Last weekend, Duck Hill was the place to be as “Blues in the Hills” returned and attracted hundreds of tourists and visitors to neighboring Montgomery County.
The 19th annual Grassroots Blues Festival continued as the mid-summer attraction, but this year was special following last year when organizer Al White was forced to hold it virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Festivalgoers returned to Elliott Field, located just off Highway 404, this year to relax in lawn chairs with cold coolers to listen to live blues, soul and folk music.
“This turned out to be a great event this year,” White said. “The weather was beautiful and all of the artists were very good.”
On Friday night, the opening night of the festival, Grammy Award-winning blues musician, 83-year-old Bobby Rush walked around Elliott Field taking in the scenery as the excited crowd waited for his show to begin. Mark “Muleman” Massey, the youngest white bluesman on a prestigious Mississippi Blues trail marker, walked backstage and mingled with those sitting on tailgates eating barbecue sold by local vendors prior to his act.
“Look at all of this, you can’t tell me nothing about Duck Hill, Mississippi,” Massey said. “All of this is just beautiful.”
Other opening night performers included Barry “Pine” Blakely and R.L. Boyce. Rush, Massey and Billy Earhart closed out the night. Earhart is also a Grammy Award-winning piano player.
Last Saturday night was full of soul as Lady Trucker, Lewis Johnson and the No Name Band and The Nellie Mack Project took the stage. The Nellie Mack Project won the 2021 Governor’s Award for Excellence in Music for more than 40 years as a jazz, funk, blues and bass performer.
Southern soul performer Stevie J, Duck Hill’s Little Willie Farmer and the Oxford All-Stars closed out the festival later that night.
Johnson said the Grassroots Blues Festival has grown to one of the most recognized blues events in the state and even the nation.
“This festival has its notoriety and if you go to any blues festival, this one in Duck Hill will be mentioned,” Johnson said. “It also helps the local and neighboring economy because the people that come in to attend will stay in Grenada because it’s so close.”
White said there were visitors from as far as Albuquerque, N.M., that attended this year’s event and even some from New York.
“One man walked up to me and said he heard about the Grassroots by word of mouth and decided to drive down from Memphis, Tenn.,” White said. “That’s the type of thing that we want.”
The Grassroots Blues Festival started in 2002 in an effort to help implement its program of work in the community and at the same time to provide a platform for traditional blues artists and obscure blues artists, to cultivate and celebrate a musical art form that is unique to our Mississippi Heritage.
The Grassroots Blues Festival is an annual event that takes place on the second Saturday of July. White said the idea to begin the Grassroots Festival was educational through Action Communication Education and Reform, Inc., an organization he started.
“We’re now looking forward to doing this again and we’re expecting all of our musicians to return for our 20th festival,” White said.