Saturday, June 18, 2011

The levee holds for Mavis Staples and others

The levee and the river wall held during last month’s flooding down in Helena. The 11th Delta Family Gospel Festival went on as scheduled a couple of Saturdays ago on Cherry Street, thanks to the Delta Cultural Center and the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

The free festival is on the same stage as King Biscuit, in front of the levee not far from where Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson and others once performed.

The gospel festival last year featured the Mighty Clouds of Joy and Otis Clay. This year, perhaps 250-300 people caught the Grammy Award-winning Mavis Staples, the nation’s greatest gospel-soul singer; the amazing Holmes Brothers, who are also Grammy winners, and the Lee Brothers and their blazing steel guitar.

Staples, who recently won her first Emmy for her “You’re Not Alone” CD, has been performing for 60 years, first with the Staples Singers — her dad Sears Roebuck (Pops) and sisters Cleotha and Yvonne and brother Pervis — and then mostly on her own.

Yvonne sang backup with Mavis in Helena, including such hits as “Wade in the Water,” “Freedom Highway,” “Creep Along Moses,” “Too Close/On My Way to Heaven,” “We Can Make It,” “I Belong to the Band, Hallelujah,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and more.

This was one of the great concerts of the summer, but hardly anyone was there to enjoy it. Even fewer people showed up for Saturday’s Mother’s Best Blues Festival, which was also free, with such veteran soul-blues stars as Lonnie Shields and Bobby Rush.

It’s too bad these concerts aren’t well publicized and attendance is sparse. They’re mini-King Biscuit Festivals before the real thing in the fall.

After a hot, dry summer, the levees should hold till then.