A ROAD TRIP INTO MISSISSIPPI BLUES HEAVEN
When I tell people that Mississippi is one of my favorite places to visit, they tend to look at me sideways. They’ve clearly never been to the Delta, the name given to the communities that follow the curves of the Mississippi River down the Magnolia State.
This fertile land is responsible for agricultural products such as cotton and rice, and it’s also produced some of America’s most incredible musicians. Take a drive down the rural two-lane roads, and it’s easy to spot the iconic markers of the Mississippi Blues Trail.
I’ve visited the Delta region a number of times over the years. I woke up early, hitting the road for the 6.5- hour drive from my home in Atlanta.
Cleveland was my base for this particular trip, located two hours from both Memphis, the unofficial starting point of the Blues Trail, and the Mississippi state capital of Jackson. Home to Delta State University, Cleveland is full of charm, with its neat row of shops selling everything from books to clothing to artwork. They’re set around the Crosstie Walk, a path on a former rail line.
I detoured to nearby Merigold, where those in the know shop for pottery at McCarty’s. The family owned business started with clay from the Oxford home of William Faulkner and is now a verifiable empire. Fans of their work line up early for their sample sales to receive discounts on the pieces, inspired by the river with hues of blue, teal and brown. Don’t miss a chance to wander through the shop’s garden.
Back in Cleveland, I checked in at The Cotton House, the first boutique hotel to open in this part of the Delta. The Marriott-affiliated property has perks of in-room record players, coffee makers with locally roasted grounds and a recipe box “guest book.”
The hotel is also home to Delta Meat Market, an award-winning restaurant inspired by the foodways of the region. Chef Cole Ellis crafts dishes that are best shared, including steak frites with Hoover sauce (a salty and sweet Delta signature), tomato pie and Delta hot tamales. And as the name implies, the restaurant has a meat counter with steaks and sausages, along with Mississippi-made products, including sauces, spices, pickles and rice from Two Brooks Farm.
Another Cleveland favorite is The Senator’s Place, owned by, you guessed it, a senator. Senator Willie Simmons and his wife, Rosie, opened the restaurant in 2003 and serve Southern dishes such as fried chicken, rice and gravy, and dressing.
For a sweet treat, I recommend Delta Dairy, a downtown shop with playful flavors of soft serve ice cream, including “Jolly Rancher” and milk and cookies, along with a variety of toppings. It also offers ice cream sandwiches and Italian-style gelato.
But the biggest reason to come to the Delta is to learn about the region’s role in American music, influencing just about every genre. Start at Dockery Farms, which is considered to be the birthplace of the blues. The cotton plantation opened in 1895 and hosted musicians that worked there, including Charley Patton.
The GRAMMY Museum Mississippi ties this blues legacy into other styles such as pop and rap. It has interactive displays and videos along with artifacts, including memorable awards show outfits: OutKast’s 2004 performance costume and the famous gramophone trophies, to name just two.
Before starting the journey home, I detoured to Po’ Monkey’s Lounge, a now closed juke joint in Merigold. Fans have left mementoes underneath the Blues Trail marker. While it no longer welcomes blues legends into its intimate space, it’s still a reminder of the importance of the Mississippi music. I found a blues radio station and continued down the dusty rural landscape, bringing a piece of the Delta with me.
IF YOU GO
The Cotton House
Delta Meat Market
The Senator’s Place
GRAMMY Museum Mississippi
STORY: Caroline Eubanks
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