Robinson, King's band headline Blues Fest

Victor Wainwright and the Train perform at last year's concert.
DTL Staff
Staff Writer

A former blues musician who played with the legendary B.B. King and now leads King's former band, will headline the 23rd annual Prairie Belt Blues Concert in West Point.

Jesse Robinson, who is from Jackson, will be joined by Columbus' own Big Joe Shelton, a famed blues harmonica player who has become a regional favorite on the blues circuit, and the Ghost Town Blues Band from Memphis will make up the lineup for the Aug. 31 concert.

Tickets for the concert are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

It'll be held in the gym at the former Mary Holmes College on Highway 50. Doors open at 6 p.m.

The concert has outgrown its original location for many years at The Civic in West Point.

The Ghost Town Blues Band, which has released four albums, was the second place winner for best band at the 2014 International Blues Challenge. Founding members Matt Isbell, who has a vintage blues-sounding raspy voice, and lead guitarist Taylor Orr have been playing together since 1996.

They are joined by Andrew McNeill on drums, trombonist Suavo Jones, Cedric Taylor and bass guitarist Matt Karner.

Among their many awards, the band won the 2016 Independent Blues Award for 'Best Contemporary Blues Song' and was a 2015 nominee for "Best Blues Band."

Shelton grew up in the Black Belt Prairie and as a teen, met famed bluesman "Big" Joe Williams from Crawford and later worked with the late Willie King from the Old Memphis area of Noxubee County.

While attending Mississippi State University in the early 1970s, he befriended Williams, the blues guitarist and vocalist, and helped book Williams for a number of gigs in Starkville and the surrounding region.

As part of this work, the younger musician often drove Williams to the shows and often sat in with him.
Shelton left Mississippi in the mid-1970s to attend graduate school at Northern Illinois University.

During his time in Illinois he made frequent trips to Chicago, visiting many of the legendary South Side blues clubs and seeing blues legends like Buddy Guy, Carey Bell, and Willie Dixon perform in their home environment.

Through these trips Shelton became acquainted with blues guitarist and singer Fenton Robinson.
The experiences later would spark Shelton's own musical experience and eventually the formation of now only his solo and duet acts but also his band, the Black Prairie Blues Ambassadors.

Robinson has played and worked with many other blues musicians throughout his career including Cassandra Wilson, Little Milton, Bobby Rush, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and others. Robinson’s band opened for B.B. King at the opening of the B.B. King Museum and he is now the front man for B.B. King’s Blues Band.

Starting at the age of 16, Robinson began playing in clubs around Jackson and with bands led by Sam Myers, Duke Huddleston, Jimmy King and others. He moved to Chicago in 1965 where he worked in a television factory.

While in Chicago, Robinson continued playing music and worked with local musicians including Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Freddie King, and Magic Sam Robinson returned to Jackson in 1971 and his career has grown from there. He and his band played every night at the Avalon Court on Highway 49. He also established Blue Mondays at Dorsey’s in 1978, which featured blues musicians and blues music.

Robinson played with Little Milton Campbell from 1979 to 1981 and then led the band for Bobby Rush from 1981 to 1986

In 1987, Robinson began playing at the Subway Lounge with his Knee Deep Band. In 1994, Robinson brought his Blue Mondays series to the Fields Cafe.

The Prairie Land Blues Festival was known for many years as the Howlin' Wolf Festival in honor of Chester Arthur Burnett, the famed bluesman better known as Howlin' Wolf who was from Clay County.
The name was changed three years ago to honor the blues tradition in the region that includes Johnson, Bukka White, King and others.

The original Howlin' Wolf Museum, which draws visitors from around the world -- John Lennon's sister recently visited from England -- is being expanded into the Prairie Land Blues Museum by the revamped Prairie Belt Blues Foundation.

The group is remodeling the historic Bank of West Point building on Commerce Street into a home for the museum. The group is putting a new roof on the building and installing air conditioning before starting fund raising and design.

The museum could open in two years, Jeremy Klutts, one of the Foundation's board members, told the West Point Rotary Club Thursday.