The festival returns to the main stage on Oct. 12-14 with performances from Little Willie Farmer, Mizz Lowe and Cadillac Funk among the 14 scheduled artists and musicians. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Lafayette County Multipurpose Arena. Tickets are available on the event’s website or at the gate.
Before the singers hit the stage, however, blues aficionados can take a trip to the third floor of the J.D. Williams Library on Thursday (Oct. 12) to hear musicians and promoters explain the genre’s complex history and its many connections to social movements in the South.
Darryl Parker, an Oxford native and founding producer of the festival, said he wanted to give blues fans an opportunity to learn about the history of the music and the people who make it.
“It’s part of our legacy,” he said. “This is the land of Southern hospitality; let’s share this great legacy of music and culture and food.
“To me, when we’re talking about blues, we’re also talking about people, culture, our differences and our similarities. You don’t have to like it, but I want you to experience it.”
While much blues music focuses on fun and good times, the genre has often been used as a platform for decrying social inequity, said Greg Johnson, head of the Department of Archives and Special Collections.
“There are a lot of social dynamics related to the blues other than the music itself, and it’s important for people to know that,” Johnson said. “This music grew out of hardship and racial injustice.”
Little Willie Farmer will kick off the talks at 1 p.m. with a discussion of the history of blues, and particularly in the spread of the genre through John Richbourg’s radio show on WLAC in Nashville. The radio show began broadcasting blues, soul, funk and R&B long before any other radio stations, Johnson said.
The Blues Archive has a collection of Richbourg’s work, which Johnson said he intends to display during Farmer’s panel.
At 2:30 p.m., Brenda Luckett and Al White will discuss the role of the blues in the ongoing pursuit of justice and equality in America.
“A lot of blues is good-time music to listen to and relax at the end of a long work week,” Johnson said. “But look at music like J.B. Lenoir’s ‘Shot on Meredith.’”
Lenior’s song details the shooting of James Meredith, the civil rights activist who integrated the university in 1962 and was shot while leading the March Against Fear in 1966.
“Lenior says ‘Mr. President, I wonder what are you’re going to do now? I don’t believe you’re going to do nothing at all,’” Johnson said. “That’s an example of blues lyrics being very directly tied to the civil rights movement.”
Following the panels, the Oxford Blues Festival will, for the first time, include a battle of the bands-style competition with up-and-coming and old favorite musicians on Friday night (Oct. 13). Six acts – The Mark Doyle and Bud Carson Duo, Delo Brown, Cricket Edgeworth, Malach, Steve Brewer, and The Delta Project – will show off their original music to see who wins the $500 grand prize.
“Part of our mission is keeping the blues alive, and one of the ways that we want to do that is introduce new audiences to this music while having entertainment for those who love the blues,” Parker said. “This is one way we do that. It’s going to be different and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Among the lineup for the festival are many former and current UM faculty and alumni, including Steve Brewer, professor of biology; Wendy Garrison, professor emeritus of biology; and alumnus Mick Kolassa.