Bluefront Cafe gets marker on blues trail

Published 4:51 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2007

— The Bluefront Cafe — a juke joint that still draws a crowd to the tiny town of Bentonia — received a marker along the growing Mississippi Blues Trail on Tuesday.

The cafe is a favorite haunt of blues enthusiasts and tourists, hosting thousands each year for the annual Bentonia Blues Festival.

Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, who owns the Bluefront, said its addition to the trail will boost its popularity.

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“It’s a big crowd today,” Holmes said Tuesday as the Mississippi Blues Commission prepared its dedication ceremony. “We’ve got some tourists here already to take pictures.”

Located about 25 miles northwest of Jackson in the town of 500, the structure looks like a throwback of a bygone era, with vinyl-covered countertops, box fans and an old jukebox in one corner.

The cafe has been in Holmes’ family since 1948 and is considered the home of Bentonia blues, a playing style made famous by Jack Owens and his contemporary, Skip James. Experts describe the Bentonia sound as a minor-tuned, acoustic country blues sung in a falsetto.

Holmes is believed to be the last musician alive who knows how to play the Bentonia blues style, a craft he learned from Owens.

Holmes is a college-educated professional who works for the public school system, but he said he opens the cafe daily, and as early as 7 a.m. on weekends. Patrons can imbibe on beer or liquor as they listen to live performances.

Wanda Clark, project director of the Mississippi Blues Trail, said the cafe has a long history. It served first as a grocery store where Mary and Carey Holmes raised 10 children and four of their relatives’ children, she said.

“To this day, people will come by and play and just hang out,” Clark said.

The trail is the main project of the blues commission, which was created by the Mississippi Legislature in 2004 to market the state’s musical heritage.

Clark said other markers that will be placed along the trail in the coming months include those for the late blues artist Magic Sam in Grenada; Howling Wolf in West Point; the traveling troupe, Rabbit Foot Minstrels, in Port Gibson; and blues singer Memphis Minnie in Walls.