The Blues Highway Make a pilgrimage to a mythical musical crossroads

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Generally, though, eating options in town are more down-home, like the dishes at Abe’s Barbecue, serving sliced pork barbecue sandwiches that have been something of a legend since 1924; Hicks’ Variety Foods, known for spicy cornhusk-wrapped tamales as well as fried catfish; and Ramon’s, a real-deal dive with a leaky roof and old whisky-bottle table lamps, where the soul-food specialty is spaghetti with chicken livers.

Sure, a few chain motels line the outskirts of town, but why stay there when you can flop in a once dilapidated sharecropper’s quarters at the Shack Up Inn? Located on Hopson Plantation, the former farming enterprise is now home to an isolated rural ‘B ‘n’ B’—bed and beer. A row of shacks (now with indoor plumbing and air conditioning) is a big draw for blues tourists who embrace the down-to-earth rusticity of the place.

Another atmospheric option is the old Riverside Hotel, a no-frills ranch house whose overnighters have included Ike Turner and the late blues fan John F. Kennedy Jr. A locally owned boardinghouse/budget hotel since 1944, the Riverside is notorious as the former hospital for blacks, where pioneering blues singer Bessie Smith died in 1937, following a car crash on Highway 61. Many of the blues greats stay here regularly, and during music festivals it is booked solid.

For sultry summer weather and live music that’s both lowdown and uplifting, make a point to be in Clarksdale on the second weekend in August for the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, held downtown. In mid-October, when the cotton is high, visit the literary Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival. Williams, renowned for such masterpieces as The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire, grew up in Clarksdale.




Categories: Abacos, Clarksdale, Mississippi, USA

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