- Helen Armitage
If you find yourself in Mississippi, this summer you’ll be spoilt for choice with the number of fun festivals, art exhibitions and music from the biggest names in the Mississippi musical traditions of blues and gospel. Whether a 125 year old fair, a festival dedicated to R&B or sampling the so-called ‘slugburger’ takes your fancy, we have compiled a list of Mississippi’s best cultural events in summer 2014.
Performance Art | the Art-err Limits Fringe Festival
1 – 2 August
This summer will see the very first Art-err Limits Fringe Festival taking place in the picturesque and historical city of Oxford. Overseen by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, which was founded in 1975 and organises a local programme of artistic and cultural activities for the benefit of the Oxford community, the Art-er Limits Fringe Festival will see the city open its doors, theatres and alternative spaces across downtown Oxford to welcome performance and visual artists from the local area and the wider Mississippi region, who will present a series of thought-provoking and interactive events that will feature everything from ballet to slam poetry. The two day festival will also include a number of ticketed food tasting events.
Music | Jackson Rhythm and Blues Festival
15 – 16 August
Drive on down to Mississippi’s state capital Jackson for the second annual Jackson Rhythm and Blues Festival – a popular new event that features performances form some of the biggest stars of rhythm and blues. The two day long festival, which takes place on the beautiful, rustic grounds of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, has five different stages that will showcase performances from over 30 talented musicians, with this year’s Friday night main stage headliner confirmed as the five time Grammy winner Ziggy Marley. The inaugural festival honoured the Mississippi legends Dorothy Moore and Bobby Rush, and the 2014 festival will honour another icon to be kept strictly under wraps until August. Other performers include R&B-hip hop outfit Bell Biv Devoe and soul and blues star Johnny Rawls.
Dance | 2014 USA International Ballet Competition
14 – 29 June
The International Ballet Competition is a two week long ‘Olympic style’ contest held in Jackson every four years since 1979. Founded in 1978 by the late, great ballet teacher Thalia Mara, the event is one of the longest-running and most esteemed competitions in the international ballet community and features talented young dancers who often use the event as a springboard into professional dancing careers. Past competitions have seen performances from Ukrainian star Irina Dvoroveno and American dancer Sara Webb who performs with the Houston Ballet, while performances confirmed for the 2014 schedule include the New York City-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet company and Idaho, Boise’s Trey McIntyre Project. Attend the 2014 International Ballet Competition and see the next generation of contemporary ballet stars before they achieve worldwide fame.
Theatre | Gold in the Hills at Vicksburg Theatre Guild’s Parkside Playhouse
11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26 July
If you should find yourself in Vicksburg this summer, then a visit to see a production of Gold in the Hills is a must. The play, a classic American melodrama written in the 1890s by J. Frank Davis, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running show and the play has become something of a cultural tradition in historic Vicksburg. Performed each year since 1936, this year marks the 78th season of the play produced by John Hesselberg and Walter Johnston. Featuring an unstoppable hero, a dastardly villain, an enchanting heroine and a troupe of gorgeous can-can dancers in New York City’s Bowery neighbourhood, Gold in the Hills is a lively, popular play that is guaranteed fun for all the family.
Art | This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement at Mississippi Museum of Art
Until 17 August
This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement is an important exhibition four years in the making of over 150 black and white photographs designed to encourage the public to reflect upon this ground-breaking historical era. Curated by the Centre for Documentary Expression and Art, the exhibition depicts the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of nine activist photographers who were instrumental in documenting the struggle to achieve desegregation and equality for Mississippi and Alabama’s black population between 1963 and 1966. Divided into four sections – Black Life (What We Saw), Organising for Freedom 1963 – 1966, State and Local Terror, and Meredith March Against Fear and Black Power – the exhibition is a must-see for anyone interested in this pivotal time in American history.
Art | Michael Mabry: Revelations & Revelry at Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art
Until 6 September
If art from regional artists inspired by the Mississippi landscape and people is your cup of tea, then pay a visit to the quirky Biloxi-based Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art to see Michael Mabry’s new exhibition Revelations and Revelry. A native of Clarksdale – a Mississippi Delta city renowned for its cotton growing and musical history which has produced such legends as John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke – Mabry’s works centre around rural communities enjoying life in Mississippi, while his use of bright colours express a sense of fun, vibrancy and community. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a huge 175 page book of illustrations inspired by the Book of Revlations titled Eye of the Last Days which took Mabry over eight years to create.
Music | Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival
8 – 10 August
The Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, which first took place in 1988, is a free festival organised every year along the banks of the scenic Sunflower River in downtown Clarksdale that showcases and celebrates the very best blues and gospel musicians from Mississippi and beyond. The festival, which is coordinated and sponsored by the Sunflower River Blues Association and the Delta Blues Museum, is characterised by its uniqueness and friendly, laidback atmosphere. Past festivals have included performances by the late harmonica master Snooky Pryor and jazz legend Mose Allison and headliners at this year’s festival include the Tennessee-born R&B singer, songwriter and pianist Latimore and blues from The Big Jack Johnson Band.
Art | HC Porter: Blues@Home at The University of Mississippi Museum
Until 2 August
Blues@Home is a unique multimedia exhibition that features Vicksburg-based artist H.C. Porter’s collection of 30 painted portraits of contemporary Mississippi living blues legends in their natural environments. Part of a project by the artist – an award-winning photographer, painter and printmaker – to capture the people, stories and sounds behind one of the USA’s most important and beloved musical traditions, the portrait subjects include the legendary blues saxophonist Alphonso Sanders amongst others. Taking place at Oxford’s University of Mississippi Museum, the exhibition pairs the portraits with oral histories that provide an insight into the colourful lives of blues legends and features original music recordings, making a must-visit exhibition for any dedicated blues fan.
Culture | The Neshoba County Fair
25 July – 1 August
Dubbed ‘Mississippi’s Giant House Party’, the Neshoba County Fair is a 125 year Mississippi tradition that as established way back in 1889 and invented to encourage the exchange of information and ideas in politics, agriculture and social knowledge. What was once a two day long meeting between local farmers has grown over the years into an eight day extravaganza of entertainment that includes fairground rides, musical performances and a rodeo? Home to Mississippi’s only licensed horse track and the USA’s biggest campground fair, the historical event was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Entertainment as the 2014 fair comes from legendary country-folk-rock outfit the Niity Gritty Dir Band and solo country artist Brett Eldredge.
Food | Slugburger Festival
10 – 12 July
The Slugburger Festival is an annual event that takes place in the downtown area of the picturesque, historical city of Corinth, nicknamed Mississippi’s Gateway City because of its location in the north eastern corner of Mississippi. The festival pays homage to a Corinth culinary tradition – the sluburger. Fear not though – no slugs are involved in the making of the slug burger. It is actually a burger patty made from beef and soy meal that was traditionally deep-fried and sold for a nickel, which was often referred to as a ‘slug’ hence the nickname of the burger. The unique, three day will give visitors a chance to try their first slugburger and also includes attractions like carnival rides, arts and crafts, and live entertainment.
By Helen Armitage