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The Mississippi Blues Trail

Clarksdale and Vicksburg

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November 2nd, 2017
Main stage area at the Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale, Miss.

Main stage area at the Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale, Miss.

Much of today’s music has its roots in the blues. And one of the broadest and deepest roots you’ll find is in the South along the Mississippi Blues Trail. 

Whether you’re a fan wishing to pay homage to the greats or just want to learn more about the blues, following the trail will lead to many intellectual, auditory, and culinary discoveries. For this article, I’m going to focus on two cities along the trail and places to stay that are unlike the standard hotel/motel fare. But all along the trail are hundreds of markers and other places to visit and explore. 

Clarksdale

Clarksdale is a rather modest town, but it sits at the crossroads of two famous highways in blues lore, Routes 49 and 61, and so has played an important role in the formation of the blues in that it was the birthplace of Sam Cooke, John Lee Hooker, Son House, and Ike Turner. Other blues greats like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson (not to mention the famous playwright Tennessee Williams) spent time there growing up. 

Clarksdale is home to the Delta Blues Museum (deltabluesmuseum.org) and several music clubs, including one owned by actor Morgan Freeman, where you can listen to the blues to your heart’s content.

Shack Up Inn

Just a short drive from the center of town is the Shack Up Inn (shackupinn.com), whose website proclaims, “the Ritz we ain’t.”  The shacks—yes, all the rooms are in what were once sharecropper shacks or cut-off silos—are unique. They may appear on the outside as if they’d been put together with spit and chewing gum, but inside each shack is very clean with comfortable beds, working bathrooms, A/C, heat, and Wi-Fi. They’re about as far from the cookie-cutter hotel/motel room as you can get, and the atmosphere of the entire place, which was once a plantation, is photogenic and whimsical. 

Children aren’t allowed because much of the exterior décor is made of old rusty farm implements, but many of the adults who stay here are actually “campers,” attending one of the variety of music camps held regularly, including how to play blues guitar, the harmonica, and a capella singing. Breakfast is delicious and the assortment of beers extensive. Staying at the Shack Up Inn is an opportunity to experience a bit of the Old South as it once was.

Vicksburg

Vicksburg, a larger city than Clarksdale that sits directly along the Mississippi River, doesn’t have quite the connection to the blues, but what it does have, in spades, is that old Southern charm. And the accommodations are the opposite of the Shack Up Inn—bed and breakfasts that inhabit old mansions. The owners of The Bazsinsky House (bazsinskyhouse.com), which was completed in 1861, two years prior to the siege of Vicksburg, spent over $1 million on restorations. Not only will you be served a delightful breakfast during your stay, if you play your cards right you may get a personal escort to Vicksburg’s fabulous shops or to the splendid courthouse that sits across the street.

For lunch or dinner, visit 10 South (10southrooftop.com), a restaurant that sits atop the old bank building. In addition to serving expertly prepared Southern cuisine (you must try their fried green tomatoes) and a large variety of cocktails, 10 South offers excellent views of the city and the Mississippi River from its rooftop.

Don’t leave Vicksburg without visiting the Vicksburg National Military Park (nps.gov/vick). Hire a guide or do your own self-driving tour, where you’ll learn about the 47-day siege of Vicksburg by the Union Army in 1863—a critical turning point of the Civil War—and perhaps get a feel for what it must have actually been like to be a part of the War Between the States.

 

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