LIVE: North Mississippi Allstars @ Cohoes Music Hall, 11/05/2021
A Full Dose of Delta Dust with the North Mississippi Allstars and Cedric Burnside; Friday, November 5th at Cohoes Music Hall
We as Americans have short memories. Rarely does the average patron of a concert that appeals to our fundamental need to get down and let our ya-yas out know or even care when they’re witnessing an event that has roots that clutch firm the soil of a heritage built on hardscrabble family histories. Legacies erupting from the primal screams of a Saturday night rent party in Chicago’s West Side, a bi-racial jam in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, clubs in Motor City’s ghetto. Or, in the case of the North Mississippi Allstars and Cedric Burnside concert Friday night at Cohoes Music Hall, two family legacies built around chitlin circuit shows at back street clubs in Clarkdale, Mississippi and Helena, Arkansas just across the Mississippi River.
Was Saturday night’s show at the Cohoes Music Hall a wang dang doodle that had couples playing grab ass as they did the Grateful Dead dance in place? You bet it was. It was also an incredible display of the hill country blues heritage by musicians with a family history played out with a degree of finesse (now there’s a word you don’t hear much in blues) that’s jaw dropping.
Both Cedric Burnside and the North Mississippi Allstars have become national touring acts and have a score of CDs between them, but few of their national fans know the history behind them. Cedric was born and raised in Holly Springs, Mississippi, the grandson of R. L. “Big Daddy” Burnside who hammered out the fundamentals of the hill country blues sound incorporating elements of funk, punk and R&B. I was fortunate to catch one of R.L.’s shows in a Chicago blues club decades ago, and he was a scary force of nature: Johnny Rotten meets Howlin’ Wolf. Cedric began playing drums for his grandfather at age 13, and he does a yearly set on guitar with a big electric band at The King Biscuit Blues Festival that is THE go-to performance on the secondary stage formerly held on the loading dock of the now demolished Helena Wholesale warehouse where King Biscuit Four was packaged.
Before performing on his own a decade ago, Cedric had already honed his skills playing with the A team of Delta progenitors: Junior Kimbrough, Kenny Brown, Burnside Exploration, Bobby Rush and Widespread Panic. In 2006 he was featured in the feature film, Black Snake Moan, playing drums alongside Samuel L. Jackson.
Saturday night, Cedric opened his set with original acoustic guitar nuggets built on a traditional delta groove. As the set went on, he added bothers Luther and Cody Dickenson from the North Mississippi Allstars, and together they built an ever heavier electric sound that would become the basis for The North Mississippi Allstars two-hour headlining set.
The Allstars played two songs from their upcoming Set Sail album available digitally on January 28, and in LP/CD formats on April Fools Day. Like Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, and the Allman Brothers, they take the fundamentals of American roots music and inject their sound with an energy that escapes into new territory. To call it jam band is almost an insult. Saturday night they came for bare. I lost count at the number of guitars Luther Dickinson had on stage at 10. And their endless groove and stage manner reminded me of The Grateful Dead with Luther channeling Jerry Garcia’s mode of goosing the rest of the band, inventing the show as they went along.
They paid homage to their roots with “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” “Jump Down Mama,” “The Water May Rise,” “Precious Lord,” and “You Gotta Move.” They also played material from their own repertoire including the anthemic “Shake” Em On Down” and an original about the joys mind altering substances including “mushroom tea.” They paid homage to their dad, the late Jim Dickinson, a gonzo first-generation rocker who recorded with The Stones and wrote one of the best books on rock and roll, I’m Just Dead, Not Gone, right up there with Patti Smith’s award-winning tomes.
At the end of their set, Luther raised a guitar box guitar to the ceiling and proclaimed, “This place is great, but you guys are super special.” His comment was received by several banshee screams. They did an encore and were gone, but not before we damn Yankees got a full dose of 100 proof Delta magic.
Photo Gallery by Margo Singer