Diggin’ the Mississippi Blues …

Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi

I’ll keep this post short, because it’s almost 1:00 a.m. and I just checked into my hotel room for the night. I stayed at the Ground Zero Blues Club until 11:00 p.m., a well worth it experience to dig the Mississippi Delta Blues. The club’s audience was an ecletic mix of tourists and locals, as a few very well-dressed black men with impeccable suits came in … and were clearly revered by those in the know. One of them even got up to sing a few songs, which was a highlight of the night.

But Ground Zero was launched to showcase new talent in the Delta Country, and tonight I met a 17-year-old black kid (who looked 12!) called Omar. The boy can play a mean electric guitar, and he knows it. After one of his acts, I came up to congratulate Omar … and he asked me for a tip. I laughed, but he was serious. He asked again, so I gave him $5. A few regulars told me he’s been coming in to perform for years, and they’ve seen him come into himself over time. The show was technically an open mike, but despite the temptation I opted not to sign up. I didn’t come to Mississippi to play; I came to hear the blues, and these folks are out of my league.

The two-hour drive to Memphis was tough, as night had fallen … and I experienced one of the South’s legendary thunderstorms. Growing up in Chicago, I always had those in the summer … but apparently, it happens all year round down here. I had Memphis native Aretha Franklin keep me company in the car, but when her CD ran out I put in Robert Johnson … the 1930’s blues legend who sold his soul to the devil to play the guitar. As I drove through the dark roads of the Mississippi Delta, Johnson’s voice was an ominous reminder of what part of the country I was going through … a place steeped in history.

Tomorrow, I wake up around 8:00 a.m. … and have tickets to visit Elvis Presley’s nearby Graceland at 10. I have to return the rental car at the airport by 12, and my airplane leaves at 2:30. I’m very close to the end of my wonderful two-week vacation. I wish I could stay a day longer, so I can actually visit Memphis … such as Beale Street, or the Civil Rights Museum. But I won’t see anything besides Graceland, as I head home and back to reality. I can’t say this trip has given me some notable spiritual enlightenment, but it has allowed me to relax, explore and think about what lies ahead … it’s important to do that every once in a while. We need to stop and smell the roses.

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