Plant recorded “Walking Into Clarksdale” with former Zeppelin bandmate Jimmy Page and has visited the town numerous times. The rock star is returning to Clarksdale this weekend to headline the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival’s 25th anniversary celebration with his new roots-music band, the Sensational Space Shifters.
On Saturday, Plant will take the stage with Grammy-winning vocalist Patty Griffin, West African virtuoso musician Juldeh Camara, guitarists Justin Adams and Bill Fuller, keyboardist John Baggott and drummer Dave Smith.
The performance is being hailed “one of the single biggest things to happen to Clarksdale,” said resident and Cat Head music store owner Roger Stolle.
“Robert Plant can do anything in the world he wants to do but chooses to come here and pay homage to the land of the blues. It really means a lot that he wants to do this, to give back to this community in that way, and I hope he enjoys it,” said Stolle, who added that Plant was in his store a few months ago and bought CDs by Mississippi bluesmen Slim Harpo and Skip James.
The festival, which is free, runs Friday through Sunday. More than 40 acts are lined up to perform, including Grammy-nominated bluesman Charlie Musselwhite and blues great Bobby Rush.
“People travel from all over the world to the Mississippi Delta to connect to the blues, to the roots of the music,” said Malcolm White, director of the Mississippi Arts Commission and chairman of the Mississippi Blues Commission. “It’s a holy pilgrimage to people who are interested in the Mississippi story we have to tell through music.”
Clarksdale and Coahoma County were the homes of early bluesmen W. C. Handy, Son House, Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. The area also was the stomping grounds of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Sam Cooke, John Lee Hooker, Ike and Tina Turner, and Big Jack Johnson.
The town is home to the Delta Blues Museum, which occupies an old train depot and includes the remains of the cabin from Stovall Farms, where Muddy Waters lived during his days as a sharecropper and tractor driver. It also includes a large collection of musical instruments, recordings, sheet music and photographs from B.B. King, Son Thomas, Jimmy Burns and John Lee Hooker.
Plant, who could not be reached for comment, has been a Clarksdale supporter for years. He gave the museum a custom-designed plaque composed of miniature Led Zeppelin album covers and an engraved tribute to Delta blues musicians who influenced the band. He has also made donations to the Mississippi Heritage Blues Trail, a collection of historical markers honoring people, places and events in Delta blues history.
On Friday, a marker commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Sunflower blues festival will be dedicated. It joins more than 100 others set up across Mississippi. On Aug. 22, a marker will be dedicated in Kilmichael, Miss., where B.B. King was raised, White said.
The first Sunflower festival was held in 1988 on the banks of the Sunflower River. Headliners that year were Otis Rush and Son Thomas.
The festival has always been free.
Organizers expect more than 20,000 people from across the globe to attend this year’s festival.