The Coahoma County Tourism Commission’s $15,000 allocation for the Juke Joint Festival topped the grant approvals for three local festivals coming up in Clarksdale in 2020.
The Juke Joint Festival will be in downtown Clarksdale April 16 to 19. The commission also approved a $2,000 grant for the Birthplace American Music (BAM) Festival on Delta Avenue June 20. The final approval was a $3,500 grant for the Deep Blues Festival Oct. 15 to 18. Tickets can be purchased at the New Roxy and Shack Up Inn during the festival.
All the approvals came during the Wednesday, Feb. 12 board meeting and the grants will be used for marketing and promotion. The commission also approved a $1,580 check for the Paul Gallo Show to come to Clarksdale for a live broadcast during the Juke Joint Festival at the approval of Mayor Chuck Espy.
The JJF was first on the agenda for festivals. Three of the five board members were present at the meeting, which was barely enough for a quorum. Board member Roger Stolle was a co-founder of JJF in 2004 and still oversees the event, so he had to step outside during the discussion.
Board attorney Ed Peacock said, since three board members were at the meeting, board chair Bill Gresham and board member Madge Howell approving the request would be enough. Peacock also said, to assure there were no problems, the item should be placed on the agenda for the March meeting.
Coahoma County Tourism Commission executive director Bubba O’Keefe co-founded JJF with Stolle, but no longer oversees the event. He discussed its progress through the years.
“After being here (tourism commission director) a year, the festivals are really the ones that manifest everything that we work for,” O’Keefe said. “They’re also doing the work we’re doing up here in the field, too, throughout the year. I really have a desire for all these festivals to grow. I know there’s a ceiling there, but when we look at the work that they do compared to the things we take out in advertising and everything for travel, they’re the ones that deliver.”
O’Keefe said the success of festivals can be seen by how many individuals attend and rooms in hotels are booked. He added he talked with longtime JJF volunteer Nan Hughes about the desire to grow.
He said he is working with non-profit organizations to try and get grants in and have the state doing things to raise the bar for local festivals.
“I’m really trying to encourage them, how do you want to best promote the festival?” O’Keefe said. “How do you want to get new sponsorship?”
O’Keefe said he would talk about more sponsorships during the March meeting.
“Sponsorship, we could get a bigger bang for our buck,” said O’Keefe, adding sponsorships are more than just advertising dollars.
O’Keefe said he would like to see the tourism commission sponsor more things with the “visit Clarksdale” slogan.
He recommended the board approve the $15,000 grant for the JJF.
“For that $15,000, I know that’s a big request, if you look back at what we did over the years, we really stymied them and nobody can say they don’t fill up the town. They fill up other towns. I feel really strongly we need to start stepping out there and growing these festivals.
“I feel really strongly about it. I feel they deserve it because of the work they’re doing, not because of who they are.”
O’Keefe said he does not want to invest in festivals that have been around for several years and do not have traction. However, he did say he wants to see other festivals grow.
Representatives from the BAM Festival requested $2,500. The commission allocated $1,500 in 2019.
The festival is going into its third year and its main venue is the Delta Blues Alley Café on Delta Avenue. Other local businesses in the area also have musicians playing during the festival.
“This is one of those things I struggled with last year,” O’Keefe said. “I want to encourage them to develop. I didn’t get the feedback of any growth.”
O’Keefe said the BAM Festival was more for the local community.
JeCorry Miller and Adhel Henderson of Delta Blues Alley Café organize the festival.
“What I see here is it’s a lot more organized than it was last year,” O’Keefe said.
O’Keefe said the festival used nearly all of the $1,500 allocated last year.
Stolle said, looking at the marketing, the BAM Festival has the potential to bring people in depending on where the posters are placed.
“Maybe we go between last year and this year, $2,000,” Stolle said.
O’Keefe agreed $2,000 was a reasonable amount to allocate.
“I think this is the pivotal year that we see them really step up and get out there,” he said.
“I think with the $2,000, we’re giving them the tools to work with it and be at that point of growth.”
Deep Blues Festival
O’Keefe said the commission gave the Deep Blues Festival a $2,000 grant in 2019, but this year, the request was for $3,500.
“I think last year was a great festival. I think it is a growing festival,” O’Keefe said.
“They’re staying overnight and they’ve been coming year after year.”
Stolle supported giving the $3,500.
“It makes a real impact,” he said. “You’d think that it’s not ginormous, it would not have a meaningful impact on tours, restaurants and clubs and downtown, but it absolutely does.
“To me, this is a good one to invest in.”
Robin Colonas, who oversees the festival, said tickets can be purchased at the New Roxy and Shack Up Inn.
“We make a commitment to promoting any music that is open that weekend under the umbrella of the festival,” Colonas said.
She said the festival also promotes other clubs around town with music.