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North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic Celebrates Its Eleventh Anniversary June 24-25

Kenny Brown sings at Guitar Workshop at NMHCP 2015. All photos by
Kenny Brown sang at Guitar Workshop at NMHCP, David Kimbrough’s Juke Joint 2015 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. All Photos by Candise Kola.

This year will mark the eleventh anniversary of one of the fastest rising stars on the American blues festival circuit…the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic. Now a well-established tradition, it is one of those rare (and getting rarer) blues festivals that is as authentic as it gets these days—emulating the origins of all blues festivals much more accurately than the much larger, almost “too-big” festivals of this age that are getting so big, it is almost a chore just to attend.

Alvin Youngblood Hart performed at the Guitar Workshop at NMHCP 2015.
Alvin Youngblood Hart performed at the Guitar Workshop at NMHCP 2015.

The origin of blues festivals is an interesting one…a tale of a people who struggled to survive and live happily in Mississippi and other areas of the Deep South during the era of Jim Crow. Each week, usually on Sundays, large groups of African-American families all over rural Mississippi would have family get-togethers that almost always included everyone bringing whatever instrument they played, even if it was just their voice, to join in jam sessions—playing the blues and gospel songs until late in the evening as a way to congregate, communicate and take a break from the hard life they lived as sharecroppers, farmhands, or whatever job they could find—working tirelessly all week trying to keep their families fed, and looking forward to Sundays and these gatherings. This festival is called a “picnic” for a reason. There is a family atmosphere that goes beyond the fact that a lot of young families attend each year, bringing their young children to boogie down with the grown folks and congregate with their kinfolk. The North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic feels like a family reunion, and it really is—in so many wonderful ways.

Sarah and Kenny Brown at David Kimbrough's Juke Joint in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Sarah and Kenny Brown at David Kimbrough’s Juke Joint in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Since its inception, Sarah and Kenny Brown have hosted this festival, which has evolved over the last ten years into one of the biggest annual blues family get-togethers in North Mississippi. Sarah and Kenny are the brave souls who tackle the daunting, extremely complicated and difficult task of putting on this huge production each year for the throngs of fans who make the trek to this truly back-woods rustic location in the North Mississippi Hill Country that is truly what you would call “in the middle of nowhere” (well, city folk might call it that). If you are coming from Oxford, the site is located just after the Tallahatchie Bridge on Highway 7 North.

David Kimbrough (pictured) at the Guitar Workshop at his Juke Joint in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
David Kimbrough (pictured) at the Guitar Workshop at his Juke Joint in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

There is primitive camping available, and for those of you who are not so nature-inclined, there are accommodations available in the towns of Oxford and Holly Springs. Here is a link to Trip Advisor’s top ten rated hotels in Oxford. On this same page you will also find the more cost-effective places to stay and some bed and breakfast options. Here may be found a list straight from the official NMHC Picnic website with a comprehensive list of places to stay in Holly Springs…ranging from the Court Square Inn Bed & Breakfast and the lovely Hummingbird Cottage, to more practical lodging such as Days Inn and Econo Lodge.

So now that we’ve go the basics out of the way, I would like to gift to you a “Dear Festival Goer” list. At forty years old, I’ve been through my share of sheer hell at certain festivals in the past (not ever at this one, of course!). It all hinges upon your ability to plan ahead. Here’s the list, and I hope it helps to make your experience as fun, worry-free and safe as it can be.

1. NO GLASS, NO PETS. Coolers are allowed, but if you have glass bottles in them, or anywhere else in your vehicle, they will be thrown in the garbage. And please, don’t try to sneak them in. They will inevitably end up on the ground broken, and there will more than likely be plenty of bare-foot children and adults walking about at the Picnic. Please think of them, and leave your glass containers at home.

