Monday May 6, 2013: New Orleans to Greenwood
Today we caught the Spirit of New Orleans to Greenwood, Mississippi, a relaxing journey of about 6 hours. We were booked in at one of my all-time favourite hotels, The Alluvian, which seems strangely out of place amidst the quiet of the old downtown area. The rooms are luxurious, the bathroom big enough to have a footy match in.
Like many small US towns, the original downtown area seems to be dying as people move out into the suburbs that are the province of the Wal-Marts and shopping malls.
Greenwood has been somewhat rejuvenated by Viking Kitchens that has brought jobs to the town and created this marvellous hotel. A few doors down is the great Turnrow Books, an indie store with a lovely stock of Missippianna.
Dinner was in our own special booth at The Alluvian. Monday is Luau burger night but we are talking really great burgers here.
Frankly, there is not a lot to do in Greenwood on a Monday night so it offered an opportunity to enjoy the accommodation.
Tuesday May 7, 2013: Greenwood to Clarksdale
Packing two 15-seater vans with 17 people and luggage presents somewhat of a problem, solved by putting most of the luggage in one van and most of the people in the other.
We headed to Indianola for the marvellous BB King Museum and I got to meet Tom the owner of the cafe next door and a man with one of the broadest Southern accents I have ever heard. Always remember to call Mississippi ‘Miss-hippy’ and you will feel just like a local.
We then made our way to Leland and the Highway 61 Museum before arriving at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale in time to get spruced up and go downtown to Ground Zero. No gig or meals there tonight as Bill Luckett (co-owner of the Shack) was celabrating his win in the primary election as Democratic candidate for mayor. Who was the last mayor who wore a t-shirt and shorts to his victory party? I’d vote for Bill.
Dinner was at The Stone Pony pizza place on Delta Avenue, a place that is packed now that Madidi and Rust restaurants have both closed down. I had the fettucine alfredo which was filling if a little bland. Others said the pizzas were very good.
The gig tonight was at the Hambone Gallery and featured Stan Street and Dave Duncan (nominated for a Blues Music Award for Song of The Year). On the way back to the Shack we stopped at the gas station for supplies. It seems rather civilised that you can buy beer, wine and cans of mixed drinks at the gas station but I have not studied the correlation between this and the road toll. I suspect that is something people do not want to know.
Wednesday May 8, 2013: Clarksdale
The morning started with breakfast at the Yazoo Pass Cafe, the place that has revolutionised Clarksdale by including a salad bar. A relaxing day today where everyone had the chance to visit the Blues Museum which has a new wing. Frankly, the BB King Museum puts about every other blues museum to shame, however it had a head start with funding.
This evening ordered in ribs from Abe’s on the Highway 49/61 crossroads and enjoyed a gig at the Shack with someone whose name I have completely forgotten or was erased from my memory by a combination of Dos Equis and Vodka and Orange (10%) that you can buy in large cans for $2.50! (Leo got the Margarita mix that I thought would be better but which in retrospect he is not too keen about). Washboard Jo, who were to run into the next day at the Blues Awards, helped out the singer/guitarist in an enthusiastic manner.
Thursday May 9, 2013 – Clarksdale to Memphis
Today we headed to Memphis via West Helena and the Delta Blues Cultural Center and Sonny Payne’s incredibly long-running King Biscuit radio show. Sonny is now 87 years old and I believe I will be doing Off The Record until I reach a similar age or older.
We reached Memphis and the Sleep Inn on Court Square with an hour and a half to spare until the Blues Awards ceremony took place in the Convention Center. Ray, one of our tour leaders along with his partner Merryn, was rather keen to get there for the pre-show cocktails at 5.30pm. I believe he thought that the drinks were going to be free and for US$125 a ticket so did everyone else. However, when I discovered that local beers (I mean Bud) were $6, I resorted to the desperate measure of drinking Diet Pepsi. The pre-show entertainment at least featured Cedric Burnside.
The Blues Awards started promptly at 7.00pm and finished somewhere around 1.00am by which stage there were few left to see Royal Southern Brotherhood close the event. Three of us left after the final award – Entertainer Of The Year – was given to Curtis Salgado at midnight. Dinner was an interesting combination of poached catfish fillets and fried chicken.
The Awards ceremony is interminable and needs to be tightened up a lot. Do not get me started. I feel a new column coming on about The Death of The Blues that is what you would have thought if you were there too. How the hell Gary Clark Jr did not get a nomination for Album of The Year or win the Contemporary Blues Album award is totally beyond me. Thoughts will be formulated soon. Let’s just say that if you were looking for someone under the age of 45 there you would need to send out a search party.
Leo was very excited when he won a silent auction bid for a photo of Duke Robillard playing his very first gig as part of Bob Dylan’s band.
The end of the evening was livened up on our table when we started a pool to guess how many times God would be thanked in the final three awards. He had made a late run in the previous awards, ‘just like Kiwi’ in the Melbourne Cup’ said Leo, so it seemed to me that he would get a nod in the remaining awards.
Sleepy John Westland (his blues name) scooped the pool with his incredible guess of zero! (I think he is an atheist).
Friday May 10, 2013 – Oxford, Mississippi
It sounds like false economy to rent a car and drive down to Oxford, Mississippi, to visit my favourite bookstore, Square Books, and pick up some bargains and mail them home with other things in a flat rate box. I refuse to work out the math on this; however, this is what I did while everyone else in the group checked out the various Memphis museums.
It was the day before graduation and I could barely get a parking spot. The town was packed. Worse, I had to wait until 2.00pm until I could get into the Ajax Diner for lunch where of course I had Matty’s Mum’s Meatloaf with my favourite Mississippi vegetable, macaroni and cheese. Visited the university and William Faulkner’s house in a quick drive by.
This evening we all went for dinner at Rendezvous, where I just had a small sandwich. Okay, it was a small pork sandwich but I emphasise that it was small.
We went to the Cultural Center up on Main Street to see Billy Boy Arnold play songs from his tribute to Big Bill Broonzy. The doorman told us that Billy Boy would be playing for another forty minutes so about 7 or 8 of us paid the ten dollars entry.
After two songs Billy Boy finished his set and adjourned to sign his CD. The guy on the door was nowhere to be seen. At least i got the CD and the book on Big Bill’s life signed by the author who was also there.
The others decided to go to Beale Street but it was early to bed for me. I have to be up at 6.00am to get to the airport for my flight to Houston, then LAX and Vegas for The Stones.