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Annual music festival features Blues, Broadway, more

World-renowned guitarist Vasti Jackson, above, will perform on May 9 during and evening of music by Robert Johnson.

World-renowned guitarist Vasti Jackson, above, will perform on May 9 during and evening of music by Robert Johnson.

By devonte demby

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — When the Natchez Festival of Music tunes up for its 25th year in a few weeks, the lineup of events will reflect the changing tastes of the community, organizers say.

The annual event begins May 2 with “A Night at the Oscars II,” during which the historic Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center will be transformed into a concert hall for opening night.

But that’s not the main attraction of the festival this year.

World-renowned guitarist Vasti Jackson will headline the festival at 7 p.m., Saturday, May 9, at the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center with “Best of The Mississippi Blues, An Evening of Robert Johnson.”

“It started as strictly opera,” Natchez Festival of Music Chairperson Mary Lessley said. “But our goal is to (improve) the quality of life for citizens here in Natchez. If we didn’t change with the times and bring what was in demand then we wouldn’t still be in existence.

“Jay Dean, our artistic director, and I tried to listen to what our community wants and bring quality music with a diverse program in events that fits everyone’s appetite.”

“Best of The Mississippi Blues, An Evening of Robert Johnson,” will serve as the festival’s signature event and is patterned after the legendary Robert Johnson who was born in Mississippi as a poor black man who would grow up and learn to sing and play the guitar.

Following his death at 27, Johnson became known as the King of the Delta Blues Singers.

“We are bringing the best of the Mississippi blues this year,” Lessley said. “The music we bring here will be top quality music that you can hear anywhere in the world. If it’s not top quality then we are not going to sponsor it.”

Lessley said the festival would also present the live, musical comedy, “The Pirates of Penzance,” at the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center, which will be accompanied by a live orchestra.

“We want to bring more tourists to town, boost our economy and offer top quality music,” Lessley said.

Season tickets include the encore package for $200, which includes all events except “The Rogers and Hammerstein Cabaret,” and the ultimate package for $280, which includes all events while limited tickets last.

Individuals with student, college and military IDs can purchase tickets for $10, which does not include “The Rogers and Hammerstein Cabaret” and “Blues and Brews.”

Natchez Festival of Music tickets can be purchased online at natchezpilgrimage.com, by calling 601-446-6631 or at Natchez Pilgrimage Tours on 640 S. Canal St. in downtown Natchez.

For more information regarding events visit natchezfestivalofmusic.com.