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Handy Fest arrives this weekend. Here's what you need to know this year.

Donna Stinnett
Special to the Courier & Press

HENDERSON, Ky. 鈭 It鈥檚 time for a summer fixture in downtown Henderson: The W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival.聽

What is this event, you ask? Henderson鈥檚 volunteer-run music festival has grown through the years into one of the largest 鈥渇ree blues festivals in the country.鈥 Here are six things to know about it. 聽聽

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Where and when does Henderson's Handy Fest take place?聽

Main festival days in 2024 are June 12-15, although some auxiliary events take place out in the community in the days leading up to it.

The main stage for the W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival is in Audubon Mill Park (not to be confused with John James Audubon State Park) on the downtown Henderson riverfront. The park is located at the foot of Second Street adjacent to the Ohio River Boat Ramp. Water Street from First Street to Third Street and a half block of Second Street are closed for festival infrastructure.

Parking is available along any of the adjacent streets and in many surface parking lots during the evening hours. Special festival handicapped parking spaces are located at the foot of First Street across from the Henderson Post Office.

There鈥檚 music on the main stage at the following times: Wednesday, June 12, starting at 5 p.m.; Thursday, June 13, starting at 5:30 p.m.; Friday, June 14, starting at noon; and Saturday, June 15, starting at noon. 聽聽

Dwayne Dopsie and The Zydeco Hellraisers perform during Zydeco Night at the WC Handy Blues and Barbecue Festival in Henderson, Ky., Thursday evening, June 15, 2023.
<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Where do I get my tickets for Handy Fest?聽

You don鈥檛 need one. The festival is free, just like it鈥檚 been for 33 years.

This volunteer-run festival is funded through sponsorships from local businesses, sales of merchandise, soft drinks, java shakes, a half-pot, bucket shakes, a beer garden and the popular Zydeco Night food concessions.

Donations to keep this festival free also are welcome and accepted on the non-profits Facebook page,聽. 聽聽

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Who will I be able to hear at Handy Fest in 2024?聽

Once the main stage lineup starts rolling, it will remain red-hot through late Saturday night.

Here鈥檚 what鈥檚 on tap: Wednesday 鈥 Grainne Duffy (5 p.m.), John Primer & The Real Deal Blues Band (7 p.m.), Vanessa Collier (9 p.m.); Thursday 鈥 Dewayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers (5:30 p.m.), Chubby Carrier & The Bayou Swamp Band (8 p.m.); Friday 鈥 Blues 4U (Noon), Boscoe France (1:30 p.m.), Piper &聽The Hard Times (3 p.m.), Robert Jon & the Wreck (5 p.m.), Danielle Nicole Band (7 p.m.), Big Head Todd and the Monsters (9 p.m.); Saturday, Doug MacLeod (Noon), Tyron Benoit (1:30 p.m.), Tad Robinson Band (3 p.m.), The Cold Stares (5 p.m.), Desoto Tiger featuring Damon Fowler, Jason Ricci and Boogie Long (7 p.m.), Mr. Sipp (9 p.m.) In addition to main stage music, some downtown restaurants offer 鈥淗andy Lunch Break鈥 and 鈥淗andy Happy Hour鈥 mini-concerts during festival week. 聽 聽

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>What can I eat at Handy Fest?

Festival food will be available on Wednesday night next to Audubon Mill Park and on Friday and Saturday starting at 11 a.m. on Second Street.

You can expect barbecue, ribs, burgers, gyros, fries, lemon shakeups, pork chop sandwiches and all the favorite festival foods.

Thursday night food options include Zydeco Night fare served from a tent operated by the Handy Festival or food from one of the nine restaurants located within a block of the festival site. 聽聽

Ollie Ray, center, rides her bike down Main Street during the 2019 William Branaman Street Strut People's Parade in Downtown Henderson Saturday, June 15, 2019.
<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>What is the Street Strut?聽

The William Branaman Street Strut Peoples Parade, an exuberant gathering of strutters dressed in New Orleans Dixieland jazz attire and sporting decorated umbrellas, has been part of the festival since the beginning.

It takes place on Saturday, June 15, and starts with a HandyFest Creation Station/Street Strut Workshop at 8 a.m., First and Water streets. Participants can decorate an umbrella or create costume pieces if they didn鈥檛 come already prepared to strut.

The Street Strut Parade begins at 10 a.m. from that corner and will be led by the Grand Ooh-Pee-Doo selected at the conclusion of last year鈥檚 parade and a live band.

Prizes will be awarded for: 2024 Grand Ooh-Pee-Doo, Best Decorated/Creative Umbrella, Most Spirited Strutter, Best Group, Best Decorated Bicycle, Best Decorated Baby Stroller, Best Decorated Wagon, Best Decorated Golf Cart and Most Spirited Pet. 聽聽聽

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Why Handy in Henderson?聽

The 鈥淔ather of the Blues鈥 William Christopher Handy spent about 10 years living in Henderson from roughly 1893-1903. Born in Alabama, he ended up in this area after traveling with a band to perform at the 1892 World鈥檚 Fair in Chicago. Part of his employment while he lived in this area was playing music for barbecues, parties, banquets and other events.聽

It was in Henderson that he met his first wife, Elizabeth Price Handy. with their growing family, they made Henderson their 鈥渉ome base鈥 as Handy gained fame in the music world penning such hits as 鈥淪t. Louis Blues,鈥 鈥淢emphis Blues,鈥 鈥淢r. Crump,鈥 鈥淵ellow Dog Blues鈥 and many others. He was also a composer of many spirituals and eventually founded the Handy Brothers Music Company in New York City.聽

Handy returned to Henderson in 1953 to be honored and attend a fundraiser for building a community swimming pool that bore his name.

That pool went out of service in the early 1980s. Handy used the experiences and songs he heard in his travels for inspiration in writing and codifying the music that would eventually become a whole new genre: The blues.聽

About Henderson鈥檚 impact on that, Handy once told a Louisville newspaper writer: 鈥淚 didn't write any songs in Henderson, but it was there I realized that experiences I had had, things I had seen and heard, could be set down in a kind of music characteristic of my race. There I learned to appreciate the music of my people."聽

<国产自拍 class=gnt_ar_b_国产自拍>Extras: A few fun facts about Handy Fest
  • Mark your calendar: The W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival always takes place the week before Father鈥檚 Day to honor the musician/composer鈥檚 designation as 鈥淔ather of the Blues.鈥澛
  • W.C. Handy鈥檚 鈥淢emphis Blues鈥 is considered to be the first composition from the Blues genre.聽
  • Tri-State favorite Blues 4U is the only band to play for every year of the festival.
  • The first headliner for the festival was Metropolitan Blues All-Stars in 1991. The band never took the stage because of a big storm that rolled up the Ohio River and rained out the festival. Despite fears from the volunteer organizers, that deluge didn鈥檛 drown out Year 2. The only thing to halt the festival to date was Covid 19 in 2020.
  • For about a decade, the festival included a Memphis-In-May sanctioned barbecue competition. A team called Ole 97 won the first sanctioned barbecue contest.聽