By: Carol Prejean Zippert
Months before the tent goes up on the old courthouse square in the center of town, inquiries have steadily poured in seeking confirmation that the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival will fill those grounds again on the fourth Saturday and Sunday of August.
The calls about the festival are a reminder of how the community has taken ownership of this special event. The festival dates are an automatic imprint on the minds and hearts of so many. Local groups plan class reunions, family reunions, vacation time and other summer events on the week end of the festival. The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival itself has become a grand reunion.
In is 41st year one may ask what is still so attractive about this festival; what is so compelling about this festival? Is it the array of handmade crafts such as theme designed quilts, baskets of pine needles, bullrush grass and corn shucks, hand-bottomed chairs, wood carvings, leather works and uniquely deigned jewelry? Is it the aroma of the foodways expressed on the grounds calling attention to the soul food dinners, fried fish, chicken, and pork skins, a range of barbeque meats, Polish sausage and bear burgers? The attraction may also be the homemade sweet treats including cakes, pies, funnel cakes, preserved fruits, sno’ cones and homemade ice cream churned on the spot.
Perhaps the festival crowd returns to be once more enthralled by the ole timey blues music that dominates the sounds of the festival on Saturday. The musicians sing and strum stories of struggle, hardship, loss, pain and perseverance. The ole timey gospel stage that follows at Sunday’s festival brings reassurance that a people’s strong faith, commitment and sacrifice defines how we made it over. The spirit of the gospel music brings out the church in the crowd.
Most significant, the festival brings together people to see people, to hear people, to touch people and strengthen a community bond they already share.
The folk artists featured at the festival include craftspersons such as Odessa Rice, Mary Hicks, Martha Kimbrough, Eloise Jeter and Meloneal Hobson.
Blues artists who return each year include Clarence Davis, The Liberators, Little Jimmie Reed (Leon Atkins), Russell Gulley, Davey Williams and Lemon Harper and others. Sunday’s gospel music is shared by The Echo Singers, the Echo Juniors, The Webb Gospel Singers, The Golden Gates, The Mississippi Traveling Stars, Son of Zion Gospel Duo, New Generation Male Chorus, Mrs. Eddie Mae Brown and more.The two day festival, held on the old courthouse square in the center of town in Eutaw, AL, is open to the public free of charge, The 2016 schedule is Saturday, August 27 from 11:00 a.m to 6:00 p.m.; Sunday August 28 from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The festival is produced by the Society of Folk Arts & Culture. It was started in 1975 by Jane and Hubert Sapp who were part of the Miles College Eutaw Extension Program in an effort to document, preserve and celebrate the history, culture and traditions of the region. For more information contact Carol P. Zippert at 205-372-0525; firstname.lastname@example.org