Wednesday, December 30, 2009

sunday morning coming down

We drove to the Delta on Sunday morning to celebrate the marriage of two dear friends, Hunter & Shara. The gathering was in an old farm house near Schlater, Miss., and right in the middle of my stomping grounds as a teenager. Growing up in Greenwood, it was more than common to find yourself "around the world:" a trail of dirt roads and two-lane highways that takes you through three counties and many forgotten communities.

One forgotten community is on a small dirt turn-row known as "Snake 88." Snake 88 is my favorite backroad in the Delta, and when I interned at the Greenwood Commonwealth in 2006, I often found myself on this road at sunset. An abandoned one-room church sits snugly among unkempt graves and overgrown oaks. Late one afternoon in the summer of 2006, I drove by the church to find the front door wide open. I stopped, peaked my head in (nervously), and closed the door. A month later, a similar scenario unfolded and upon closing the door, I noticed the sanctuary had been scavenged and vandalized. The pulpit was turned over and the two recliners that once stood at the front of the church were gone. It broke my heart.

Ironically, on this most recent trip down Snake 88, I found this piece of an old electric organ sitting next to a tree about 500 yards from the church. I'm not sure if it washed out or carried out, but I decided to keep it. Maybe this isn't the most ethical decision I've ever made, but if I were to return it to my beloved abandoned church, what would its future be? Today, I'm going to hang the keyboard on a wall in my home. It serves as a reminder of my former home, the Mississippi Delta, and the many sacred spaces across our state that have been forgotten, dozed over and desecrated.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tax Time

Robert Washington on the Square in Lexington, Miss. 1 February 2009.

I spent the better part of 2008 working on contract as a freelance writer, so I'm not very excited about filing my taxes this year.  That being said, running into Robert Washington in front of the Holmes County courthouse is just about the only way to make me smile when it comes to filling out a W-2.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

festival workshops, inspiring venues

The MAC partnered with the tourism department of the Mississippi Development Authority to host the annual Festival & Event Workshops.  We were pleased to have nearly 150 participants between the workshop's two locations: the Mississippi Crafts Center in Ridgeland and the B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola.  

Festival Workshop at B.B. King Museum
(This space is the actual cotton gin where Riley "B.B." King once worked.)
Folks around the state are already working hard to plan festivals, and with the downward economy its harder than ever to find sponsors.  But the spirit to bring the community together and offer entertaining and memorable events for the hometown team is still in tact, and I hope everyone will get out and sponsor their local/regional festival this spring and summer.  Even if you can't give monetarily, please try to give your time or talent.  

I met some fantastic people from around the state during the workshops, but one of the folks I was most excited to run into was my dear childhood friend Jack McWilliams.  He is now the sound tech man at the B.B. King Museum, but you can also catch him playing percussion with the Delta jam band Electric Mudd

Native Plants+Draft Beer+Hip Quits=Hub City

I passed through the Hub City, Hattiesburg, for the evening and had a chance to catch up with some old friends, and even make one new friend.  I spent the night at my buddy Knox's house, a 9-acre habitat for native plants, trees and shrubs.  Much like his parents, Knox is a naturalist and practices good habits of holistic medicine, gardening and cooking.  Although his place is a rental, the looks of the landscaping and love he's put into the grounds is quite impressive.  We started the evening with some cold beer (and gravy cheese fries) at the End Zone, a staple in Golden Eagle night life. 

The next day, we met up with our good friends Beau & Jennifer, who've made a home in Hattiesburg for the past decade or so.  They married a few years back, and like Knox, have put a lot of soul into their landscaping.  Jennifer is an accomplished French teacher who will leave soon to finish her graduate studies in France.  Beau is a true Renaissance man with a knack for nurturing seedlings of all sorts.  He started this oak tree from a seedling nearly five years ago.  

Beau, Jennifer & Gypsy

Jennifer's good friend, Chatham, is an artist, teacher and curator of the Lucile Parker Gallery at William Carey University in Hattiesburg. We met the night before and hit it off instantly. Among the many, many exciting art projects in her life, she is currently exhibiting the work of Piney Woods quilter/fiber artist Martha Ginn.  Although some of Ms. Ginn's quilts exemplify traditional patterns and technique, the majority of her work is contemporary and bold.  Her color schemes are often bright, at times funky, and always refreshing.  Some of her quilts are narrative, others introspective. She'll be showing at the MAC gallery this spring.  

