Mississippi Delta Blues Festival, 1981. Four: The Party.
Photos taken by DC Young at Freedom Village, the site of the 1981 Mississippi Delta Blues Festival organized by MACE, Mississippi Action for Community Education.
And it was a party, all afternoon and into the evening. As twilight began darkening the festival grounds, the urgent question on everyone’s lips was: “Where’s Muddy?” The star of the show, the final performer of the day, was supposed to be Muddy Waters, but he had not appeared when all the other acts had finished. Lighting on the stage was barely sufficient for the twilight, so there was a scramble to find additional lights to illuminate the stage.
In the meantime, we waited. The crowd by now had exhausted itself with dancing and barbecue, drinking and smoking. We were ready for the big man himself. We were on our feet and crowded closer and closer to the stage. Finally we were packed so close together that nobody could move. And we waited.
We learned later that Muddy Waters had been detained in Jackson by the new governor of the state, Ray Mabus—a Democrat, and a mildly liberal one at that—and his wife Julie who staged a reception at the Governor’s Mansion to welcome Muddy home to the state after an absence of forty some-odd years. When he migrated to Chicago in the 1940s, he had pledged never to return to Mississippi, but now he believed that great changes had turned things around and that a homecoming was in order.
Still we waited. Nobody wanted to leave and give up their precious spot in front of the bandstand. Cans of beer and bottles of water were passed around. Outbursts of song and ribald chants helped pass the time.
Finally the headlights of the Muddy Waters caravan appeared down the road leading to the cotton field where Freedom Village was located. We cheered.
And we waited. It took another half hour for the band to get itself unpacked and set up. When Muddy took the stage at long last, the excitement was immense. He played all his greatest songs and was joined on stage for a set with Johnny Winter. They could have played until dawn and we would have stood and cheered them on.
Around midnight it was over. People fumbled around in the dark to find their cars and gradually the crowd dispersed into the darkness of the autumn night.
One more set of photographs will be posted soon.