Father of the Blues: W.C. Handy's Legacy Celebrated in Henderson

Way back in 1990, soon after beginning her career as the Director of Tourism for Henderson County, Marcia Eblen was busy brainstorming ideas for new community events. I feel confident that some divine intervention led her to discover that W.C. Handy, also known as the "Father of the Blues," had spent significant time in Henderson.  While in Henderson, Handy met his wife, Elizabeth, while performing at a barbecue. Outdoor music? Blues? Barbecue? Sounds like a festival to me!

Watch this lovely lady (who happens to be the mother of yours truly) give a brief explanation of Handy's ties to Henderson, Kentucky:

For twenty three years now, the residents of Henderson have enjoyed a free, week-long blues festival full of lunchtime entertainment, street strut parades, mouth-watering barbecue, and outdoor, musical heaven on earth. The annual W.C. Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival is held mainly along the banks of the Ohio River in Audubon Mill Park. But don't think that this is just for the locals. I remember walking around our downtown streets during the festival twelve years ago and finding license plates belonging to Montana, Canada, and California! And it's no wonder. Past performers have included Leon Redbone, John Hammond, Koko Taylor, and Bernard Allison. (You can also catch Bernard Allison headlining this year's Java Blues Jam, the festival's big Saturday night closer on the 15th.)

Just check out this year's lineup:

  • Bernard Allison
  • Voice of the Wetlands Allstars 
  • Janiva Magness 
  • Royal Southern Brotherhood 
  • The Holmes Brothers 
  • Peter Karp and Sue Foley 
  • Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band 
  • Super Chikan 
  • Blues Caravan 2013 Featuring Bart Walker, Joanne Shaw Taylor and Jimmy Bowskil 
  • Curley Taylor and Zydeco Trouble 
  • Terry Evans Band 
  • Michael Gough Band
  • Boscoe France Band
  •  Lamont Gillispie and 100 Proof Blues 
  • David Dunavent and Evol Love Band
  •  Amazing Soul Crackers 
  • Three Shades of Grey 
  • Jimtown Saints 
  • Blues 4U 
  • Bob Minnette and The Dixieland Society

Kicking off the festival is the William Branaman Street Strut People's Parade. This parade has evolved from a few dozen curious folks parading alongside the few who were adventurous enough to dress up for the event to a crowd favorite with tons of Hendersonians of all ages going all out in their costumes to decorating their wagons, strollers, and parasols, ready to strut and compete for the title of Grande Ooh-Pee-Doo. The Parade forms at 9:30 am on Saturday, June 8th,  at Central Park.

Henderson residents enjoy a Street Strut and showing off their creative decorations.
(I see you, Steve Gold!)
One of the most popular nights of the festival shines the spotlight on Zydeco music and scrumptious Cajun food. Ever enjoyed some bread pudding on a Thursday night at the festival? I bet you have, because my mom had to quit making it in our kitchen and turn that job over to a larger operation! (Don't worry - it's still the same recipe it always was. Raise your hand if you love it. You, too?) The red beans and rice are also not to be missed. Here is a little look into the behind-the-scenes efforts by so many volunteers to make that night an annual success. Once again, I know this interviewee pretty well, and you will no doubt see other familiar faces hard at work:

Throughout the week, there are several Handy Lunch Breaks and Happy Hours at many of Henderson's favorite downtown restaurants, including Rockhouse @ Wolf's, Commonwealth Kitchen + Bar, Planters Coffeehouse, Delizio On the Corner, and On Deck. Check here to see the full calendar of events.

Do yourself a favor and go enjoy some part of this wonderful community event. You will love it, even if you don't fancy yourself a blues lover. Trust me! If you have been once or for twenty three years, let us know your favorite thing about the festival.