North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic
Here we are not dealing just with a trip or a journey. For many people in the world this may represent the dream of their life, a trip where all their long time love just began, the cradle of all our music: the Blues.
All European tourists once in their life will go to the United States; Travel For Fans will organize some trips, mainly in the Southern States, to discover the places, the culture, sensations made of landscapes, tastes and perfumes, that have been dreamed from old records, even before than movies and books since childhood. We will concentrate on the father of all modern music: the Blues, and all his different flavours, like Soul, R&B, Country, Bluegrass, Old Time, Zydeco and Jazz that all together gave birth to the Rock.
We will bring people there where all began, and where the long and hard journey to our actual days really started.
Here you will find some projects we developed, that you will be able to live with your motorbike or car, following all our suggestions that will help you to reach places no one else could drive you through!
Our main goal is to not let this music die, and to bring European music lovers close to their fantasy and heroes, even if it means just touching with their own hand the grave of Robert Johnson.
North Hill Mississippi Country Picnic
This journey will guide you to the North Mississippi Hill Country, a place famous for the many bluesmen that lived there, from R.L. Burnside to David J. Kimbrough, from Mississippi Fred McvDowell to Otha Turner. Don’t miss a unique experience, the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, also known as Kenny Brown’s Hill Country Picnic, that is grown from the past and includes now (a must for musicians) also Guitar Workshops with real local bluesmen.
This tour includes also visits to the tombs of the most famous blues musicians in history, most of them born in Mississippi, and buried there. In this tour there will be visits to places that have hosted moments and unique characters of the genre, as well as’ live performances of country blues, acoustic blues and electric blues, some already planned but also organized specifically for these trips. For the real fans you can also have tickets to blues museums or locations far from the cities such as cotton plantations and the famous crossroads to get you deep into the true atmosphere of the Mississippi blues.
This tour is organized for in June
- day 1 Saturday (Memphis, Tennessee)
• Your trip starts in Memphis, Tennessee. After arriving at the airport, we will pick up the van, bus or motorbike. After settling in the hotel we will go to an evening dinner on Beale Street, in one of the places where the best BBQ ribs are cooked, the Blues City Cafe, and to start with live blues concerts don’t forget to have a beer in Huey’s in Poplar Av. or Second St.
- day 2 Sunday (Memphis, Tennessee)
• We will then take a tour to visit to the STAX Museum of American Soul Music, 962 McLemore Avenue, the famous Soul Music label founded in 1957 from Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton. .
• We will then move to visit (guided at least for newbies) the Sun Studios (http://www.sunstudio.com/) at 706 Union Avenue. Famous for having recorded blues musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf, Dr. Ross, B.B. King, Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, Little Milton and others. It was also famous for seeing the birth of rock ‘n’ roll recording Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash. Do not forget the famous gadgets at exit
•The late afternoon is free for shopping on Beale Street with a visit to Tater’s Red, a shop famous for making voodoo amulets and mojos for every need (do not miss for example the famous John The Conqueror root oil). You cannot leave without visiting the historic Schwab’s store, a unique shop where you can find probably everything you can think at that exist on Earth. The slogan of this historical shop is “If you can’t find it at A. Schwab, you’re probably better off without it!”
• Dinner will be at the Rum Boogie Cafe where in the past we could admire the original label STAX sign, now back to the museum, and you can see the guitars hanging from the ceiling from many musicians have played here over the years, for example Ike Turner, Son Seals, or Stevie Ray Vaughan.
• Overnight in Memphis
- day 3 Monday (Memphis -> Helena -> Clarksdale, Mississippi)
• Breakfast at the hotel.
• We will move down on Highway 61 and will pass Walls to visit the tomb of Memphis Minnie , one of the few blues female singers as well as exceptional guitarist. In the 1930s, It was said that Minnie played guitar like a man.
• Continuing on Highway 61 we will stop in Tunica to visit the Gateway To The Blues shop
• We will move in the direction of Clarksdale, the birthplace of the blues, where we will find the famous crossroad where, as reported by the legend , Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to play the blues like no one before. But first we will pass from Helena, in Arkansas, home to the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival, also known as the King Biscuit Blues Festival and where we will find the graves of Robert Nighthawk and Frank Frost.
• Famous not only for the Blues festival Helena is the birthplace of bluesman Cedell Davis, guitarist Robert Nighthawk and pianist Roosevelt Sykes, and Robert Johnson lived here for much of the last five years of his life, giving guitar lessons to the son of his girlfriend Estella Coleman, whose name was Robert Lockwood Jr.
