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In March 2020, life changed in Arkansas. Events were cancelled. Social distancing became the norm. Yet plans for the annual King Biscuit Blues Festival continued, as organizers hoped life would return to normal by October.Historic Helena’s King Biscuit Blues Festival, held annually in October, welcomes thousands of visitors to the banks of the Mississippi River. Blues fans from around the state, the country and the world know that there’s only one place to be the weekend before Columbus Day – at the world-renowned “Biscuit.”

As days turned into weeks and then months, Munnie Jordan, executive director of King Biscuit Blues Festival, knew it was time to start preparing for the inevitable Plan B…cancelling the beloved event. For decades, King Biscuit has been an important economic driver for Helena-West Helena and nearby communities, providing income for performers, vendors and businesses along historic Cherry Street.

But Jordan knew something must be done to mark what would’ve been the 35th annual festival. She also knew that the musicians, many who play every year at the festival, were very hard hit by COVID. She wanted to do something to help some of the artists and she wanted to give thousands of fans around the world some semblance of King Biscuit. And the partnership with the Central Arkansas Library Systems (CALS) was born.

On Thursday, Oct. 8, Arkansas Sounds was streamed across the world, giving blues fans a retrospection of street scenes, sounds and live performances from festivals past. The online watch party included unreleased performances and interviews from the CALS archives.

On Friday, Oct. 9, and Saturday, Oct. 10, it was a virtual King Biscuit Blues Festival. Held at the Helena Tavern and streamed live, a limited number of guests (following all COVID mandates) enjoyed a variety of live and taped performances by artists like Reba Russell, the Youngbloods, Keith Johnson & the Big Muddy Band, Paul Thorn, Marcus “Mookie” Cartwright, Big T, Brotha Ric Patton, and the Charles Wilson Band.

Official King Biscuit merchandise is a big draw at the yearly festival. Organizers wanted to offer collectors something to mark the 2020 event, so a “non-festival” line of t-shirts, a poster and even a face mask was designed and put online for sale. You can check out the limited-edition merchandise at kingbiscuitfestival.com/merchandise.

Plans are in the works to offer a virtual “Mini Biscuit Bash” over the next few weeks to help support artists and local venues.

By Kim Williams, Travel Writer