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   Needin’ a blues fix? Then get ready, because the King Biscuit returns to Helena Oct. 7-9 with a lineup including legends and newcomers to the scene.

   The 2004 festival features Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Pinetop Perkins. For blues enthusiasts, these names immediately conjure up visions of a good time. For the uninitiated, the King Biscuit offers the opportunity to hear the roots of modern music.

   “When you watch what happens on our stages, you can connect the dots between the start of American popular music and where it is now,” said Wayne Andrews, executive director of the festival. “When you come and see people playing at the King Biscuit, you may say ‘I haven’t heard of that artist.’ What you’re listening to is the person or people that influenced the people you know.”

   Fans of Eric Clapton may be interested to know that the guitar genius learned his licks after listening to Delta blues musicians, including festival closer “Gatemouth” Brown. Andrews notes that Brown has performed for more than 50 years, mixing blues with country, jazz and Cajun music. Brown plays five instruments, including guitar, violin, harmonica, mandolin and the drums.

   This is a guy that Eric Clapton refers to as an influence,” Andrews said. “Clapton is a great genius who was influenced by Delta bluesman, living in England and influenced by Southern Delta Black culture. All he did was look at what had happened over here. If people would have looked at home first, they would have found it.”

   Andrews notes that Perkins taught Ike Turner to play, and was recognized by Turner as an honored guest when Turner received his NARAS Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

   “Here’s this guy who was part of the Helena music scene who influenced Ike Turner who influenced rock ‘n’ roll,” Andrews said. “Without Pinetop Perkins, there’s no Ike & Tina. People who want to see the roots of music, go see Pinetop Perkins.”

   Other “can’t miss” artists include Marcia Ball and Helena’s own Robert Lockwood Jr. Andrews describes Ball as mixing blues with New Orleans’ Jazz, and claims she presents “one of the most upbeat shows anyone would ever see.” She thrilled blues enthusiasts in Telluride, Colo., so much that they called to reserve tickets to the King Biscuit just to see her again, he said.

   Andrews also recommends that visitors catch Daniel “Slick” Ballinger on Thursday, and his personal favorite, William Lee Ellis on Saturday.

   “We get about 1,000 CDs a year. Some are fantastic, some are garbage,” he says. “I got (Ellis’) CD, sampled the first song and said, ‘That’s good.’ They’re all blues, but it’s like he’d mixed different styles with the blues: something Latin flavored, one kinda Caribbean, something traditional, something bluegrass. It was like he was pushing blues to the limit in each song. To me, this is a guy preserving the blues. Truth is I’m listening at this guy’s CD, and he’s already got four CDs out. This guy’s been slowly working away at it. I literally picked up the phone and said I have to have this guy on one of the stages.”

Emerging Artists

   In hopes that people will discover artists coming into the scene, an emerging artists program debuts this year. Organizers have set aside 96 slots for new bands, some of which will appear on the main stage and have the opportunity to win a recording contract from Moving Records.

   “Basically we wanted to make the festival a place where people are discovered,” Andrews said. “We’ve already extended a couple of invitations, but we still have some spots on the main stage.”

   One of those spots will go to the winner of Little Rock’s Battle of the Bands. Of the 150 groups that have already applied, 20 spots have already been offered, Andrews said. Those already offered slots include Little Rock’s Essie Neal, Nashville’s Brian Martin Trio, Memphis’ Kirk Smithheart Band, West Virginia’s J.B. Richie and someone as far away as the United Kingdom. Interested bands can still submit their demo and press kit for the national contest until Sept. 15. The materials will be scored by a committee of various music people including Ardent Studios in Memphis, Greg Cravens of the Kentucky Head Hunters, Southwest Blues magazine and Blues Revue, the largest blues publication. Moving Records will release a CD of the performances of four or five of the emerging artists performing on the main stage.

Friends of the Biscuit

   Though plagued by problems in the past, the King Biscuit Blues Festival seems to have overcome the obstacles to keeping the festival free, much to the delight of blues fans worldwide.

   Three years ago, the festival ran up approximately $40,000 in debt when the city of Helena used outside management to run the show, Andrews said. This led to concerns that visitors would have to pay to see the shows. Instead, the city turned the festival over to the Sonny Boy Blues Society.

