Helena, Arkansas. City of decay, city of ruin. Birthplace of Sonny Boy Williamson and Richard Wright. Levon Helm and Conway Twitty. The resting place of seven confederate generals.
Its industry is agriculture, and the spillage from the casinos from across the Mississippi River. And that's about it. A city poor, muddy, and desperate. But for one weekend a year, its industry becomes the blues.
This year, it's called the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival, formerly the King Biscuit Blues Festival. Used to be free. The most popular free blues festival in the US. But shit gets expensive. You have to pay to see the main stage act, now. And next year, it will return to being named the King Biscuit Blues Festival (due to some legal chicanery).
My family has long history in Helena. The Hornors (and our alternate spelling, Horners) have been in the city since before the Civil War, and were part of the caste system that helped spawn the blues. The mean, whip-bearing, overlord side of the blues equation. I'm not proud of it; it is what it is. I don't believe in original sin or the white man's burden. I can't answer for the evils that my ancestors committed. I'm sure, judging by my occasionally heinous behavior, it was pretty bad. But I have enough trouble just answering for myself and can't add a bunch of dead assholes to the mix.
Anyway, my band, The Overtones, played the King Biscuit this last weekend. We had the 5pm slot on Saturday on the Emerging Artist stage. We tore that mother up. I'll indulge in a little bit of self-congratulations here, as a group, the band was ON. And on a personal note - I fucking ripped my tunes. Face melty solos. Voice sounded good. We started playing, there was 20 people in front of the stage. When we stopped, there were hundreds. Normally I don't indulge in egoistic grandstanding, but this once...I was AWESOME!
Supposedly, The Overtones "won" the emerging artist competition.
However, they haven't presented us with a plaque or anything. So, all the business about us "winning" is up in the air until I get some official communique. Honestly, we didn't know it was a competition until after our set, when folks started talking about us winning. Hard to believe such a diverse group of professionals can pull shit together for a gig and win a competition. And even more honestly, I'd have rather sold my novel than win this event.
They're telling us we get to play on the main stage next year, which will be cool, if it is true. I'm having a hard time believing it will happen. But if it does, I'm gonna figure out some way to capitalize on it, publishing-wise. If that's even possible. Give away copies of Southern Gods? Sell them along with a CD? Wear a tshirt of the lucky publishing house that has my novel?
John Hornor Jacobs is a novelist, among other things. His novel, SOUTHERN GODS, will be published in August 2011 by Night Shade Books. THIS DARK EARTH will be published in July 2012 by Gallery/Simon & Schuster. The INCARCERADO TRILOGY, comprised of THE TWELVE FINGERED BOY, INCARCERADO, and THE END OF ALL THINGS will be published by Carolrhoda Labs in 2013, 2014, 2015 respectively.
Represented by THE Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.