• We will visit the Sonny Boy Williamson Museum and the KFFA Radio (1360 Radio Dr.), famous for the program King Biscuit Time where Sonny Boy usually plaid and we will visit the Delta Cultural Center.
• Lunch in Helena at the Blues Bayou or the Soup Kitchen Café and Pool Room
• Before reaching Clarksdale, we will pass Friar’s Point and we will stop at the Stovall Plantation, where Muddy Waters worked as a tractor driver and where Alan Lomax heard him play and recorded him in 1941. Here you will find an indication of where it was located what is said have been the home of Muddy Waters, currently housed and rebuilt in the Delta Blues Museum.
• Once in Clarksdale we will visit the Delta Blues Museum before 5 PM
•The rest of the afternoon will be spent walking around Clarksdale, visiting places such as the Wade Walton’s Barber Shop or the Riverside Hotel, where Bessie Smith died, the Sarah’s Kitchen restaurant or the building where there was the famous Rooster’s Records or even drinking a coffee at the Abe’s BBQ, located at the intersection of 61 and 49 (although the real crossroad between the highways is different, being the historical HW 61 moved from the current one, and unknown the real crossroads where we the father of the blues met the devil).
• We will finally reach the Hopson Plantation, where the Shack Up Inn is located and where we will spend the night. Each year, the Shacks organize the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming on the Sunday just after the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena (second weekend of October). The festival is held even after the famous pianist passed away in 2011. This place is very unusual and tipical, because the owner, Bill Talbot, kept the old shacks of country and farm workers, and he refurbished them (mainly just adding the restroom) in order to obtain some “spiritual refuges” helping in this way to preserve part of the historical Mississippi Delta that is almost disappeared. Dinner at the Hopson Plantation.
•Night in Clarksdale at the Hopson Plantation (Shack Up Inn)
- day 4 Tuesday (Clarksdale -> Greenville)
• Before leaving Clarksdalea mandatory stop then is the Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art in Clarksdale, managed by Roger Stolle, who along with Jeff Konkel is really active in preserving the African American tradition and culture of the blues. In this shop you will find any blues record you want, as well as art objects and handcrafts made by bluesmen such as Pat Thomas, son of the legendary James “Son” Thomas. Also a few blocks from the Cat Head store, visit Stan Street’s Hambone Gallery for original folk art or the Rock and Blues Museum which features historic items like blues 78s, instruments, and photographs. Every Tuesday night, Street also hosts a jam for local and visiting musicians in his studio.
• Leaving Clarksdale we will we drive south to Tutwiler, where it is said that W.C. Handy, standing at the train station, heard for the first time what was then called the “blues”, a black stranger who was playing a guitar using a knife as a slide. We will visit the grave of Sonny Boy Williamson II, where despite the fact that the reported date of death on the tombstone is wrong, (as well as that of his birth is uncertain), many musicians still go on a pilgrimage leaving their harps as a tribute to Sonny Boy.
• We can’t miss (even if armed guards walking close to the white gate always try to avoid people in stopping) the Parchman Farms, the “Mississippi State Penitentiary” at the intersection of 32 and 49W, which is popular both for researches and registrations of Alan Lomax, and for having been visited by many bluesmen (such as Son House and Bukka White), and sung by many musicians not only blues (we mention for example Johnny Winter and John Mayall). Even today you can see the prisoners, with the classic striped uniform, working the land surrounding the prison.
• We will go West in the direction of Cleveland and visit on HWY 8 also the Dockery Farms, where once upon a time Charley Patton was employed.
•We will then move to Leland, where, in addition to blues murals at Lilo’s Italian Restaurant, we will visit the tomb of James “Son” Thomas, bluesman by vocation and undertaker by profession. Thomas was famous in Europe having visited it several times with the harmonica player Walter Liniger. We will also stop at the Highway 61 Blues Museum at 307 N. Broad Street.
• We will then go to Greenville strolling around Nelson Street, where from the 1940s to the 1970s people the like Little Milton, Eddie Cusic, Charlie Booker, Willie Love, T-Model Ford and Little Bill Wallace ruled the street. The Mississippi Blues Trail marker reminds us the importance of this place in music history. Don’t miss Walnut Street, famous for its live music venues or the Playboy Club, immortalized in the film Mississippi Blues by Bernard Tavernier
• Overnight in Greenville
- day 5 Wednesday (Greenville -> Indianola -> Greenwood -> Oxford)
• In the morning we will reach Indianola, “The Home of B.B. King “as stated in the sign of the city. Here, we will visit among other things, the Club Ebony and the B.B. King Blues Museum. Lunch in Indianola at the Club Ebony plus visit to the B.B. King Museum with concert included
•We will move towards the area of Greenwood to be devoted to Robert Johnson. To the west of Greenwood, just northeast of the intersection of 89 and 49E is Three Forks Store, which is the bar (rebuilt after several tornadoes) where it is said that Robert Johnson made his last “concert” before he was killed, apparently by the jealous husband of a woman Johnson was drinking with. To the north of Greenwood is the third grave of Robert Johnson, currently thought to be the real one, according to eye witnesses who attended his burial at the Little Zion Cemetery.
