The Mississippi Blues Trail
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Review of "The Mississippi Blues Trail"
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MISSISSIPPI BLUES TRAILOn our driving tour of the Southern US States last year we spent some time visiting places that were of significance in the fight for Racial equality and also followed the Blue trail markers for some of the time as well. My husband is a big fan of Blues music so this was his idea. He did some research and planned the route and then we booked places to stay at convenient towns along the route.
~#*~#*~#*~#*~~ WHAT IS THE BLUES TRAIL ? ~~#*~#*~#*~#*~This is a series of markers set up in various places significant to Blues musicians or places that they used to play in. This means there are no opening times or closing times and there is no cost involved either.
WE downloaded the Blues Trail app onto our phones before we left the UK and were ready to explore.
As the Blues Trail site describes it :
“Welcome to the Mississippi Blues Trail, your unforgettable journey into the land that spawned the single most important root source of modern popular music. Whether you're a die-hard blues fan or a casual traveller in search of an interesting trip, you'll find facts you didn't know, places you've never seen, and you'll gain a new appreciation for the area that gave birth to the blues.”
~#*~#*~#*~#*~~ MAPPING THE BLUES TRAIL ~~#*~#*~#*~#*~We didn't drive the entire trail as there are are over two hundred markers spread across the state of Mississippi alone and then many more in the adjoining states and some even further such as Chicago and Los Angles so to see the entire set of markers would take some miles of driving.
The markers were many and varied as were their settings. We found some more obvious ones in city streets while other were almost hidden in places like cotton fields, train depots, cemeteries, and run down former Blues clubs, churches and one outside a prison which I will tell you more about later.The app does have a map but we did also get a paper map and my job was to plan the day's route to find as many as we could along the direction we were going. The main ones in the cities we had decided on before we left the UK and those we tended to walk to find.
We managed to track down a total of around sixty five, some were too hard to find and we gave up while others were too far off our route. I am not going to list all sixty five but will share some of our most interesting experiences.The Blues map divides the state into five districts:
The Coast which we didn't venture into at all as there were major floods when we were there.The River/Capital where we spent a lot of time nd this included these places, Vicksburg, Jackson. McComb and Natchez. WE spent a few nights in both Vicksburg and Natchez and just passed through the others.
Pins which was the east side of the state and gain not an area we vetured into as it was not on our general rout direction.Delta which was above the River/capital area and also to the west of the state and included Indianola, Clarksdale, Berclair ( B.B. King Birthplace), Rolling Fork (Muddy Waters Birthplace) and Dockery which they say is the Birth place of the Blues. We stayed a couple of nights in Clarksdale which was “interesting” to say the least.
Finally the last area is called Hills and that took in Tupelo which is Elvis' birthplace as well as Oxford which we stopped in to have a coffee before heading to Tupelo where we spent some time at Elvis' Birthplace as they have made it into quite a tourist destination without spoiling the essential qualities of his birth house, the church and so on. There is a charge for this tour but well worth visiting. I may well do a separate review of this as it was fascinating and very well done.~#*~#*~#*~#*~~ MUSEUMS WE VISITED ALONG THE BLUES TRAIL ~~#*~#*~#*~#*~
There are many museum along the trail which are extremely varied in in terms of their buildings and indeed what was inside to see.Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum was well worth a look and te entrance fee which was around $17 US for the whole tour.
One of the small museum we visited was the Highway 61 Blues Museum in Leland. This was a small museum with a number of interesting artefacts and in Leland they have also created some beautiful murals depicting local Blues icons and one featuring six decades of B.B.King's career which was very colourful. The museum had a small shop as well but apart from BB King I didn't recognise any of the local Blues legends but then I am not a big Blues fan.Rock & Blues Museum in Clarksdale was considerable underwhelming and all a bit dated and tatty looking. This was the same with most of Clarksdale sadly.
Delta Blues Museum which should have been worth a look was closed when we were there, as was most of the place!Delta Music Museum in Ferriday was also closed when we tried to visit but looked well presented from the outside. However we did manage to visit the home of Jerry Lee Lewis which was odd to say the least.
By far the best and most interesting museum was the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, 400 Second Street, Indianola, MS 38751 which was one that we had planned to visit before
embarking on the tour.
There were a couple of other markers in Indianola which we found very easily as they were not far from this museum. These markers were “Club Ebony” “Church Street” and the “Albert King” or BB King marker .~#*~#*~#*~#*~~ CITIES WE VISITED ALONG THE BLUES TRAIL ~~#*~#*~#*~#*~
NATCHEZ : We spent a few nights in 1888 Wensel House B&B, which I have reviewed on here and we did visit a number of other places in the city but while here we tracked down markers for Bud Scott, Ealey Brothers, Papa Lightfoot and Natchez Burning. This last marker commemorates one of the deadliest fires in American history took the lives of over 200 people, including bandleader Walter Barnes and nine members of his dance orchestra at the Rhythm Club in 1940. It inspired a number of Blues songs including “The Natchez Burning,” recorded by many including Howlin’ Wolf, Elmo Williams and Hezekiah Early and even Captain Beefheart. The tragedy has been written about by John Lee Hooker, Charles Haffer of Clarksdale, Louisiana guitarist Robert Gilmore.Clarksdale I have already mentioned was a huge disappointment as it looked like the city was closed. Our accommodation was pretty dire and we struggled to find anywhere to eat never mind enjoy some live Blues which is what the place is supposed to be famous for. Instead of enjoying Blues music at Morgan Freeman's Joint “ Ground Zero” we ended up driving to various small towns in the surrounding area on “Blues marker” treasure hunts we created using the Blues marker map.
