by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival underway now in Helena-West Helena will once again be the King Biscuit Blues Festival in 2011. The renaming was announced last night from the festival stage. (In case you wondered how our promotion turned out, the Arkansas Times will be taking two busloads of blues fans to the fest' Saturday, with a stop for Craig's bbq along the way.) Read on.
In a surprise announcement broadcast on the Main Stage at the opening of the 2010 Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival, Bill Sagan, founder and CEO of Wolfgang’s Vault said, “On behalf of the whole Wolfgang’s Vault family of companies, including King Biscuit, we are pleased to announce a rekindled partnership between King Biscuit and the Blues Festival. It is our pleasure to announce that beginning next year, 2011, this Blues Festival will once again be named the King Biscuit Blues Festival in honor of the great historical music legacy we share.”
Six years ago blues fans and organizers of Helena, Arkansas’s King Biscuit Blues Festival received a shock when they discovered that a contract had been signed that effectively turned their long-lived name over to a management group from New York. As a result, the 25-year old event was forced to change its name from the ever popular King Biscuit Blues Festival to the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival. (http://www.bluesandheritagefest.com)
After several years of effort, event organizers learned that the rights to the name had been sold to Wolfgang’s Vault, a private music-focused company established in 2002 dedicated to the restoration and archiving of live concert recordings and the sale of music memorabilia. After learning of Helena’s interest in having the King Biscuit name back, Sagan negotiated a new relationship with the Festival that will see the name return for the 2011 event.
“This is a dream come true for us to have the name King Biscuit Blues Festival back,” said Munnie Jordan, executive director of this year’s festival. “This event is all about our heritage and our culture, and this really makes us happy and proud. I want to thank Bill Sagan and Wolfgang’s Vault for making this day possible for us—it’s really a dream come true,” Jordan said.
Bubba Sullivan, founding member of the Sonny Boy Blues Society, echoed Jordan’s comments, “We’re very thankful to have the name back home. This festival is all about our history, and the name King Biscuit Blues Festival was a big part of that history. We look forward to once again being able to promote the 2011 event as the King Biscuit Blues Festival.”
The announcement came at another historic time for the festival, its 25th anniversary. Founded in 1986, the first festival was a one-day event with a small gathering of local residents and a flatbed truck as a stage. Since then, the festival has grown to three days with four stages and multiple activities into one of the nation’s foremost showcases of blues music.
Held annually in October, tens of thousands of blues enthusiasts converge on historic downtown Helena to hear stirring performances of a true American art form on the banks of the Mississippi River. This year’s dates are October 7-9, and the headliners include B.B. King, Dr. John, and Taj Mahal along with almost sixty other blues acts.
bluesandheritagefest.com / P.O. Box 118 / Helena, AR 72342 / T: 870-995-2698
A GOVERNMENT AGENCY COMMENTS
"In the Delta, the blues are our life — and after 6 years, the return of the King Biscuit name to the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival means an essential part of our heritage has been returned as well. The King Biscuit is so interwoven in our culture — we all needed the name back; this was important," said Chris Masingill, the Delta Regional Authority's Federal Co-Chairman;
"And it was particularly appropriate the announcement was made just before BB King's headlining set began tonight," Chairman Masingill continued, "We know that more than 50 years ago when Mr. King was driving a tractor in Indianola, MS, at noon time, he tuned into the "King Biscuit Time" blues radio show on KFFA in Helena, AR — one of the most important radio shows in the country, and, it was sponsored specifically to African-Americans."
"I join our region in expressing our gratitude to Bill Sagan, founder and CEO of Wolfgang’s Vault — the owner of the name, for the 'rekindled partnership between King Biscuit and the Blues Festival'," Chairman Masingill stated; "We are also grateful for the leadership of Munnie Jordan, executive director of this year’s festival, Bubba Sullivan, founding member of the Sonny Boy Blues Society and Allan Hammons, consultant to the festival to bring this home."