As the economy reopens, tourist will be looking for places to go this summer and fall that are far away from the perils of coronavirus.
Rural spots like Clarksdale may just fit the bill.
The Coahoma County Tourism Commission has approved a $6,500 grant for a fall festival slated for the old Stovall Gin and crossroads. As the festival gets closer and the economy opens, the Tourism Commission could add another $6,500 to help the new festival come to Coahoma County.
The Mighty Roots Music Festival is scheduled for Oct. 2 to 3 in Stovall and organizers have already approached the county about obtaining resort status from the state Alcohol Beverage Control and how to handle parking and security issues.
The festival will focus on Americana music and be on the main stage in Stovall from 5 p.m. to midnight Friday, Oct. 2 and 1 p.m. to midnight Oct. 3. Rollin Rosatti, John Mohead, The Minks and the headliner Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads will be playing Oct. 2. Tyler Tisdale, Red on Yellow, National Park Radio, Radney Foster, Jarekus Singleton, Keller Williams and the headliner Deer Tick will play Saturday. It is at the intersection of Stovall Road and Highway 1.
Anthony “Big A” Sherrod will play from midnight to 2 a.m. Oct. 3 following the first night at The Stovall Store. Stone Gas Band will play from midnight to 2 a.m. Oct. 4 following the second night at The Stovall Store.
Festival representatives approached the tourism commission during the Wednesday, May 13 meeting asking for a grant. The tourism commission committed to $6,500, but will revisit the matter in August to see if the festival will take place since the COVID-19 pandemic might be an issue.
Coahoma County Tourism executive director Bubba O’Keefe said the festival has all the makings of a grand new festival for the community.
“It’s on the historic Stovall plantation,” O’Keefe said. “It’s got a great setup.
“It’s different music. It’s not just blues,” he explained. “It’s a music fest that leans toward Americana music, so it will bring in a different crowd. It will be at a good time of the year. It all hinges on this pandemic, what happens. If it’s all open by then, nothing flares up, it’s going to be a home run.”
Howard Stovall and Steve Azar have been planning the event since November.
“It’s a reboot of a festival called the Mighty Mississippi Festival that ran in Greenville from 2013 to 2018,” Stovall said. “Steve and I were both involved with that event. When they decided not to keep the festival, we decided to do something similar.”
Stovall said he wanted the location of the festival to be near Memphis. He is actively working with the Delta Council and other agricultural organizations to pull the festival together.
Since another Mighty Roots Music Festival is also scheduled for May 2021, some of the things scheduled for Oct. 2 to 3 could be shifted to then.
“For that reason, we felt like it was a good backup plan,” O’Keefe said.
The Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival is scheduled for Aug. 7 to 9, but O’Keefe said he did not know if it would proceed this year. Other big festivals in Clarksdale, including the Juke Joint Festival in April, have been cancelled.
“Any festival that opens up now that’s available, people are going to flock to because they’ve been hunkered down,” O’Keefe said. “It’s going to be like a real music festival that you see in other places outdoors with a stage and all that. It’s really going to be unique.”
Stovall said he expects 1,500 to 2,000 individuals at the festivals. Eventually, he expects the turnout to be between 5,000 and 6,000. He understood the tourism commission only giving some of the money he asked for because he will have to make decisions in August depending on the COVID-19 situation.
“It’s completely reasonable because we’ll be doing the same thing at the same time,” Stovall said.
O’Keefe said the Stovall plantation has good access from the highway, a feel of a larger festival with the stage and lights and has an open area.
While virtual music has helped keep the blues in Clarksdale seven nights a week, there are still questions about the long-term plans.
“We are now looking at what to do,” O’Keefe said. “There’s several things that we’ve got. We’re still learning about what the different markets are doing because this week, you’ve had more places open than you’ve had in the past two months, but there are places that are still localized governing restrictions.”
O’Keefe did say, in the near future, Clarksdale would more likely draw domestic tourists since fewer people are flying. He did feel Clarksdale is as nice of a place to visit as anywhere with its southern hospitality.
“What are travelers looking for? They don’t want a big city,” O’Keefe said. “They don’t want to go where there’s a lot of people. They want to go to smaller destinations. The thing about Clarksdale is we have enough. We have music seven nights a week, which not all cities can do. People don’t want to go to cities.”
In other business:
The tourism commission also expressed its support for state House Bill 58 and Senate Bill 2028 to authorize the issue of state general obligation bonds to provide funds to assist in paying costs associated with the acquisition, storage and relocation of artifacts and the design, fabrication and installation of permanent exhibits, including the development of all associated films and interactive components for the Delta Blues Museum.
The Clarksdale Tourism Board is made up of O'Keefe, Roger Stolle, Madge Howell, Bill Gresham, Al Jones and Wilhelmenia Newson.