staff at Living Blues has produced the 2005 Blues Directory, an essential resource for blues artists, professionals, and fans. To place an order, visit, or send an email to

Posted by: winifer skattebol on December 14, 2004 12:34 AM

Scott---Hey, I lived there for 7 years, in Dallas, where the fair is. Yeah, the Opening Day festivities include a chili cook-off, every year, dip____, and, yes, the Nieman's chef wins. It so typical, though, of a Texan to be both totally wrong and arrogantly dismissive. Explains a lot about the White House. Apparently about you, too.

Posted by: annette on December 14, 2004 04:22 AM

My very bad.

I was being tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at the State Fair. We chiliheads worship at the altar of Frank X., Wick & Terilingua, of course, and consider all others to be foo-foo and/or non-existent. Sorry, Annette.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on December 15, 2004 08:57 AM

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