Little Walter fans make the pilgrimage to Alexandria, Louisiana to pick up harmonicas, guitars and a bluesy attitude to celebrate Little Walter, American blues musician and singer. Things have changed a bit since Little Walter was born in nearby Marksville on May 1, 1930. The Alexandria Amphitheatre was built against the levy overlooking the muddy Red River in downtown Alexandria, troops poured into the area when famous U.S. Generals prepared for World War II with the Louisiana Maneuvers and current citizens listen to the music of bands like the Rolling Stones and the Yard Birds that were influenced by the way Little Walter used electronic distortion to highlight the sound of his small but mighty harmonica.
Still the sound of Little Walter lives on through his fans that gather at the Alexandria Amphitheatre riverside venue to croon the songwriter’s lyrics and bend their harmonica’s rifts in ways that would make the blues icon proud. The beauty of the lively Little Walter Music Festival is that the people who live in the northern Louisiana agricultural country where Little Walter was born and raised are the ones that are performing his music today. The festival honors Little Walter, who earned 14 top-10 hits between 1952 and 1958.
The authenticity of this festival and the fans that come out are the true treasure of the concert experience. George "Harmonica Red" Heard, a local elementary school teacher, leads the Little Walter Tribute Band. Louisianan musicians including Leon Madica, who has appeared on over 90 albums and ten movies, Grammy Award Nominee Buddy Flett and Louisiana Music Hall of Famer Paula Rangell come together to play and celebrate the musician who charted on the R&B Billboard. Their Little Walter Music Festival closing jam included Little Walter’s two top-ten hits “Juke” and “My Babe.”
Little Walter Bio
Little Walter left central Louisiana for New Orleans and later, Chicago. He joined Muddy Waters' band in 1948, and by 1950, he was playing acoustic – or unamplified harmonica – on Muddy's recordings for Chess Records. His first hit, “Juke”, spent eight weeks as #1 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1952.
“Juke” is the only harmonica instrumental to be a number-one hit on the Billboard R&B chart.
Little Walter’s other “onlys” include:
- The first and only artist ever inducted to the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame specifically as a harmonica player in the "Sideman" category.
- One of the only known video footage of Little Walter captured his harmonica performance during the American Folk Blues Festival European tour in 1967.
- The only known footage depicting Little Walter singing was recently discovered in Germany. The video shows the songster performing his song "My Babe" during the same 1967 tour.
- According to Madison Deniro, who wrote a short biographical piece, Little Walter "was the first musician of any kind to purposely use electronic distortion.”
Rolling Stone magazine’s 2010 500 Greatest Albums of All Time listed Best of Little Walter as a "greatest album."
During the Little Walter Music Festival, you'll sit it on concrete steps (the top level gets the best breezes that flow from the top of the levy towards the muddy Red River below) that could be inaccessible for some or dance in front of the bandstand. VIP seating offers fine views of the stage above the dance area. Wear comfortable clothes that would keep you comfy in the sun as the acts start at 11 a.m. Bring hats, sunscreen and water, but leave your smokes at home. This is a smoke-free event.
Unlike Coachella in California where passes go for up to $435, this festival is affordable – free, in fact, with a wide assortment of affordable food and beverage vendors of genuine Louisiana cuisine. Food vendors offer local delights such as Cajun crawfish, grilled sausage and chicken. The Little Walter Festival doesn’t offer on-site tent camping or rental as does the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, but you won’t sweat the crowds and you can still party like a rockstar at regional RV and camping facilities. Hiking trails and camping are also available in the nearby Kisatchie National Forest. Don’t bother to bring blankets, there is no grass seating at the festival. Concert goers can brag that they attended since the 'early years' as the Little Walter Music Festival is looking forward to its third year in 2015, compared to the ginormous South by Southwest Music and Media Conference (SXSW) already in its 28th year.
Parking is easy around downtown Alexandria with a slew of golf carts that serve as a festival-goer shuttle service. Shuttle stops are located throughout the downtown area. Check here for updates on 2015 concert dates.