W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Fest is days away; here’s the lineup

By Beth Smith – The Henderson Gleaner

HENDERSON, Ky. — Henderson is just days away from kicking off a festival that started 29 years ago and draws upwards of 40,000 people annually.

The W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival runs from June 12-June 15 and honors the man who would one day be known as the Father of the Blues.

Henderson gets to claim the legendary musician as one of its own since his arrival here around 1892. He met and married his wife, a Henderson resident, and made this community his home for nearly a decade.

Handy Chairman Brian Bishop provided a brief history lesson Thursday to the Rotary Club of Henderson as he introduced the musical line-up and explained the impact the festival has here.

“One of the things we kind of lose about W.C. Handy is that he was a very smart businessman,” Bishop said. “He was a prolific publisher of blues music and created the Handy Brothers Music Company, which is still functioning and family owned.” 

“What I like to say is that W.C. Handy found his voice in Henderson,” Bishop said. “A direct quote from Handy about Henderson is ‘It was there I realized that experiences I had had, things I had seen and heard, could be set down in a kind of music characteristic of my race. There I learned to appreciate the music of my people.'”

The Rolling Stones helped popularize the Blues genre, Bishop said.

One of the groups performing during the festival, Chicago Plays the Stones, will be playing all Rolling Stones songs, which in turn helped make the Blues genre so popular.

“Handy is the Father of the Blues. He found his voice in Henderson. Chicago Plays the Stones is a group of established, grammy-award-winning and nominated artists. They are playing the Stones to pay homage to them. The reason is that the Rolling Stones helped popularize the Blues,” Bishop said. “So what this band is going to do is playing a lot of Rolling Stones songs” during the festival.

Not only is the Handy Festival a historical connection with the famous musician, it’s also a valuable tool in promoting the Henderson community and its businesses.

“The arts means business” for the local economy, Bishop said. “Non-local audiences  spend twice as much as their local counterparts … that’s a ton of money being injected into the Henderson economy.”

Handy Co-chair Joy Ries said the festival — which is free for those attending — takes funding. The money is raised through fees from vendors who set up during the festival, from red beans and rice sales on Thursday’s Zydeco night, through the sale of RC drinks and Java Shakes and donations from private and corporate sponsors.

Based on surveys from the last five festivals, Bishop said, “When you look at that park, and it’s packed, three out of four people are not from Henderson. That’s huge. They are coming into our community and spending money. So we, as a community, need to put our best foot forward.”

“We always give T-shirts to the people who come from the farthest away,” he said. “We’ve had people come from Germany and Australia.”

“Also as part of surveys, we asked people how important the festival was to them coming to Henderson,” Bishop said.

“Seventy-two percent said they wouldn’t be in Henderson if it weren’t for the festival. That’s very telling. That’s a big deal.”

The following is the schedule for the festival:

Wednesday, June 12

3 p.m. The Beat Daddys

5 p.m. Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton

7 p.m. Jonathon Long

9 p.m. Vanessa Collier

Thursday, June 13, Zydeco Night

4 p.m. – Ben Prestage

5:30 p.m. Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers

8 p.m. – Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band

Friday, June 14

noon – Blues4U

3 p.m. – Gough-Martin Blues Band and Tramp

5 p.m. Keesha Pratt Band

7 p.m. – Coco Montoya

9 p.m. Chicago Plays the Stones

Saturday, June 15

10 a.m. – William Branaman Street Strut Parade (leaves from Central Park).

noon – Harris James 

2 p.m. – Ben Prestage

3 p.m. – Jontavious Willis

5 p.m. – Altered Five Blues Band

7 p.m. – Ruthie Foster

9 p.m. – Southern Hospitality

Photo: MaCabe Brown / The Gleaner

This story was originally posted on The Gleaner website. You can view it here: https://www.thegleaner.com/story/news/2019/06/07/w-c-handy-blues-and-barbecue-fest-days-away-heres-lineup/1369574001/

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