If there is one thing that made Mississippi world-renowned, it is the blues. And if there is one thing Cedric Burnside knows about, it is playing the blues.
A native of Holly Springs and grandson of blues legend R.L. Burnside, this up-and-coming musician has become a regular at the Thirsty Hippo in Hattiesburg.
“One-on-one he is awesome to talk to and on stage he is able to turn the amplitude up and have that same kind of relationship with an entire audience,” said Brad Newton, owner of the Thirsty Hippo. “He’s that charismatic of a performer, and (he is) totally genuine.”
Burnside sat down with an acoustic guitar to open the show with a few songs that evoked the roots of Mississippi blues, raw and authentic. The audience started to gather around the musician, who expressed tradition and heritage with his guitar.
“I write music like my granddad,” Burnside said. “It’s instilled in my blood, in my bones, and I already know that I’m going to do it for the rest of my life. I knew that at a young age. I’m happy to carry it along.”
When Trent Ayers walked onto the stage to pick up his guitar, Burnside got up and sat behind the drum set, sending the real show on its way. A sudden burst of energy emanated from the dynamic duo and it did not take long for the audience to double in volume and start dancing around.
What followed was a colossal performance of upbeat electric blues, lasting more than two hours and leaving the audience begging for more. Harmonicist Patrick Williams of New Orleans joined in and showcased serious virtuosity as the intensity of the show kept rising. The trio offered the Hippo a true experience of the Mississippi blues sound, and the spirit of R.L. Burnside was palpable in the venue.
Williams and Burnside alternated on the vocals. Ayers kept making his guitar scream through boundless solos, with heavy distortion and a whole lot of attitude, leading him to finish the show with five strings on his guitar and picks littering the floor.
The band’s repertoire mostly stayed within the limits of Mississippi blues, with tunes from Muddy Waters, but sometimes ventured into 1970s rock territories with songs such as Jimi Hendrix’s famous “Voodoo Chile.”
Burnside was still sporting his contagious smile when I met with him to talk about his journey as a musician. “You see, I grew up with my grandfather,” he said. “I’ve been around him for so many years, basically all my life, and when you’re around people so much you learn to do things like them, to walk like them, talk like them.”
“Watching my dad and grandad play, take a break, drink a little moonshine, I said to myself: ‘I want to get on those drums so bad,’ and I finally built up the courage to just get on them.” Burnside said. “It didn’t matter if I couldn’t play them, breaking the ice meant that I was willing to (jump) up there. So that’s what I did, and once I got up there, people started saying ‘look at that young kid, he’s going to be good, he’ll be great,’ and that’s how it all started.”
Newton, who said he is always happy with Burnside’s presence at the Thirsty Hippo, said, “It’s a toast. The lineage is amazing, it’s wonderful. All the things that were passed down from this group to the next younger group and so on. They built their own culture.”