Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The Highway is Route 61 -- That's the Real South
Sometimes, my Midwestern heritage makes me think about other cultures that are overlooked in New England where I currently live. There's a wonderful area of the world that runs between Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans, Louisiana that showcases a magnificent part of American history that where I live is all but forgotten. The fact that it is forgotten where I am is an awful shame. Route 61 that runs down the side of the Mississippi River Delta is one of those places that is one of a kind and an adventure for sure. The famous crossroads of blues at the intersection of Route 61 and Route 49 is in Clarksdale, Mississippi. This is Ground Zero for the world of blues.
Speaking of Ground Zero, this is it. This Juke Joint style club is a showcase for true blues musicians, and is one of the most popular blues spots in Clarksdale. That says a lot, since there are blues joints covering almost every square inch of Clarksdale. It may not look like much, but it's been on several TV shows on both the Food Network and the Travel Channel. They serve southern style food and blues music. If you're lucky, you may even get a chance to meet the owner.
That's right, actor Morgan Freeman is one of the owners of this fine establishment.
There are many other Juke Joints on Route 61
This is Po' Monkeys, and it's been in one form or another of existence since 1963. That's right, it looks like a shack. They do showcase a lot of local talent though, and the food is down home delicious.
Blues is a culture, and the music is it's voice. The southern comfort food is it's smell and the people who have lived in this area for generations are it's personality. You can find any number of wonderful Juke Joints, Blues Clubs, and museum's along this historic road.
I rarely include a map, but this 250 mile or so stretch of road is amazing. It's like a trip to another country, and a step back in time. It really helps you put your own life in perspective.
There's a style to this part of the world, and a personality. There's a laid back feel that makes everyone comfortable. People seem a little more real. Food seems to taste a little better. The weather matters a little less. Appearances are not the most important thing. And sports are the most exciting thing around.
The biggest collection of blues items and music probably in the world is in a little town called Oxford. Have you heard of it? If not, then you've never heard of Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi. In that case, you've probably never paid any attention to football.
Oxford is home to such present and past artists at John Grisham and William Faulkner, but to football fans that can't compare to the fact that Eli Manning and his father Archie Manning call this small town home. Ole Miss has been the training grounds for some of the NFL's most famous athletes, like the Mannings and Brett Favre. If that doesn't excite the football fan in you, then come on down for the homecoming game and one of the biggest college weekends anywhere in the country, and certainly in the south.
The football homecoming game at Ole Miss is legendary. It's the busiest weekend of the year in Oxford, and the tailgating is every bit as great as the game. For college football fans, this is your mecca and it should not be missed. Book early, because by the time that weekend comes there will be nowhere to stay.
Now, on the other side of life in Oxford, it's that part of New Orleans that you've missed. You know when you turn on the TV and see all of those travel people in the French Quarter with no crowds? Forget about it. Come to Oxford's historic town square area and enjoy the peace that you can't get in the big easy.
Somewhere between Memphis and New Orleans is a whole world of music, food, architecture, and college sports that is a wonderland to explore. It would be an awful shame to miss out on it. There are a lot of places that people want to go to because they're big, bustling and sophisticated. Many people rush to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York to see the latest and the most chic. I say come and try out some tradition and real life atmosphere. Try out some grass roots music and some down home food. Meet some people who live their life here because they love it. Share someone's day instead of staring at things on display. The south is a wonderful one of a kind place, and it doesn't get any more original than along the blues highway, Route 61.