The 40th annual WC Handy Festival kicked off this past weekend. Running from July 23 - August 1, the music and arts festival features a staggering list of outstanding performers and events for all ages.
'Handyfest' was started with the help of local musicians and the Music Preservation Society to celebrate the cultural legacy of Shoals native WC Handy. Born in Florence in 1873, Handy would become known as the Father of the Blues with very good reason. He was the first composer to publish Blues-style music, elevating the genre's reputation and bringing the sounds of the blues to a world audience.
Like many Shoals artists, Handy had a passion for music that was innate and unquenchable. As a child, his desire to play secular music ran afoul of the wishes of his deeply religious family. Handy often had to sneak guitar and cornet lessons past his reverend father, who preferred to steer Handy towards the church organ. But his drive was unstoppable, and Handy created music even while working on the 'shovel brigade' at an iron furnace in Florence, guiding his fellow laborers in musical compositions created by banging and scraping their shovels in time.
Handy's passion for the music of the South led to his travels around the region collecting stories and sounds from rural Black musicians. His popular compositions were also deeply inspired by elements of his upbringing in North Alabama: local birds like owls and whippoorwills, the gurgling of Cypress Creek, choirs at the small African Methodist Episcopal churches in the foothills where his father and grandfather preached, and the woodlands all around him. Anyone who feels drawn to the beat and rhythm of life here in the Shoals will recognize a kindred spirit in WC Handy's legacy.
Though the festival celebrates the Father of the Blues, other genres of music are represented at events across the Shoals, including jazz, rock, pop, gospel, folk, and R&B. You can also explore local artists through art exhibits and vendors. For those already running out the door with excitement, there's DaDooRunRun, a 1-mile fun run and 5k event.
We always have block parties at Handyfest, and this year sees the return of street parties! Wherever they can put live music, whether a street corner, plaza, or shopfront, you'll find it. Catch outdoor performances in neighborhoods and alleyways around the quad cities, like this one held in front of Soul Wingery and Records: Handy Street Party - Poplar St or this block party on Court Street featuring takeout from area eateries: Handy Block Party - Court St.
Films will be shown at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, where you can catch daily screenings of St Louis Blues, the story of WC Handy starring Nat King Cole, or the recent Muscle Shoals documentary. Check the schedule for those films here.
There is still time to grab tickets for the Handy Headliner! You will not want to miss this night full of Jazzy Soulful Shoals music on Saturday, July 31st at 7 pm. Tickets can be purchased here.
The ShoalsEDA is also proud to join in on the Handy fun this year! This year, we're co-hosting our very own Handy Fest event with the Shoals Chamber. Join us on July 30th at Singin' River Brewery for "Rhythm and Brews!" At the event, guests can indulge in a taco bar, drink specials, and enjoy live entertainment brought to you by DJ Zillion and Pop Culture Trivia Challenge!
A full calendar of events can be found here: WC Handy Music Festival Events