2. DO NOT forget your sunscreen with SPF of at least 15. It will be hot this weekend…very hot. You will sweat away your sunscreen every two hours or so. Don’t forget to reapply, or you can try the new super-glue-like spray that is available nowadays (I don’t use personally because I’m sure if it sticks to your skin like that, it sticks to your lungs like that, but it’s a safe option for your skin… just don’t inhale the stuff). Whatever you prefer, just make sure you don’t forget the sunscreen. Hats, of course, are also a great way to keep you shielded from the searing Mississippi summer sun. Don’t forget to grab hats and sunscreen for the kids, too!

3. DO NOT forget the bug spray. Although there aren’t near as many irritating, biting flying insects in the Hill Country as there are in the Mississippi Delta, you will still encounter your fair share of mosquitos and gnats. Now that the Zika virus has hit American soil, one must keep in mind that there will be tourists from all over the world at this festival. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Plus, you don’t want to be covered in bug bites all weekend. Don’t forget to spray your kids down, as well!

4. Just go ahead and plan for the bottom to fall out of the sky at any given time. This time of year in Mississippi is such a beautiful time…everything is so plush and green, crops are thriving everywhere…but the weather in this region can become severe with a quickness and pop up out of nowhere, even when the weatherman says there should be no rain in the forecast. Bringing a poncho is advisable, as well as a good pair of mud boots that go clear up to your knees. There is a small chance that a storm may come through dumping so much water on that stretch of land at one time, that a muddy mess is created—posing all sorts of problems. If there is rain in the forecast, you may want to take the truck to this one. People have been known to get their vehicles stuck in the mud at the picnic when a big rain fell and they decided to leave the festival before the ground dried adequately. Ask anyone who attended the Beale Street Music Festival this year…NEVER go to an event where there is the possibility of a muddy mess wearing anything other than mud boots or water-proof hiking boots (and you better get some tall versions of those).

Luther Dickinson at the Guitar Workshop at David Kimbrough's Juke Joint in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Luther Dickinson at the Guitar Workshop at David Kimbrough’s Juke Joint in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

5. If you can, bring some sort of shade-giving shelter. Whether you are camping or not, it is always a good idea to have a tent of some sort set up as a cool-down spot to take a break from the hot sun, or to just plain rest when you’re feeling a little worn-down from walking and dancing in the heat. If you’ve got a tent, you can simultaneously stake your claim to a spot, as well as provide for yourself a “room of one’s own” right in the middle of the festival.

6. Don’t forget to bring trash bags if you are camping; and please, clean up after yourself. This large production is put on mainly by volunteers who work for free to help present a pleasant experience for festival-goers, and also so that the festival can continue to be as reasonably-priced as possible so that everyone has a chance to attend, no matter the size of your bankroll. There’s no telling how many tons of trash I have seen on the ground after festivals and other big music events after the party is over. It is disrespectful and unnecessary. Someone actually has to go out there and clean that up. This event is being held on someone’s private property. Let’s be as respectful to that property as we can be.

7. Bring your Hula Hoop, Hacky Sack, fire batons, Frisbees, footballs, what-have-you…there will be plenty of room for activities such as these. This festival is well known for its hard-core and dedicated group of hooping enthusiasts who show up year after year to put on wonderful displays of talent, with some hoops even being equipped with LED lighting so that you can watch them put on their fantastic shows even at night. If you’re planning on throwing fire (don’t laugh…I watched a girl do it one night in the alley beside Proud Larry’s in Oxford…this is a thing now), you will probably need to check with the security crew at the event before launching into your routine.

Kenny Brown with Luther Dickinson at David Kimbrough's Juke Joint in Holly Springs 2015.
Kenny Brown with Luther Dickinson at David Kimbrough’s Juke Joint in Holly Springs 2015.

8. Please participate in the Raffle that will be held offering wonderful prizes donated by many different donors, such as the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, MS, and several really talented artists who are donating beautiful pieces of original art. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s “Second Installment” of this, my three-part series covering the festival, which will highlight the donors to the raffle and their very interesting individual contributions, their amazing lives and the amazing art they create, juke-joint owners, and others who have graciously donated to this very important cause. Raffle tickets will be sold at the Raffle Booth inside the festival on Friday and Saturday only. Items will be raffled off beginning at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday via the main stage. You must be present to win.

