Sisters to Mississippi: A blues pilgrimage
Last updated 8/9/2022 at Noon
Back in January 2020, the founders of the Sisters Rhythm & Brews Festival, Joe and Jenn Rambo made a road-trip blues pilgrimage to the heart of the blues — the Hill Country of Mississippi.
The couple hit the road in their van to Clarksdale, Mississippi, with many stops along the beltline of the heart of the blues along the way. They stopped in Austin, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee, and scouted artists doing winter shows. They landed in Clarksdale, where they saw many artists they had known previously, and that had played Sisters Rhythm & Brews Festival in years prior.
“We went there because we knew the history there and it’s the birthplace of Muddy Waters, and we knew it would be influential, and said we might as well go in the off-season,” said Jenn Rambo.
“We have always been enamored with that Hill Country sound, which is sort of a sub-genre of Delta blues and a style we really like,” said Joe Rambo.
Their interest in Hill Country blues comes from the music Rambo grew up with in the 1980s and then seeing regional blues come up more on the west coast with R. L. Burnside and B.B. King.
“Hill Country is a bit more rhythmic and less dependent on the electric guitar sound,” said Joe Rambo.
They visited several juke joints and clubs throughout Clarksdale, seeing Mr. Sipp, Nikki Hill, and other artists who are playing this year’s Sisters Rhythm & Brews Festival. They also visited the home of R. L. Burnside, legendary blues artist and grandfather of Cedric Burnside, who has become a blues prodigy in his own right.
The Rambos considered it a scouting trip to see old and new blues artists and to see the area and history in the birthplace of the blues. Most of the artists they have booked for previous festivals fit more within the Delta blues genre (considered the most original version of the blues). This year, they are emphasizing the sub-genre of Hill Country blues, which comes from rural Mississippi, and the Bentonia area.
“The sound is more improvisational that you would imagine seeing in seedy juke joints in Mississippi,” said Joe Rambo.
Blues music serves as the basis for a lot of jazz and modern music, and the Rambos wanted to see that influence and history of the music that was so influential to them in their young adult lives. Jenn Rambo grew up with a lot of rock ’n’ roll, and on a road trip to Illinois, she listened to blues music on a loop.
“I realized the basis for a lot of the music I grew up with was this blues sound, and music from the south, and black musicians. I had always been fascinated with the slide guitar and discovered my love for this music later in life,” she said.
During the off-season of the Festival, they were striving to contact Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, legendary blues musician, and owner of one of the most historical juke joints blues venues, Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia.
“We had put it on the back burner because we weren’t getting any contact with him and we figured out we were being scammed by someone pretending to represent him,” said Jenn Rambo.
The synchronicities of the music world worked in their favor when they visited that juke joint on their trip. The Rambos met Jimmy “Duck” Holmes while he was sitting asleep in his own juke joint café chair.
“We tried to play it cool and mentioned we had been trying to make contact with you and he told us he represents himself and that he had seen this scam before,” said Jenn Rambo.
They were able to make a connection through meeting him in person, and booked him for the 2020 festival.
Come February 2020, while still in Mississippi, they had started reading about COVID-19 hitting the United States, and they decided it was time to go back home. The impact of COVID two years later was something they didn’t see coming after booking a 2020 blues festival and then having to cancel due to the pandemic.
“Over 60 percent of ticket sales carried over the two years, and most of the people that we know of are still coming to the fest next week,” said Joe Rambo.
Most of the artists they booked for 2020 are also carrying over for the 2022 festival — including Jimmy “Duck” Holmes.
After taking 2021 off to await developments in the pandemic, Joe and Jenn Rambo are excited to be back putting on a festival.
“It feels like we’ve been doing the festival thing for five years, because that’s how long we’ve been passionate about doing it, but we’ve only had three Festivals,” said Jenn Rambo.
The couple also has their own events company, Team Rambo Events, and they have also been able to get back to doing work with that company after two years of events being put on hold. “We are excited to be back working doing what we love,” said Jenn Rambo.
Sisters Rhythm & Blues Festival runs August 12-13, and kicks off August 11 with a special event — a show co-presented with the Sisters Folk Festival Summer Concert Series featuring Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Southern Avenue, and Jontavious Willis. Tickets are still available for the show at https://www.bendticket.com/events/124005138/srb-sff-presents-southern-ave-jontavious-willis.
The Festival kicks off Friday evening, August 12, with gates opening at 3:30 p.m. You can find more information about the Festival or buy tickets at www.sistersrhythmandbrews.com.