It may be in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the sixth Deak’s Harmonica Block Party will take place as scheduled from noon to 9 p.m. in Downtown Clarksdale.
As always, the party is in front of Deak's Mississippi Saxophones & Blues Emporium on Third Street.
Deak Harp, started the block party in 2014 and this year, there will be sanitation stations, hand sanitizer and masks given away. He hopes the tourist - and the local lovers of blues - will come out.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a really strong turnout because of the COVID, but we’re all going to try to stay six feet apart,” Harp said. “It’s hard to drink a beer with a mask on, so people are going to set up their own little safe zones.
"At the beer tent, you have to have a mask on where there’s more than two or three people," he explained. "We’re all going to smile and try to stay safe.”
John Primer will be playing at the block party.
Harp said 25 years ago he worked for the James Cotton Blues Band and met Primer.
“I did some shows with him in Chicago back in the day, so bringing him to Clarksdale – he’s been here before with the Pinetop homecoming stuff, but never on my reckon,” Harp said.
Steven Bell, who is Carey Bell’s son and a harp player for Muddy Waters, will also play.
“John Primer was actually the last guitar player for Muddy Waters,” Harp said. “He toured with Muddy Waters and then for probably 20 with Magic Slim and the Teardrops.”
Jesse Cotton Stone from Colorado, who used to play with Cedric Burnside, is also playing at the block party.
Trenton Ayres, whose father used to pay with Junior Kimbrough, will play. Harp is going to play the harp with Ayres for 30 minutes of the set.
Harp and Ricky “Quicksand” Martin will do a set together with Bill “Watermelon Slim” Homans following. Primer will play next with Bell following.
While many festivals take place in Clarksdale throughout the year, Harp has not had a problem securing strong turnout for Deak’s Harmonica Block Party.
“I kind of generate it to keep the harmonica players interested and they just keep coming more and more,” Harp said. “It doesn’t grow to be a big festival, but it’s more like a block party. That’s just what I want to do. It’s funded by my friends, so we’re going to have a party.
“Before COVID, I did have people from all over the world that came to my festival – Germany and Switzerland. They made it their way to get here.”
Kim Wilson, William "Billy Boy" Arnold and Paul Oscher have played at the block party in previous years.
“I love doing it and the harmonica needs to have one festival just for harmonica,” Harp said.
Harp talked about the impact the harmonica has had.
“I was 12 when I first heard the harmonica,” Harp said. “If you want to be a harmonica player, you have to fall in love with the instrument. That’s exactly what I did. The harmonica itself, they call it a Mississippi saxophone. It was the name of my first festival. Nobody knew what a Mississippi saxophone was, but back in the day they called it a poor man’s sax because the saxophone and the harmonica have those blue notes that you can’t get out of any other instruments.”
Harp said anytime he hears the harmonica, he goes crazy.
Harp is building a deck on the back of his home right near the Shack Up Inn. Some of the musicians from the block party may play on that deck Sunday.
“We’re not sure, but if Sunday turns out to be a nice day, we might have a barbecue here and maybe kick up some music. And whoever’s left hanging around, we might do it right here,” Harp said.
Admission to Deak’s Harmonica Block Party is $20 for guests, $10 for local guests and musicians from Clarksdale and surrounding areas receive free entry.