If you would like to donate an item for the 2016 raffle, send an email with the word “Raffle” in the subject line to: NMSHillCountryPicnic@gmail.com. Of course, you will need to get your raffle donation message in to the email address above before Friday, so please send in your donation submission as soon as possible.

Other topics covered in the next two installments to come are the history of the festival, an expose´ revealing the artists performing at this year’s event, and other interesting bits of information regarding the history of this festival and the amazing talent that has graced its stage.



Primitive camping is available on a first-come, first-served basis. There is a $15.00 fee per-person required for all camping patrons. This applies to everyone who is camping overnight at the festival. Camping patrons may camp from Thursday through Saturday night. The campground will open for arrivals on Thursday, June 23rd at 5:00 p.m. (NO EARLY ARRIVALS are allowed–no exceptions). The campground will close Sunday, June 26th at noon. Please be aware that even if you are only camping for one night, the fee is still $15.00 per person. All camping is primitive. There are three showers and water faucets available on site. RVs are welcomed, but there are no hook ups available. Also, please be aware that RV camping and tent camping are not allowed in the same area.

Ice will be available for purchase at the picnic, as well as Betty Davis’ world-famous barbecue and southern fried catfish. For those camping through the weekend, the closest grocery store is the Wal-Mart in Holly Springs (twelve miles from the site of the festival).

For guests who prefer to stay in a hotel, a self-schedule shuttle service is available from the event site to Oxford and Holly Springs. Shuttle reservations may be made by calling Mr. Daryl at 662-607-1219.


Thursday 6/23/16:

5:00 – 8:00 pm the Guitar and Harmonica Jam on the Picnic Campground Stage – open to the public.

Friday 6/24/16:

Camp Ground Stage
12:00 The Hill Country Funk
1:00 Woodstomp
2:00 Kenny Brown and Friends
3:00 Bill Steber and Libby Rae Watson
Main Stage
5:00-5:45 Rocket 88
6:00-6:45 Blue Mother Tupelo
7:00-7:45 Robert Kimbrough
8:00 – 8:45 Kudzu Kings
9:00-10:00 Jimbo Mathus
10:00-11:00 David Kimbrough Band
11:00-12:00 Duwayne Burnside Band

Sat 6/25/16:

Camp Ground Stage
9:00 – 9:45 AM John McDowell
9:45-10:15 Kenny Brown & Friends
Main Stage
10:30-11:15 R.L. Boyce
11:20-12:00 Solar Porch
12:10-12:40 Little Joe Ayers
12:45-1:35 Rev. John Wilkins
1:35-2:30 Bill Abel
2:30-2:40 RAFFLE
2:40-3:30 Cary Hudson
3:40-4:40 Eric Deaton
4:45-5:00 RAFFLE
5:00-5:45 Rising Star Drum and Fife Band
5:50-6:50 Garry Burnside Band
6:50-7:00 RAFFLE
7:10-8:30 Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory
8:40-10:00 Kenny Brown Band
10:10-11:30 N MS Allstars

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s “Second Edition” of my coverage of the Eleventh Annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic. And on Friday, the “Third Edition” will be published.

See you there!

Suanne HottyToddy Picture (1)

Suanne Strider is a writer, editor, photographer, promoter and paralegal from Tallahatchie County, in the Mississippi Delta. She also serves as a booking agent and philanthropist. Suanne lives in Oxford and has three beautiful children–daughter Mimi (the oldest); and Drake and Jess, who are twins (Drake being older by one minute). She may be contacted at suannestrider@gmail.com.

Follow HottyToddy.com on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat @hottytoddynews. Like its Facebook page: If You Love Oxford and Ole Miss…

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