• Going north on HWY 7 to Avalon we will also visit the grave of Mississippi John Hurt, pioneer of folk blues music, who died in 1966 (it is important to know the date so that you do not take pictures of the wrong headstone, given the numerous Hurt in the cemetery).
• Finally we will arrive in Oxford where we should visit the headquarters of Fat Possum, the famous label that has recorded many musicians of North Mississippi, as well as being known for the sound called Mississippi Hill Country Blues.
• Night in Oxford, with a visit to the Square Books Shop, 1110 Van Buren and food choices on the square like the City Grocery, the Ajax Diner, and Rooster’s Blues House and the music venue Proud Larry’s.
- day 6 Thursday(Oxford -> Como -> Senatobia -> Holly Springs)
• Going out from Oxford we will take first the 278 and then the 315 to Sardis Lake, and, taking the 55, we will arrive in Como, a small town crossing the railway, where Mississippi Fred Mc Dowell is buried. His gravestone was partially financed by Bonnie Raitt. On the reverse side of his tomb are written some verses of the song “You Got To Move” (famous also for the Rolling Stones version). You can also find some food or drinks in the Windy City Grill, located right on Main Street.
• Continuing to return towards Memphis, we will stop in Senatobia where in the afternoon we will visit the grave of Jessie Mae Hemphill, great-granddaughter of Sid Hemphill, a musician who Alan Lomax recorded, as well as Rosa Lee Hill, aunt of Jessie Mae. In addition she to appearing in the movie “Deep Blues” by Robert Palmer, Jessie Mae also played for long time in Europe.
• Near Senatobia, in Gravel Springs, if you are travelling at the end of August you will find the famous Othar Turner’s Picnic, in memory of this famous African-American musician, who played flute and drums with a unique style. These picnics last throughout the last weekend of August, with free admission and food and drink available locally at popular prices.
We will then move to the North Hills
• Continuing east to Harmontown we will visit the grave of R. L. Burnside, one of the last original bluesmen back in the music business. Thanks to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, R.L. re-launched his career in 1996 with the album “A Ass Pocket Of Whiskey”. Fisherman and sharecropper and bluesman in his spare time, he learned to play directly from Fred McDowell.
• Next stop Holly Springs and please do not miss the Aikei Pro’s Record Shop (if it is closed, keep persisting, and you will find someone from the shop to ask for the owner, whose real name is David Caldwell) at 125 N. Center Street. Among the used bicycles, which are perfect for hidden stray cats, and a dusty and messy interior, you might still find something really interesting (and at prices to discuss and deal!).
•Find a place to eat such as Annie’s Restaurant, famous for fried chicken and down South cooking or the Chewalla Rib Shack located near the original Junior Kimbrough Jook Joint in Chulahoma. Junior’s Jook, one of the last of the Mississippi jook joints, was destroyed by a fire in April 2000 and honored by the Black Keys disc of the same name.
• Going east in the direction of US-72 we will arrive to Hudsonville, where David “Junior” Kimbrough, famous for his music and patriarch of the Holly Spring Blues, is buried. On his grave, instead of flowers, his fans often leave a beer, as a last cheers for the afterlife.
• Night in Holly Springs
- day 7 Friday PicNic
•From Senatobia let’s go back to Holly Springs, the closest point to the Picnic (Corner of HWY 7 South and HWY 310, Waterford, Mississippi)
•Shuttle ride to the PICNIC
•Guitar workshops (possibility to reserve), concerts food and drinks for the whole day!
•Night in Holly Springs
- day 8 Saturday PicNic
• Shuttle ride to the PICNIC
•Guitar workshops, concerts food and drinks for the whole day!
•Night in Holly Springs
- day 9 Sunday
• In the morning we will move back to the Memphis Airport, for the flight back to Europe.
The program includes museum tickets, Blues Festival tickets and a special events.
Travel by bus, mini van or motorbike, with stops every day and night in the most important shopping and entertainment places!
This post is also available in: Italian