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Eureka turns blue

David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Hubert Sumlin headline the weekend festival.


HONEYBOY: He played with Robert Johnson.
  • HONEYBOY: He played with Robert Johnson.

One of the highlights/lowlights of the recently completed legislative session came courtesy of Rep. Beverly Pyle, an easy nominee for Worst Member of the General Assembly. After Eureka Springs created a homosexual-friendly domestic partnership registry, Pyle said during one committee meeting that she's found it impossible to go into the city park for the surfeit of people “acting like animals lying around.” 

Those who share Pyle's sensibilities may wish to avoid the city altogether for the next few days, when the Eureka Springs Blues Weekend takes over. After all, one of the headliners is a former stripper who sings a song called “Let's Commit Adultery” and sells “therapeutic” bra-shaped pillows on her website.

But steering clear out of prudery would be a big mistake. Salacious acts notwithstanding, there will be some truly great blues on display in Eureka this weekend. The musicians are so wide-ranging as to provide a microcosm of blues history.

The can't-miss performer is David “Honeyboy” Edwards, a rough-voiced singer and guitarist who will play on Saturday afternoon. At 93, Honeyboy is one of the few living bluesmen who have been around longer than the genre has been recorded. And not only has he been around, he has played with men who have attained legendary status, including Robert Johnson, with whom he is said to have shared a bill on the night Johnson died in 1938. While audience members likely won't hear many tales of the old days — at a recent New York performance the only words Honeyboy uttered were, “Y'all ready for the blues?” — they will hear the Delta blues as it sounded early in the 20th century, before it got amplified and broadcast on the radio.

A generation removed from Honeyboy and Johnson was the electric Chicago blues, performed most notably by Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Though both men had roots in Delta acoustic blues, they created something else entirely once they plugged in. One of the people most responsible for giving Howlin' Wolf his hard-edged sound was Hubert Sumlin, who plays Eureka Springs on Friday night. His guitar playing on songs like “Smokestack Lightnin' ” and “Wang Dang Doodle” are early examples of the blurred boundary between blues and rock; his work was a particular inspiration to Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, with whom Sumlin recorded portions of his most recent album. While Sumlin is not noted for his vocals, he will get backing help on Friday from Shreveport's Buddy Flett Band. 

Guitar Shorty, who plays Thursday night, never really settled on one blues scene; he lived, played and occasionally recorded in Texas, Florida, Chicago (where he was influenced by Willie Dixon), Seattle (where he influenced Jimi Hendrix) and L.A. before the beginning of his sustained recorded output, in the 1990s, when he was in his 50s. His exuberant recordings are well regarded, but he is better known for his energetic live act, during which he does the occasional back flip, even at his advanced age. Joe Louis Walker, who performs on Saturday night, is similarly upbeat, though his sound on record is much slicker than Guitar Shorty's. 

Less familiar names promise a good show as well. It would be worth checking out Mary Flower and EG Kight, two female artists who followed roundabout paths to the blues. Flower's technically impressive guitar playing suggests her folk background, but her husky voice is suited for blues. Kight abandoned a promising country career for the genre. Each opens for Honeyboy Edwards in what is billed as an acoustic set; Flower plays a second show later that evening. 


Shows are in various Eureka Springs venues. Tickets for shows mentioned here range from $15-$30. VIP passes to all shows are available for $235. Go to www.eurekaspringsblues.com for ticketing information and a full schedule.

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