Chatham and her family of artists (literally she, her mother and father) will be exhibiting a "family show" at the Gore Gallery at Mississippi College in Clinton.  Their gallery opening is this Sunday at 2 p.m. 

Bluegrass-Gospel in the Piney Woods

I checked out of the Uptown Motor Inn and headed south on I-55 toward the Piney Woods region of the state.  My destination was the Magnolia State Bluegrass Association (MSBA) Winter Show. I was warmly greeted by Bertie Sullivan, MSBA president and nominee for bluegrass promotor of the year, at the Columbia Ag Expo Center.  Folks started arriving in Columbia days before, parking their RVs and setting up camp for a weekend of old-timey bluegrass and gospel.  Between MSBA meetings and more formal performances, pickers of all experience levels gather casually to play.  

Among the groups performing that Saturday (Jan. 24), were the Larry Wallace Band, Shallow Creek and the Mississippi Bluegrass All-Stars (Bertie's hand-picked selection of players). One of the state's most acclaimed old-timey fiddlers, Fiddlin' Bill Rogers performed with several groups, including the All-Stars.  He is a kind man who has served as a Master Instructor to many young folks across Mississippi as part of the MAC's apprenticeship program.  When Bill introduced himself, he was dressed comfortably in a baseball cap and jeans.  The next time I saw him, he was sharply decked in coat and tie, and burning the bow to the traditional tune"Roly Poley."  

(Please note: I have a new camera and shot this video holding the it vertically.  However, the video will only play horizontally.  Sorry for the neck ache, but its worth a watch!)

The bluegrass community in Mississippi is larger than I realized, with many groups playing both secular and religious songs.  String instruments ranging from stand-up bass, mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and banjo are played in almost every group.  Because Mississippi's bluegrass community gathers so often, audience members are devoted and know much about the groups performing, including set lists, family ties and work life. 

Folks were especially excited to hear Shallow Creek, a bluegrass-gospel group out of Picayune. From what I understand, a group of three brothers make up the core of the band.  The brothers are all registered nurses who specialize in emergency room care.  The audience was truly taken with Shallow Creek.  Many sung along and swayed in their camping chairs.  The mood felt much like an unofficial worship service, and in many ways it was. 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hot Tunes, Cold Winds in Clarksdale

I met up with my friend Randy, proprietor of the world-famous Ajax Diner in Oxford, on Jan. 23 for a night of revelry in Clarksdale.  We started the evening at the Uptown Motor Inn on 2nd Street. Clean, $50/night, and walking distance to Ground Zero, the Uptown Motor Inn is a great option for an overnight stay in Coahoma County.  Our friend Cleta joined us for dinner at Madidi, followed by the Oxford American Music Issue release party at Ground Zero.  We missed bluesman R.L. Boyce and Wiley & the Checkmates (their 2008 release, "We Call It Soul," is a hip shaking album perfect for late night dance parties), but we arrived just in time for Dale Hawkins, originator of "Susie Q"... baby I love you.... 

Later, we walked over to Red's, one of my favorite juke joints in Mississippi, to hear the dear "taildragger" T-Model Ford and his grandson (?), Stud, play a few tunes.

I'm not sure how old Stud is, but I'm guessing he is still in the single digits.  He keeps a good beat, but doesn't seem too interested in the crowd.  He watched infomercials on a television near the bar throughout the set. The kid is super-cute, and must be kind hearted and patient to play all these late-night gigs with a man eight-times his senior. T-Model seems to be doing well, although he is more frail each time I get to see him play.  

Our walk home that night to the Uptown Motor Inn was not near as pleasant as our early evening stroll through town.  The wind picked up and the sleet came down in icy sheets.  We stopped back by Ground Zero where the staff was closing shop, and a kind young man gave us a lift back to the hotel.  

This view of the Greyhound Bus station in Clarksdale is one I won't soon forget. 


welcome friends!

Living Mississippi is a blog devoted to the ordinary and extraordinary adventures of my return to the Magnolia State.  After a brief appearance in Nashville, I'm at home in the land of hospitality where I'm lucky to be employed by the Mississippi Arts Commission.  My new job as Heritage Programs Director bestows me with the opportunity to travel the state in search of living cultural treasures:   Musicians. Artists. Cooks. Gardeners. Craftsmen. Creatives of all sorts.  

Check out the Mississippi Folklife and Folk Art Directory, a quite cool and very accessible online archive of the people, places and artistic traditions of Mississippi.