I will freely admit that while I do love all kinds of music, I am first a foremost a Jazz fan, thanks to my grandfather and watching Peanuts shows on TV. However, my love of the Blues is, although recent, a profound part of my life. I live in Memphis, Tennessee - the Blues is everywhere here! However, if one wishes to listen to Delta Blues, all that is required is a trip on Highway 61 and soon, you'll find yourself in the Delta. When I left Memphis Saturday morning, rain greeted me on my trip, making me wonder if perhaps I made the right decision in driving down. However, the rain gave way to blue skies and flat green fields as far as the eye can see, giving me a boost to my hour and fifty three minute drive. I was ready to hear the Blues.
Soon, I arrived in Clarksdale and drove through the Crossroads with no sign of the Devil holding a contract. I made my way Downtown, parked the car and soon set out to hear good music. As I stated in an earlier post, Clarksdale, to the newbie, will seem like a sleepy Mississippi town with old storefronts. However, that is far from true, for there is a vibrant sense of pride and culture in the town and it is easy to become infected with it. Delta Blues is more than just music - it's a way of life, a culture all to itself and dark history. As I walked, I began to hear music and followed it to the festival area, complete with a full tent for the acoustic musicians and a stage for the afternoon and evening entertainment. I had arrived.
My first stop was the Delta Blues Museum, of which I highly recommend to anyone who visits the town. Although they do not allow photography or video taking of any kind, it is still worth visiting. Where else can you find clothing and instruments used by some of the greats in Delta Blues, as well as video clips of performances, photographs of the musicians and even the actual frame of Muddy Waters' home? Some of the entertainers represented in the museum were BB King, John Lee Hooker, Charlie Musselwhite, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and many, many others. Even if you are not a fan of the Blues, the museum is still too cool to miss out; not only is the Delta Blues represented but also the history of the Delta itself.
Once I completed my tour of the museum. I decided to finally make my way towards the acoustic tent and I'm glad that I did, for I got a chance to hear both Pat Thomas and Lucious Spiller - both really, really, really awesome Blues musicians. The many mega air fans kept the temperature nice and cool while I perched on my bag that sat on the table and relaxed into the music. There was nothing like it and I had to text several friends who were also Blues lovers about the fabulous time I was having and how I wished they could have been there with me.
After a while, I left the tent and resumed walking around. I wanted to take in as much as possible. It seems as though every time I visit Clarksdale, my time is sadly limited. So, I walked, took photographs and even stopped by Hambone to hear another band perform before making my way to one of the coolest places in the town - Cat Head.
I have noticed that whenever I visit Clarksdale, I always end up visiting the same places that never get old or boring to me. Visiting Clarksdale is seeing an old friend, one that never changes.
I walked into Cat Head and soaked in the many pieces of art, books, music and Cat Head souvenirs, only to grin when I noticed the guy who stood behind the counter. I always forget to ask his name, yet I had one of the best experiences while listening to him talk about the history of the Delta the last time I visited. That man was a wealth of information and I could have listened to him all day. The last time I was there, he asked me if I was going to stay and go to one of the bars to hear more music, to which I told him that I had to get back to Memphis. Of course, when I saw him again, he asked me the same question and I gave him the same answer.
Clarksdale, just like Memphis and other cities in the Delta, are great places to get a taste of the Delta Blues or any kind of Blues for that matter. Many of the musicians from Mississippi did move to Memphis; if you live in Memphis, you can't help but have some sort of an appreciation for the Blues. In fact, I am planning for my next festival - King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas!
Bidding Clarksdale a fond farewell, I made my way back to Memphis but not before taking in the Delta and repeatedly stopping on the side of the highway to take photos of the land:
The Delta is flat, yes, yet also very beautiful. Once does not simply visit the Delta and say, "How boring." or, "What's up with this Blues crap?" And yes, someone actually did tell me that. I urge people to visit the Delta and really take the time to understand just what they're experiencing. It's more than just flat land and sometimes overbearing heat.
Welcome to the Delta . . . and watch out for a grinning man holding a contract and a guitar.