In Clarksdale we found a number of markers while walking around but did have to drive to some as they were further away and sometimes some parts felt a little dodgy for two white tourist walking. WE found markers for Big Jack Johnson, Delta Blues Museum, Hopson Planting Co., Muddy Waters's Cabin, Riverside Hotel,Sam Cooke, Sunflower River Blues, The New World, Wade Walton an WROX. We also found a marker at intersection of historical Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale but according to many Blues aficionados this is not the famous Crossroads sung about by blues song written and recorded by American blues artist Robert Johnson in 1936. The real crossroads is in Rosedale. We did also track this marker down but what a sad and not very welcoming place that was! The Hot Tamales marker we also found in RosedaleVicksburg we mainly planed to visit because of the famous Civil war battle ground which you can do as a diving tour. While there we also found these markers to add to our collection, 61 Highway, Marcus Bottom, Red Tops and Willie Dixon.
Some of the markers were really hard to find and we did drive some miles hunting them down through a lot of Mississippi farmland and we also walked around some graveyards as well as some rather unwelcoming places.
~#*~#*~ SOME INTERESTING PLACES ALONG THE BLUES TRAIL #*~#*~#*~
The most unwelcoming after Rosedale and Clarksdale was the marker for Parchment Farm which was the inspiration for the songs “Parchman Farm Blues” by Booker “Bukka” White, who was once an inmate here, and “Parchman Farm” by jazz singer-pianist Mose Allison.In the early 1900s Parchment farm was a prison which was as a rather profitable cotton plantation; prisoners grew their own food, made their own clothing, raised livestock, and even served as armed guards or “trusty shooters.”
Today it is still a prison in the middle of nowhere and s you approach you are face with signs saying not to stop the car along the highway. At the front of the prison is the marker and there is a car park so I dutifully exited the car to take a quick snap and a loud speaker boomed out “ Lady get back in your vehicle and continue driving”. Needless to say I have no photo and made a hasty retreat bac to the car and we drove off! Why put a marker there for goodness sake??A very different experience was the marker for Dockery Farm which they say is the Birthplace of the Blues. This was also a cotton plantation but huge and almost the size of a town at its peak. In the early 20th century Dockery was home to 400 tenant families, mainly African Americans who had moved to the region for work and Will Dockery had a reputation for treating his tenants fairly.
For over around three decades the plantation was home to Charley Patton , the most important early Delta blues musician. Other famous Blues musicians who played here regularly include Henry Sloan, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, and Roebuck “Pops” Staples.Today the farm is maintained as a historical site with some farm buildings and the original petrol station. As you walk around if you press a large button you will get Blues music played over a loud speaker system. Around the site are various information notices and you can go inside some of the buildings. It is kind of eerie as the music is playing but the place was totally deserted.
The farm is miles from anywhere along highway 8 just off Highway 61 which is the “Blues Highway”.Legend has it that the famous crossroads where Robert Johnson famous Blues guitarist sold his soul to the devil in return for being able to play the guitar brilliantly is just down the road across from Dockery Farm so we had to go and check it out. There is not lot to see there and it did require bit f driving on dirt roads, past an old cemetery on the left and the actual crossroads is a T junction of two dirt and gravel roads. Fortunately it was daytime on a hot sunny day and no devil was to be seen!
As I mentioned we had no intention of trying to see or visit all the markers. It was an interesting way to travel using the Blue marker map to plan diversions off the main highways and we made it into sort of treasure hunt. The Blue Trail app was good but it was less easy to use than the printed mp we picked up somewhere along the way as that gave us an idea of how far different marker were off our route. My husband is the Blues fan so sometimes he discounted a diversion as he said he knew nothing about the person or band featured on the marker and it was not worth a long diversion.
~#*~#*~#*~ DRIVING THE BLUES TRAIL ~#*~#*~#*~
It was also interesting as some markers were beautifully maintained and looked fresh while others were so faded and tatty that you struggled to read anything at all on them.Along the way while hunting these markers we saw lot of Mississippi and fund other interesting sights and sites. It was quite an eye opener to see quit how rundown and poor many place in the Deep South of the USA are today and shocking the contrast between the rich and poor parts of this country.
I really enjoyed our tour of the Southern states . They are so different from other parts of the USA. Within the states there are huge contrasts as you can visit the wonderful antebellum plantation houses of the rich plantation owners which are beautiful . We also visited a number of places made famous during the Civil Rights years, some thriving cities such as Vicksburg, Natchez, New Orleans and Oxford and others that looked like they were ghost towns such as Clarksdale and Montgomery.
#*~#*~#*~ DO YOU RECOMMEND DRIVING THE BLUES TRAIL ? ~#*~#*~#*~
The Blues markers are very informative and despite not really being an ardent Blues fan I do listen to lot of Blues music as my husband is a fan. We had downloaded a lot of Blues music which we listened to as we drove around and I was musically educated as well as a good tour planner on a day to day basis using the Blues map and the sat nav. It made an interesting and educational tour out of our driving holiday.Thanks for reading
5th October 2017
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Listed on Ciao since: 07/01/2017