   To keep the festival free, the society started F.O.B., i.e. “Friends of the Biscuit.” Limited to 350 people each year, F.O.B. members get the best seats in the house directly in front of the main stage. They also receive other special benefits, including:

  •    Limited Edition Friends of the Biscuit T-Shirt
  •    CD’s from leading Blues labels and emerging artists
  •    Complimentary beverage wristbands
  •    Access to artist hospitality area

   “They get some of the VIP treatment and extra perks because of donating to the festival,” Andrews says. “Every year, people make a check for $50 because it’s very laid back. The artists walk around the street and they can talk to them.”

   Andrews said F.O.B. passes are going quick, as they’re averaging 10-15 sales a day. They will continue selling the passes until they are sold out. Applications for F.O.B. passes can be found online atwww.kingbiscuitfest.org.

More than Music

   While the festival centers on the blues, other activities help keep visitors returning year after year. Sponsored by First National Phillips County Bank, the annual poster contest features artwork reminiscent of the experience. People can still submit their art until Sept. 15 by calling 870-338-8798. In addition, online applications are available for Main Street Helena’s annual Barbeque Contest, and the Freemeyer Memorial 5K Run. According to the Web site, contestants in the BBQ contest not only compete for the title of champion, but for the best view of the stage. Space is limited, so contestants are encouraged to apply early.

   One famous visitor planning to attend the show is Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who notes that the festival is one of the state’s top annual events as well as one of the world’s premier blues festivals.

   “I try never to miss the King Biscuit Blues Festival,” Huckabee said. “I’m always amazed by some of the people I meet each fall in Helena. They literally come to the Arkansas Delta from all over the world in order to experience the blues where the music was born.”

   Andrews appreciates Huckabee’s attendance.

   “What more could you want than a governor who understands the state’s musical heritage?” he said. “Here’s a governor showing it’s not only important to be good in school, but also a well-rounded person.”

Schedule   Andrews notes that the Heritage and Acoustic stages will highlight the roots of music with performers playing the traditional Delta blues. Performers on the main stage have taken heritage and acoustic techniques and done something with it on a larger scale, he said. So take some time to come to Helena, sit on the levy and listen to one of the largest block parties around.Sonny Boy WilliamsonMain Stage

Thursday 10/7

Noon/12:30 Emerging Artists – TBA

12:45/1:15 Emerging Artists – TBA

1:30/2 Emerging Artists – TBA

2:15/2:45 Emerging Artists – TBA

3/3:45 SBBS Talent Winner

4/4:45 Zac Harmon & The Mid-South Blues Review

5/6 Daniel “Slick” Ballinger & The Soul Blues Boyz

6:30/7:45 Bobby Radcliff

8:15/9:30 Corey Harris & The 5 x 5 Band

10/11:30 Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers

Friday 10/8

Noon/1 John Weston

1:15/2:20 Sam Carr & The Delta Jukes w/Dave Riley

2:35/3:40 Eddie Bo

4/5:15 Toni Lynn Washington

5:30/6:45 Pinetop Perkins & Bob Margolin

7:05/8:20 John Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen

8:45/10 Kenny Neal

10:30/11:45 Koko Taylor

Saturday 10/9

Noon/1 Blind Mississippi Morris

1:15/2:20 Craig Horton

2:35/3:40 Jessie Yawn

4/5:15 Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets Featuring Sam Myers

5:30/6:45 Robert Lockwood, Jr

7:05/8:20 The Holmes Brothers

8:45/10 Marcia Ball

10:30/11:45 Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

Gospel Stage

Malco Theater

Saturday 10/9 Noon – 11:00pm

Houston Stackhouse

Acoustic Stage

Friday 10/8

Noon/1 Mark Lemhouse

1:20/2:20 Del Ray

2:40/3:40 Steve James

4/5 John Dee Holeman

Saturday 10/9

Noon/1 William Lee Ellis

1:20/2:20 Robert Belfour

2:40/3:40 Mary Flowers

4/5 Spider John Koerner

Robert Lockwood

Heritage Stage

Friday 10/8

5:30/6:40 Cootie Stark

7:00/8:10 Beverly “Guitar” Watkins

8:30/9:40 Little Freddie King

10/11:15 Bob Stroger

Saturday 10/9

5:30/6:40 Little Joe Washington

7/8:10 Earnest “Guitar” Roy, Jr.

8:30/9:40 Joe Jonas

10/11:15 Phil Guy