By Josh Troy
Last weekend, the 20th annual Juke Joint Festival had its largest turnout since the COVID pandemic caused shutdowns worldwide. JJF co-founder Roger Stolle estimated that around 3,500 guests attended night-time venues, while daytime venues usually have as many attendees as the night-time venues. During the four days of the 2023 JJF, Stolle estimated that there were about 7,000 guests, and having international audiences played a significant role in the large turnout, with guests from all 50 US states, Washington DC, and approximately two dozen foreign countries.
Stolle said that he did not know if 2023 was the biggest JJF ever, but it might have been. According to him, there were 17 daytime stages covering eight blocks at JJF, along with dozens of street vendors, monkey riding dogs, pig racing events, and the kids zone. Stolle also mentioned that the festival had Mississippi blues musicians from ages 10 to 96, which he said was remarkable and unique.
The weather was excellent during the festival, and Stolle said that the biggest and most fun stuff, particularly for families, was outside around town during the daytime. He added that a JJF highlight was having Cadillac John Nolden play at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art on Friday, just two days after his 96th birthday. Stolle said that the plan is to have Nolden play at every JJF as long as possible.
Other highlights of the festival included Thacker Mountain Radio’s return to the New Roxy after a couple of years, Charlie Musselwhite and Kenny Brown playing at the Wade Walton stage, and Grammy award winner Cedric Burnside performing on Friday night. The Biscuits, Bibles & Blues festival, with the help of Clarksdale Baptist Church, took place on Delta Avenue on Sunday morning, and the Coahoma Community College choir closed out the event.
Stolle said that the Cat Head Mini Blues Fest was held on Sunday on Delta Avenue, and Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Terry “Big T” Williams, Layla Musselwhite, Sean Apple, Anthony “Big A” Sherrod, and Lucious Spiller played at the festival. Musicians also played at the Bluesberry Cafe for much of Sunday, as well as the other days of JJF.
Stolle mentioned that there were 26 night-time venues, and some of the highlight performers included James “Super Chikan” Johnson, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and Jimbo Mathus. He also said that the student art show with work from kids in different grades and schools that took place in the building on 224 Yazoo Ave and the panel discussions at Meraki Roasting Co. on Friday were significant events during the festival.
According to Stolle, the 21st JJF is scheduled to take place from April 11 to 14, 2024. He thanked all the big partners of JJF, noting Visit Clarksdale as one of the big partners, and said that the festival would not have been possible without the support of the community, both financially and morally and as volunteers. To learn more about the festival and sponsors, go to www.jukejointfestival.com.