Sitting on a curb in Downtown Clarksdale, I told my friends, “I could sit here all day.” The mellifluous baritone voice of Pittsboro native Andrew Bryant gets me every time.
My friends were standing next to me as we listened to Andrew and Kell Kellum on steel guitar entertain a constantly growing audience outside Lambfish Art Gallery during the annual Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale.
It was a magical afternoon for the three of us as we walked the streets of Clarksdale enjoying a wide variety of music and a plethora of unexpected friends.
The day began as our sixth annual expedition down the Mississippi Tamale Trail, but the smooth, soulful sounds on the streets of Clarksdale topped any tamales consumed.
We opened the annual adventure at Lamar Lounge in Oxford where a burger, cold beer and a dozen tamales filled our bellies for the ride to Clarksdale.
As soon as we stepped out of the car in Clarksdale we were quickly overwhelmed with the unique rhythm of a guitar singing the Blues. We hadn’t made it a block when I bumped into Bruce native Butch Ruth, snapping pictures by the dozen with one of his antique cameras. We don’t bump into each other often, so twice in less than a week due to the Jesse Yancy Library celebration last weekend, was something to be thankful for.
We continued to make our way toward Ground Zero Blues Club, the Morgan Freeman owned establishment where we’ve enjoyed tamales, both traditional and of the fried variety (of which I’m not a fan), too many times to count. There I found Ty Allushuski and his girlfriend Marianna. Ty has worked for me at The Calhoun County Journal the past few high school football seasons. They had arrived earlier in the morning and had a head start on us at soaking up the musical heritage of the Mississippi Delta.
We made our way to 3rd Street where Andrew had begun his set. I own every recording Andrew has ever done, whether with Water Liars or his solo albums. His voice is among my favorites and I could see from the quick assembling audience in the street I wasn’t alone. When he started playing “Fool, Fool, Heart,” my wife’s favorite song of his, I thought we might spend the night right there.
We eventually walked around to Wade’s Barber Shop where Bruce’s Leo “Bud” Welch was stepping on to the outdoor stage. I visited with Bud, whose voice wasn’t at its best this day and I didn’t have any bourbon, his preferred prescription, to help him through it. I always enjoy visiting with his drummer Dixie Street, and manager Vencie Varnado.
About that time, Calhoun City native Stephen Farmer, of Greenwood, walked up to me and said, “I know you.” After visiting a bit he urged us to go see “Kingfish” playing on a nearby stage. “You haven’t heard guitar like this,” Stephen said. He was right.
I walked to the front of the stage to get a good look at his playing style when 16-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram pulled the guitar to his mouth and began playing with his teeth.
He reminded me of guitar great Robert Cray, so effortless in how he made his guitar scream beautifully. Just as we had settled in, Kingfish walked off the stage, still playing guitar, and broke into his version of the national anthem in a Jimmy Hendrix-esque style standing in the middle of a massive audience. I was blown away.
Eventually, we made our way to Eugene Hick’s Hot Tamales where Mr. Eugene himself served us up a delicious dozen. His are among the sweeter tamales you will taste and based on pictures on the wall, were favorites of Pres. Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy Jr.
We traveled down Hwy. 1 to the White Front Cafe in Rosedale where the always charming Mrs. Barbara Pope served up another satisfying plate full right off the stove top. I’ve been coming to the White Front Cafe for years and years and Mrs. Barbara always greets you with a smile.
We cruised to Scott’s in Greenville where we devoured the tastiest tamales of the day sitting on the tailgate. This is the stop where we typically spread the tamales across the hood of the vehicle and dig in. On this day, we all grabbed a seat on the tailgate, popped open another cold beer and enjoyed every last morsel.
From there it was on to Doe’s for their famous dozen and the finest steak anywhere. By this time we were stuffed to the gills, but managed to close the adventure at The Crystal Grill in Greenwood with one of their famous pieces of pie with mile-high meringue.
As we pulled into Bruce underneath a starry sky, we all agreed the 7th annual Tamale Trail adventure will line up with the Juke Joint Festival again. Good tunes, good tamales, how could you ever go wrong with that?