Top musicians headline Blues Fest

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2005

A bevy of seasoned bluesmen will take the stage throughout Saturday afternoon and evening during the Sweet Gum Bottom Blues Fest this weekend in Greenville.

From 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., an acoustic blues competition will feature no less than six acts, including Junior Thomas from Stockton, Ala.; Rick Fines, from Peterborough, Ontario; Curley Cooke and Paul Green, from Seattle; Sam Pointer, from Birmingham; Jay Kirgis, from Leland, Miss. and Jeff Norwood from Camden, S.C.

&#8221Most of these performers have won a number of awards for their musicianship and songwriting skills, so we are in for a treat…and it may be hard to decide just who the winners are,“ Nancy Idland, Greenville Main Street director, said.

And the audience will be the determining factor (via their cries of approval and applause) in who takes home the $1,000 first prize and $750 second prize that evening.

The mood switches from acoustic to electric at 7:30 p.m. when headliners Willie King and the Liberators, along with Little Jimmy Reed, perform a plugged-in electric blues show.

Blues educator

King's grandparents, sharecroppers in Mississippi who were also gospel singers, raised him after his father, an amateur blues musician, abandoned his family.

As a boy, King built his own crude instruments and began to play. For many years, he worked as a traveling salesman, hawking goods and talking politics, eventually becoming a part of the civil rights movement.

However, he also continued to play his beloved blues music. King went on to forge a blues education program in Old Memphis, Ala. where his organization, The Rural Members Association, offers educational opportunities, legal assistance, transportation and other services for the needy for the last two decades.

King also sponsors the Freedom Creek Festival each year.

The bluesman is a member of the Howlin' Wolf Hall of Fame and multiple winner of blues awards for best artist, best live performer and best song.

Following in big footsteps

Leon Atkins of Enterprise, the second headliner, performs under the stage name of Little Jimmy Reed.

The self-taught musician learned to play the guitar and harmonica at the age of 16.

&#8221My daddy bought me a guitar on Monday and by Saturday, I could play it,“ Atkins said.

He grew up near a nightclub, hearing the original Jimmy Reed's music played regularly on the jukebox.

Atkins did his best to play along and learn the Jimmy Reed style.

He earned his nickname from an unforgettable experience.

Reed himself was slated to play one night and was unable to make the performance.

&#8221So they came and got me. The people couldn't tell the difference

– or didn't care,“ Atkins said.

As Little Jimmy Reed, Atkins has appeared as the opening act for Bobby &#8221Blue“ Bland, Lynn White and many others.

In 1995, Atkins was presented with the Alabama Blues Treasure Award. He plays at many festivals across the South, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Gates will open at 2 p.m. for the acoustic competition; tickets are $7 for adults and $1 for children under 12.

A gospel concert, featuring Bill J. Brooks of Tupelo, Miss., is slated for 2 p.m. on Sunday. Admission to Sunday's concert is free.

The Family Fun Time, slated from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, features local musicians, children's craft activities, artists and artisans and much more and is also free.

&#8221With all the wonderful entertainment, children's activities, all the delicious southern food and drink and these terrific musicians – it is sure to be a fantastic weekend for all ages,“ Idland said.

For more information, go to

or contact Nancy Idland at 382-8729 or 354-2802.