The King Biscuit Blues Festival showcases the nation’s foremost blues music. Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule are this year’s Saturday night headliner at the 32nd annual King Biscuit Blues Festival, the crowning event of the blues festival season, taking place in historic Helena, Arkansas, October 5-7. It is also a bookend of Bridging the Blues, a multi-week constellation of music events in the region.
Gov’t Mule is a fundamental link between the blues fathers and their contemporary sons and daughters. Warren Haynes reinvigorated the Allman Brothers, showed the Grateful Dead there was life after Jerry Garcia and, with Gov’t Mule, created a body of work that is the template for contemporary roots music improvisation. Equally at home jamming with blues masters and rock monsters, he is one of the most highly visible and versatile guitarists on the scene today. His first love and primary creative outlet, Gov’t Mule, channels the fundamentals that defy genre labels, spans the breadth of the fertile American songbook and captivates a fan base with a broad spectrum of tastes.
The band is one of more than 50 acts comprising the perfect blend of music essentials: sound and fury signifying everything that draws fans from around the world to a location that is the vital connection melding art and entertainment’s finest performers.
Presented in the fertile birthplace of Delta blues on the banks of the Mississippi River where cotton is king and the blues artists sing, The Biscuit this year fills in the threads between the never to be forgotten legacy of native sons Sonny Boy Williamson and James Cotton with an unparalleled lineup that’s the best of the best from the past, present and future of the blues.
Thursday night’s headliner, Tab Benoit is The Voice of the Wetlands. A native of Houma, Louisiana, Benoit calls himself the “new kid from the old school,” having released 18 CDs since 1993. He is the standard bearer of a new generation of Cajun blues musicians and a tireless crusader for the preservation of the rapidly vanishing wetlands of the Gulf Coast.
Helena is a place where time forgot, an idyllic home away from home steeped in the traditions of America’s gift to the world, infused with the spirits and ghosts whose sounds are the deep roots of American culture stripped down to its fundamental essentials. This, The King of all blues fests, takes place where it all began, the womb of the blues.
This is the sweet spot that presents the blues in all its permutations from Sonny Burgess, who rubbed shoulders with Elvis Presley in Arkansas clubs at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, to Bob Margolin, Muddy Waters’ guitarist fresh off The Last Waltz 40th anniversary tour. Paul Thorn, the former boxer who stole the show from B.B. King in 2010, will make a return to The Biscuit as he has every year since. C.W. Gatlin, who played with Sam Carr and Helena’s own Frank Frost, will bring a sense of this history with him; Reba Russell will sing her inspirational “Heaven Came to Helena;” and Allman Brothers alumnus Jack Pearson and Gregg Allman’s keyboardist Bruce Katz will offer the thrill of Southern rock expertise.