King Biscuit Rivalry

The blues festival in Helena, Ark., that until this year bore the “King Biscuit” moniker may now have to compete with a Memphis, Tenn., festival using the same name.

After failed negotiations with the company that owns the trademark to the “King Biscuit” name, festival organizers in Helena announced in September that the event once known as the King Biscuit Blues Festival would instead be called the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival.

New York-based King Biscuit Entertainment Group (KBEG), which owns the rights to the trademark, had asked the Sonny Boy Blues Society (SBBS) – which organizes the Helena event – to pay approximately $15,000 to keep “King Biscuit” as part of the festival’s name.

The three-day Helena fest used the name for free until this year.

KBEG President Kevin Cain said it was the festival’s choice to change the name, while SBBS Executive Director Wayne Andrews argued the price was too high.

Then on November 22nd, developer Performa Entertainment Real Estate Inc. announced it had reached an agreement with KBEG to host a fall music festival tentatively titled the King Biscuit Music Festival in Memphis. Performa added that it is also planning a café on Beale Street using the King Biscuit banner.

Performa chief executive John Elkington said the company decided to use the “King Biscuit” name for its own festival to promote the cultural music of the Memphis region.

“We have a real musical heritage there and we felt this would protect the name and the concept of what the King Biscuit Flower Hour (radio program) was,” Elkington told Pollstar. “This is not just a blues festival; it’s much more than that.”

The festival is scheduled to kick off the first weekend of October. It will feature local and regional acts throughout about 12 Memphis venues. No official lineup was released at press time.

This year’s Helena festival was held October 6-8.

Andrews said the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival expects competition from the Beale-based event.

“They are trying to schedule an event in October that will build on the work that the King Biscuit Blues Festival created,” Andrews told Pollstar. “They’re hoping to move it to a market where they’ll have more control and cachet. We hope people realize the authentic and original event about the music is in Helena.”

He added that he wished there had been a way to work together “because Helena and Memphis are so related musically.”

King Biscuit Development LLC, a separate entity owned by KBEG and Performa, have acquired all rights to the namesake King Biscuit Flour Co., including trademarks, logo and name of the flour that was distributed to grocers by a Helena wholesaler.

“King Biscuit Time” broadcasts started in 1941 on Helena’s KFFA radio. The program is said to have inspired the city’s blues festival.

Mitchell Peters