I’m a Yankee. Born and bred. I love sushi, New York City, and about a hundred other things Northeastern and bourgeois. But, like most great country love songs go, the South has a very real piece of my heart.
I fell in love with what is often said will “rise again” a year ago in Memphis. Since then I made a trip down to Birmingham, and most recently I drove from my beloved Memphis to New Orleans, which only solidified the obsession. Personally, I don’t see what about the South has fallen. For those of you who are not yet Southern converts, I must ask you: why the f**k not? What do you have against the Blues? Or Jazz? Or a pulled pork sandwich oozing with spicy barbecue sauce and mounted, almost pornographically, by a dripping, cold heap of fresh cole slaw? God…take me back where I belong!!
But I digress.
If you should find yourself on a similar soul searching journey to parts of our country below the Mason Dixon, I am a firm believer that you must do so in August. August, she says?! In the South? Madness. And yes, my friends, yes it was hot. But also…cheap. And when you are a writer on a road trip, cheap is always ideal. But August just happens to be the time of the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Clarkswhat? If you haven’t heard of Clarksdale, it’s that spot right at the crossroads of Highway 61 and 49, where famed Blues virtuoso Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his panty-dropping musical ability. Clarksdale is also the hometown of Sam Cooke (of Chain Gang fame). What better spot to enjoy some out-of-this-world Blues and Gospel music from a bill of no-names who sing better than anyone I have heard on the radio.
The Festival is free and runs for three days on a grassy field right next to the Delta Blues Museum (admission is $7 and completely worth it). Food stalls line the field selling everything from rib tips to chili cheese fries. And the beer is flowing. And the music will haunt you in the best way possible as local librarians or waitresses get up on stage and belt with all of their might the songs that they have heard for generations and generations, and no one will ever know their names. But their fans are local, and that’s all that seems to matter.
Barbecue, Blues and Beer. The South holds its head high still.