Blues, Booze, and My Favorite Juke Joint
Being a (self-proclaimed) Mississippi blues aficionado, I am occasionally asked by the wayward European tourist where to find an authentic juke joint experience. My answer has been, and always will be, The Blue Front Cafe, in Bentonia, Mississippi. If you have not been, and you are a fan of the Blues, a pilgrimage is in order. Don't let the shabby, cinder block exterior and regulars hanging around outside deter you. They are harmless, friendly, and informative. If you buy them a beer, you’ll have a friend for life.
Blues Trail Marker Outside of the Historic Blue Front Cafe
A Bit of History
The proprietor is the one and only Bentonia blues man himself, Mr.Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. He took over establishment operations from his parents, Mr. Casey and Mary Holmes, in the early 1970s. When it first opened in the 1940s, the local field hands would congregate and enjoy the Blue Front specialties of the time; blues, moonshine, and fried buffalo fish. As a matter of fact, on my last visit, there was a heavy mixture of all three flowing. Duck was busy tending bar and hopping on stage to sit in on a song, Be sure to give the blues man a yell. Don't be surprised if you end up on the porch listening to him play or talk until well past time to go home
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You never know who will be at the Blue Front or what they will be doing. Honestly you never can tell what you'll end up doing. If there's a spill and you're nearby, get the person behind the bar to toss you a rag. Out of TP in the restroom? Grab some when you head that way. Just be neighborly. Now if you're unaccustomed to this particular brand of hospitality it can feel foreign at first. Just trust me when I say go with it. Before the night is over you’ll be sweaty, smoky, delirious, and having the time of your life. The locals want to show you a good time and dance and sing. If you play the blues, grab a guitar and play. Even if you play Michael Bolton covers, go for it. Everybody will dance along and cheer for you with beers in the air. It’s that kind of place.
The Blues Festival You Don't Want to Miss
Now if you’re smart, or lucky, you’ll find yourself in Bentonia during the Bentonia Blues Festival that is held annually in a nearby field. Well Saturday it is. Thursday night the festivities kick off at the Blue Front with some great music. Open mic, open stage, open door policy.
It’s one of my favorite blues festivals and is mostly undiscovered by the masses. Starting Wednesday and Thursday a few people start arriving. There’s tents, RVs, Atvs, bbq, kids, dogs, horses, and so much blues. The camping option I only discovered last year when my parents decided to spend the weekend. Their middle of the road model RV sat between a string of wire covered by a sheet (aka tent) and a top of the line mansion on wheels. The scene was so ridiculous it could only happen in Mississippi. Tent guy used the bathroom at our place and we all shared meals with every camper in hollerin’ distance. Lawn chairs, cold beer, and a few hundred of your new best friends are what await festival attendees. Admission is around $10 if memory serves, but you’ll hear a million dollars worth of music played while you're at the festival. Thursday and Friday nights the celebration is at the Blue Front so be sure to come early. You don't want to show up Saturday and hear how great the night before was.