32nd Annual Mississippi Picnic in Central Park – Reported by new Delta Bohemian, Semi-Fixture, Journalist and Soon To Be Documentarian Erickson EB Blakney

In the Ground Zero Blues Club Tent with L-R: Neill Ponzer, Rachel Fumia w/glasses, Nate Ball, our most magnificent man of the hour at GZBC on a daily/nightly basis. Photo by Delta Bohemian Erickson "EB" Blakney

In the Ground Zero Blues Club Tent with L-R: Neill Ponzer, Francine Luckett, Rachel Fumia w/glasses, Nate Ball. Photo by Delta Bohemian Erickson “EB” Blakney

By New Delta Bohemian, Semi-Fixture, Journalist and Soon-To-Be Documentarian Erickson “EB” Blakney

→PHOTOS  INCLUDED←
(New York, New York)

There was a lot to shout about at the 32nd Annual Mississippi Picnic in Central Park on Saturday June 11th: foot-stomping blues from guitarist Eddie Cotton, Jr. and his band, the ‘Artists’ Tent’ featuring Mississippi artists, the 500 lbs of fried catfish, 140 lbs of hush puppies and free sweet tea and Mississippi Mudslide brownies. However the real shouting kicked off sometime after 3 pm with the “Stella Shouting Contest”. Mississippians, ex-pats and even some brave native-New Yorkers took to the stage and belted out their best ‘Stell-laaaaah!’ The contest was a nod to Mississippi-native Tennessee Williams whose ‘A Street Car Named Desire’ character Stanley Kowalski, portrayed by Marlon Brando, made the bellowing of the name Stella famous.  A person could hear the calls echoing across Sheep’s Meadow and it’s quite possible they were heard from Manhattan to Staten Island… too!

Food, festivities and music kept the spirits of picnickers high despite the on-again, off-again drizzle. While Mississippi-style temperatures steamed into the 90’s earlier in the week, they had cooled considerably the day of the picnic.  Unique to this year’s picnic is an effort to raise money for victims of the recent flooding. Picnic organizer Rachel MacPherson says there will be a place posted on the web-site www.nymspicnic.org, where folks can go to make a donation.

As for the food, the farm-raised catfish, nicely crisped and seasoned, was prepared by Ken Akins, owner of Catfish Ken’s Concessions and Catering of Madison. The tea and brownies were courtesy of McAlister’s Deli and their Executive Chef David Groll out of Jackson. Chef Erich Ogle and culinary student Bonnie Eicher from the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus served a delicate appetizer of catfish mousse. A pile of watermelons sat under a large oak waiting to be carved. During previous picnics, there was always a water-melon-seed-spittin’ contest. There was no mention of one this year. Offering a reason why, theater producer Clifford Lee Johnson III suggested that it’s possible a group of ill-tempered, ex-pat Alabamians complained to New York City officials of the activity being ‘health code violation.’ Johnson who now lives in Brooklyn is the son of Clifford, Jr. and Margaret Johnson, brother of Meg Busby and uncle of Walt Busby all of Clarksdale. “Lee” as he is called, was keeping company at Saturday’s picnic with his wife Random House children’s book author Jane Kelley, Ocean Springs-native, Ole Miss graduate and City University of New York English professor Judy King, her mother Elizabeth King, Hope Weber and another Ocean Springs-native Alice King. Although born and raised in Wisconsin author Jane Kelley is the granddaughter of the Joseph Carson who lived in Clarksdale.

Other picnic-goers included dignitaries such as Governor Haley Barbour. Meanwhile, gubernatorial-hopeful Bill Luckett was busy slapping backs and shaking hands. Ward Emling, head of the Mississippi Film Office, was in attendance and received an award for his many years of support for the picnic. Numerous colleges and universities were promoting themselves to visitors and engaging alumni including: Mississippi University for Women, Millsaps, Delta State, Mississippi State Mississippi College and Ole Miss. And with the Ole Miss crowd intermittent outbursts “Forward Rebels” were the order of the day.

An ‘Artists’ Tent’ played host to several Mississippi-based artists and authors including Greenwood potter Haley Farris, Jackson woodworker Kevin Harrington, Jackson Sculptor Harold Miller and Greenwood-based chef Elizabeth Heiskell who along with Susanne Reed wrote ‘Somebody Stole the Cornbread from My Dressing’ (Overmountain Press).

Picnic sponsors this year included the Mississippi Economic Development Council, Team Mississippi www.teammississippi.org, Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce, VisitHattiesburg, Ground Zero Blues Club, McAlister’s Deli and Delta Magazine.

