Connely Farr stands in front of the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia.

 

When Connely Farr received a phone call informing him that his father’s leukemia had returned, he quickly flew out of Canada to be with his family in Bolton.

Spending quality time and experiencing memorable moments with his dad was Farr’s top priority.

“One day we were just like, ‘Let’s go for a ride,’” Farr said.

That day in April of 2017, Farr and his dad rode from Bolton to Vicksburg up Highway 61 to Clarksdale for a taste of some Delta barbecue and culture and then back down Highway 49. Farr had one place he wanted to introduce to his dad before wrapping up their nine hour trip.

“I had been coming by here (the Blue Front Café) for years, but I had never been in here before that day,” Farr said. An architect by day and a blues musician by night, Farr was intrigued by the aesthetic the 70-year-old “blues joint” projected.  “I had been coming by here just to take a picture of the front, just because of the cool, iconic architectural facade.”

When they arrived at the Blue Front, Farr noticed the door was open. And it wasn’t just any door. It was the door to the “Bentonia Blues.” Seventy-year-old blues legend and Blue Front Cafe owner Jimmy “Duck” Holmes was inside.

“I told Jimmy that I played guitar, and he told me he wanted to show me something,” Farr said. “Something happened right at that moment when Jimmy started to play. My jaw hit the floor. I was like, ‘I’ve seen you on the YouTube.’ And Jimmy was like, ‘Yeah,  they got me all over the YouTube.'”

This time, Farr left with far more than a picture. That day Holmes strummed up a new passion for the blues within Farr, who’s early music carried the tune of country rock.

“My dad knew it was funny,” Farr said. “He was like, ‘We just drove 9 hours all over Mississippi just to meet Jimmy, 15 miles from home.'”

Farr had already released three country rock albums before meeting Holmes. His two talents of poetry writing and guitar playing fused into songwriting right before he decided to to move to Canada in 2008. After meeting a music producer and studio session musicians, Farr recorded his debut album, Mississippi Live, in 2009.

Fast forward eight years later, Farr was hosting one of the world’s most notable blues musicians in Canada.

Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and Connely Farr at the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia

“He said he was coming up to do a show in Canada a couple weeks after we first met,” Farr said.  “I helped him up there and got him over to the show. I even got him another show in Vancouver, and, man, this place was sold out. It was packed. We’ve really been friends ever since.”

Farr, 40, makes frequent trips home to Mississippi to visit family — his dad’s doing well and “responding well to current medicine” — in Bolton or see his friend, Jimmy, at the Blue Front.

“I came home four times last year, and every time I came home, I came by to see Jimmy, and he gives me lessons,” Farr said. “I study what he teaches me. I take videos and I watch them and try to figure out his finger-picking and his patterns.”

With a year’s worth of guidance and inspiration from Holmes, Farr has applied what he has learned into his upcoming “Bentonia-inspired” blues album set to release this fall.

Farr tells the story of how he came across an old song of Holmes’ and recorded a new version of it for his album:

Farr hopes this album will carry on the blues tradition of addressing the political and social climate through the lyrics and undertones of the music.

“Music helps me to reconcile the things that happen back home that I don’t really understand,” Farr said. “For instance, I don’t really understand having the rebel flag on our state flag. There is no place for that in my heart. So this album has given me a venue to kind of look at some of those feelings in song format.”

Fans of Farr and the Bentonia Blues had the chance to hear a preview of this album during Day Three of Bentonia Blues Festival week at the Blue Front. He performed for about 30 minutes at the week-long festival that kicked off on June 11. Here is live video of a portion of Farr’s set:

The influence Holmes has had on Farr and his music is undeniable. But, when asked about the power of his teachings, Holmes remains humble and far from boastful.

“To me, it don’t really mean nothing,” Holmes said. “He wanted to play music, so I showed him what I know. It’s not like I’m anybody special. It’s just that I knew how to play the style of music that he wanted to play.”

Connely Farr packs up his equipment after his performance at the Blue Front Cafe during Bentonia Blues Festival week.

 

Farr pictures himself passing on the essential one-on-one blues lessons he has learned from Holmes.

“I think he’s a teacher at heart,” Farr said. “He wants to teach. And, I think that’s what the blues is. It’s this style of music that’s handed down from generation to generation. You have to learn it by sitting with somebody in a room and just watching them do it and then trying to do it. It’s not something that you can go to school and learn. It’s not something you can read a book about and learn. It’s about a connection between two people.”

Catch Holmes in Canada July 13-15 at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, where he will be performing three shows. Farr and Holmes will also be teaming up for a blues workshop, which they will host during the festival. Can’t make it to Canada? Tune in to CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio One July 12 for a broadcast featuring Holmes and Farr.

Sereena Henderson managed Mississippi Today’s social media and reported on Mississippi culture from August 2016 until June 2020. She was also a member of the engagement team and curated and delivered the daily newsletter. Sereena, a native of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, is a graduate of the Ole Miss School of Journalism and New Media.