Cynthia and I [Cynthia and Joe Speetjens] will be hosting the MOGSouth meet on Halloween weekend this fall, and we decided a blues-themed event was the way to go. After all, Mississippi is the home of the blues!
It’s our plan to make the most of a week-end that will include an evening of incredible blues music at Ground Zero, the #3 jazz/blues venue in the United States (after Preservation Hall in New Orleans and Café Carlyle in New York), the only Grammy Museum outside of Los Angeles, and the remarkable B.B. King Museum in B.B.’s hometown, Indianola.
Please note that we’re just getting started with the plans, and in this day and time, who knows what we’ll be able to do, if anything, in October. But, if we’re all free to travel, we think everybody will have a great time.
We’ve done some reconnaissance work recently, and our plans are shaping up really well, so we thought we would share with ya’ll where we are so far. Let me emphasize ‘so far.’ I think we’re all aware that everything can change in a minute these days. The plans are still very tentative, but here’s what we have in mind:
Friday October 30, 2020 Arrival
- At this point in time the Fall Meet will be Headquartered in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
- Clarksdale, Mississippi is in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. It’s about an hour southwest of Memphis, and about two and a half hours north of Jackson. The end of the cotton era left Clarksdale without much industry except the blues, and so it became a world-renown blues venue. The Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale every spring brings in thousands of blues fans from all over the world, not to mention some true music legends just hanging out in the audience.
- Accommodations in Clarksdale are “unique.” There are two locations we think everyone would enjoy, and they are walking distance apart, maybe a quarter mile at most.
- The first is actually Ground Zero itself. There are about 8 rooms that can be rented above the club, and all of them are very large. Several of them have two bedrooms if that works for anyone. The largest one is the Morgan Freeman room, and we plan to stage the hospitality room there. (Morgan Freeman is one of the owners of Ground Zero; he just shows up now and then, but no way to tell.) All the rooms have high ceilings and hardwood floors. Each room also has a kitchenette, so entertaining is presumed. It’s not the Hampton Inn experience, for sure.
- The second venue is The Travelers Hotel, a truly interesting, relatively new boutique hotel in a building that originally housed the railroad workers when they stopped for the night at Clarksdale.
- Both Ground Zero and The Travelers Hotel have great websites, so I encourage you to take a look.
- We don’t have much reliable information on the rates yet, since nobody was home in Clarksdale or anywhere else yesterday when we drove up, but we’ll get that to you soon.
Friday Evening, October 30, 2020
- If you haven’t experienced the joy of a great blues club, Ground Zero is a bucket-list must. It’s bar club food – good burgers and other sandwiches, so you can eat there or on your own elsewhere in Clarksdale. My advice would be to get to Ground Zero, get a good seat, and order a burger and a drink. You’ll see and hear the greatest blues musicians that Mississippi and the south in general have to offer, and, let’s face it, in the blues world, we have the best.
- When you’ve had all the blues you want, it’s a very short walk back to The Travelers, and even shorter if you’re just going upstairs over the club.
- (The music stops at midnight – I imagine that’s something to consider.) We can’t identify the entertainment for Friday night yet; we’ll let you know as soon as we can.)
Saturday, October 31, 2020
- There are several breakfast spots within walking distance that you will enjoy, or it’s a 5- minute drive to Grandma’s Pancake House, a beloved local haunt. But, plan to be on the road by 9:00 a.m., because the schedule takes us down Highway 61, the road where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil and Bob Dylan revisited, to Indianola, Mississippi, home of Riley B. (“B.B.”) King.
- It’s about 60 miles to Indianola from Clarksdale, and you’ll get the feel of the Delta on the drive. It’s flat as a plate for as far as the eyes can see – just like you thought it would be.
- Then we will stop at the B.B. King Museum.
- It’s an excellent museum, and you’ll want to spend maybe an hour and half there.
- We are working on arrangements to have lunch served in the museum itself. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have our own blues man play for us during the lunch hour, but we’re not at all sure about that yet.
- After lunch, we’ll be heading back up Highway 61 to Cleveland, Mississippi, home of the Grammy Museum. Cleveland is also the home of Delta State University. Delta State has always taken advantage of the blues culture, and its music department is renown. Mississippi played its blues card right, and Cleveland came up first in the competition for a second Grammy museum in America. You’ll love it.
- After that, we’ll head back to Clarksdale. On the way, there are two tiny little towns, Merigold and Mound Bayou, that have become famous for their unique pottery. McCarty Pottery in Merigold was opened by Lee and Pup McCarty in the 1950’s, and they created a style of pottery all their own that truly took off. After they died, the new owners maintained that business, but the McCarty’s long-time employee, Peter (last-name-unknown) started his own place about 5 miles up the road. His wares are just as wonderful, but a little bit different.
- Both businesses ship all over the world, so if you have any interest in that, it’s a 5-minute detour off of Highway 61 to visit either of them.
- Assuming that we had left Indianola around 1:00 after lunch, toured the Grammy Museum and took a little time to look at pottery, our arrival time at Clarksdale should be about 5:00, and everyone can retire to the Morgan Freeman room for a drink, or just take a little breather before dinner.
Saturday Evening, October 31, 2020
- The ‘banquet’ Saturday night will be a barbecue buffet at Hooker’s, located directly next door to The Travelers Hotel.
- Hookers has great food, and it’s known for their t-shirts that bear quotes from Mississippi authors. (“In order to understand the world, you must first understand Mississippi” – Faulkner; or “I think some of us are disturbed” – Tennessee Williams.)
- After dinner, if you still have the energy and the spirit, you can put on your Halloween costume and head back to Ground Zero to hear bluesman Stan Street at the Halloween party, or just check out several other great blues clubs in about a 5-block area.
Sunday, November 1, 2020
- Many of you may want to head back home, but if you’re not ready to give up the Mississippi experience, you can follow us heading east on Highway 6 to Oxford, home of Ole Miss, for about 60 miles. Oxford is a beautiful place, and those who enjoy Mississippi writers may want to check out William Faulkner’s home. Square Books in Oxford is, no question, the best independent bookstore in America, bar none. There are many, many really interesting places to have lunch in Oxford, too.
- And, if you’re still in the mood, Tupelo is only about an hour east of Oxford. You really shouldn’t go to Mississippi and not see Elvis Presley’s birthplace. The Elvis Presley museum in Tupelo is a great experience as well, and as a side note, you will want to see several truly wonderful bronze sculptures of Elvis on the museum property created by my cousin, Michiel Von der Sommen, originally from the Netherlands but now living in North Carolina, who was commissioned to create them.
- Or, some of you may want to head up to Memphis either before or after the Oxford / Tupelo side-trips, and if you do, it goes without saying that Graceland is a must.
- We will arrange for security for the cars in a lot directly across the street from the Travelers Hotel. It is very well-lit anyway, and almost every room in the hotel overlooks the parking lot. We’ll make sure that the security of your Morgan won’t be an issue.
- We really think this will be a truly enjoyable event; just to get you in the mood, Cynthia has compiled a playlist of a number of her blues favorites that you can play while you’re stuck in the house. [Note: to listen to the play list, requires a Spotify account. You can sign up for free if you wish. ]
- Here’s the link: Cynthia’s Blues Play List
So, in the immortal words of Muddy Waters, ‘get your mojo working,’ and plan on being with us for Halloween, 2020!
[Details will be forthcoming as the logistics gets worked. There are lots of moving pieces, not to mention the virus restrictions. Just getting folks to answer the phone is almost impossible. They just aren’t there yet, but when the clouds part and the sun comes out, things will get nailed down and rest assured we will post them for you. See you in Mississippi!! Cheers, Mark]