While the 32nd Annual Mississippi Picnic in Central Park has come and gone, those willing to travel to party with several hundred ex-pats can pack a bag and head north and east. Ken Akins says this coming week he’ll be frying catfish at ‘Mississippi on the Mall in Washington, DC. The week after that on June 25th, Akins will be in Atlanta for the Mississippi Society of Georgia’s picnic in Chastian Park in Buckhead. So for Akins, that’s a lot of miles and a lot of catfish.

Erickson “EB” Blakney

About me:

I am a New York City based journalist having spent much of my career covering business and finance on radio and television for Bloomberg. Long involved in the arts I serve on the board of trustees of the DreamYard Project www.dreamyard.com – the largest arts education provider in the Bronx. DreamYard has engaged in several projects in Mississippi including the Delta and has worked with the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative.

My connection to the Magnolia State runs even deeper than that as my family is originally from the Southeastern part of the state. My grandmother and grandfather Mary Gaddis and Bennie Turner started a funeral home business in 1940 that has continued grow and is still family owned and operated.

I am currently producing a documentary film and book. ‘TRUE DELTA’ celebrates three generations of musicians whose words and music show that the Blues is not just a musical genre, but a way of living. The other partners in this project include: co-producer Rich Maloof, writer/professor Lee Quinby, cinematographer and director Daniel Cowen, photographer Michael Scanlan and designer Mac Warren who hails from Oxford, MS.

We started work on this documentary in August 2010 at the 23rd Annual Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the birthplace of the Blues (the frigid temperatures and blustery winds of a Mississippi August did not deter us).  Deep in the Delta, where everyone knows the story of Robert Johnson trading his soul to the Devil in order to become a guitar genius, the tradition is being carried on, not only at the Festival but also in juke joints, through lessons at the Delta Blues Museum, and even in Church.  In the process, it is being reinvigorated by members of younger generations who are living the Blues in their own way.

We were fortunate to be able to interview musicians and singers from the ages of 10 to 90, providing a record of their accomplishment, commitment, their struggles, and their deep passion for the blues.  The film captures the excitement of audiences that come from all over the world and the sweaty bravado and skill of the blues musicians and singers on stage.  Additional interviews with local business and church leaders show how intertwined the Blues is with the religion, economic, and cultural life of the Delta region.

Our trips to Mississippi (we live in NYC) and filming are just about finished and we are in the last stages of editing.  So far, the film has been a labor of love and we have mostly spent our own money for travel and equipment.  We are also grateful for having received some support from our employers in the way of travel funds and research and technical assistance.  Friends and family have been wonderful in giving advice and support.

We are also grateful for the new friends we have met in Clarksdale and the surrounding Delta who have been exceptionally helpful and generous with their insight and support among them: Panny Mayfield, Bubba O’Keefe, John Ruskey, Shelley Ritter, Roger Stolle, Reverend Matthew Terrell, Pastor Elizabeth Usher, Bill Luckett, Mr. Amos ‘Big A’ Hardy, Luther Brown and Madge Howell.

Stay tuned for updates as we aim to release ‘True Delta’ – the film and book of photography – in late 2011!

The Delta Bohemian is most appreciative to EB for his contribution as a Guest Bohemian. We are very excited about his upcoming documentary, ‘TRUE DELTA’, and look forward to his return to our special little haven here in the Mississippi Delta. EB – you da man! Enjoy the rest of EB’s photographs from our MISSISSIPPI DAY in Central Park in New York City!

 

 

 


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Comments

  1. Ronald D. Butler says:

    Sorry that I had to miss it this year…it’s always fun!

  2. lil'sister says:

    Hey beeeehoowwoooooo!!! After 14 years of living in the metropolitan NYC area, I FINALLY made it to this year’s picnic. And, since the theme for this year’s picnic involved the Delta, I just had to drop everything and be there. In spite of the rain, it was a blast. Eddie Cotton and his crew put on a wonderful show. They made the Delta proud. I was thinking that you and Madge MUST come next year. Afterall, you have a New York City segment for the DB. Call it a research trip. Count on staying at my house. See you in ’12!!!

    • Done!!! The Delta Bohemian’s will be there! Thanks for the open house, too. Sweet.

      I attended years ago when I was living in the city, likely in 1982, and the numbers were small.

      I was a Delta Bohemian living the Manhattan even back then.

      Miss you!

  3. alice king says:

    well done! loved reading and remembering a wonderful day
    you so got us

  4. That is really interesting, You’re an excessively professional blogger. I have joined your feed and stay up for looking for extra of your fantastic post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks

  5. I love these NYC events in Central park. This is a great set of pictures and they really lend the reader a feel for the day. I wish I was there to enjoy all of the great food you pictured.

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