Are You Up For Brunch? Shreveport Is!

Shreveport has traditionally been a great town for breakfast, which happens to be my favorite meal of the day. I had many a memorable morning at legendary spots like Murrell’s, George’s and Joe’s, but time has not been kind to the city, and most of the unique local breakfast places, like many other Shreveport restaurants, are no more. (Strawn’s Eat Place is an exception to that rule, and more on it will be forthcoming). But, not to worry, Shreveport has gained some new breakfast places to fill the void, of which the new Up For Brunch is the most intriguing.

The West End of Shreveport along Texas, Avenue, once the center of Black entrepreneurship, has been rendered an apocalyptic wasteland by the the construction of Interstates 20 & 49 and years of abandonment and neglect. But in the midst of this drab and dreary view, Up For Brunch exudes a sunny, upbeat and positive image that is both infectious and contagious. Bright whites, yellows, golds and oranges characterize the outside and inside decor, along with plenty of glass and chrome. Even on a dreary day, which this was, the inside was cheerful. Of equal interest was the outdoor deck and seating, which on a warm and sunny day would be quite welcome. Through a peculiarity of the building design, it seems to be on the second level, even though it is even with the ground floor that one walks into from the street side. It overlooks I-20, which is not exactly a romantic site, but I imagine that if one looks to the northeast, the city skyline is visible.

Up for Brunch has a fairly diverse menu, centered around waffles. There is of course chicken and waffles, biscuit waffles, mini cornbread waffles, pancakes, omelettes, skillets and a breakfast roll (which sounds something like a burrito). There are also lunch-type items like shrimp and grits and cajun catfish and grits. Coffee was great and the service was quite attentive.

Like all new brunch places, prices were not cheap. This is not a hole-in-the-wall diner, but a more upscale breakfast experience, but unlike IHOP, Denny’s or Waffle House, they have mimosas. Also, I would imagine that the place gets quite crowded at times, although we visited on a Monday and had no wait for a table or for food. Hours are a bit limited, and they close at 2 on the days they are open, so check the website before venturing there.

Up For Brunch

1520 Texas Avenue

Shreveport, LA 71103

(318) 703-2884

Exceptional Food and Value at Gibbons Fine Grill in Shreveport

It’s got to be difficult to run a restaurant in Louisiana. No state in the union is more known for cuisine, and of course New Orleans is one of the country’s best food destinations. It is even more difficult to run a restaurant in Louisiana if you are elsewhere in the state than New Orleans, but Shreveport, which for many years was the state’s second largest city, has a long history of culinary excellence, even if many of its storied restaurants are gone.

Gibbons Fine Grill is a relative newcomer as Shreveport restaurants go, but it revives the great food and reasonable prices of legendary predecessors like Smith’s Cross Lake Inn. Although it does not have the latter’s lake view, it does have an elegant and swank sophistication inside which exudes comfort and luxury. A whole wall is covered with bottles of wine available as an accompaniment for dinner, and the menu is full of the kinds of steak and seafood offerings you would expect from such a fine restaurant. But the prices are no more expensive than mid-priced chains such as Longhorn or Outback, and, unsurprisingly, even on a Sunday evening, the place was packed to overflowing.

We did not try the steaks, although we saw some and they looked great. Rather, we both tried the ruby red trout scampi style, which had the fish topped with shrimp scampi in a white wine butter sauce. It came with a choice of side, which in my case was a baked potato loaded with cheese, butter and bacon. As a finale, we split a piece of key lime pie, and our total bill was less than $50.

Any restaurant deserves notice for excellent food, but when that excellent food is also at an amazingly-low price, they should be given extra acclaim. Gibbons Fine Grill satisfies, and without pain to your pocketbook.

Gibbons Fine Grill

1714 E. 70th St

Shreveport, LA 71105

(318) 848-7071

Blues at Nightfall: How Dr. David Evans and High Water Records Tried to Secure A Future For The Blues

High Water Records was founded in 1980 by Dean Richard Ranta and Dr. David Evans, an eminent folklorist who was brought to what was then Memphis State University in 1978 to head up a graduate degree program in Musicology (Regional Studies). At that time, it was quite unusual for colleges to have their own record labels, and High Water received a fair amount of notice. Conceived as a way to connect the recording studio curriculum with the ethnomusicology program, High Water involved both professionals and students, both in the recording and production process, and in the field research and artist and repertoire process. Intended to record practitioners of the traditional music of the South, High Water Records managed to record artists who later became immensely famous, including Junior Kimbrough, R. L. Burnside and Jessie Mae Hemphill. In 1989 High Water expanded its range of coverage internationally, as Dr. Evans made field recordings in Venezuela and later in Ethiopia and MalaƔi. The label and its catalog still exist, providing opportunities for University of Memphis music business students to learn the day to day operations of a record label.

The Blues at Nightfall exhibit in honor of High Water Records opened on April 1, 2023, with an elegant reception attended by about a hundred people, including Kip Lornell and photographer/researcher Dr. Cheryl Thurber. Dr. David Evans, the label’s founder was honored with a special festschrift edition of the Tennessee Folklife Quarterly. Also opening was Bill Ellis’ blues art exhibit A Heaven of Our Own which complemented the label exhibit perfectly, and which included works by Frank D. Robinson and George Hunt. The exhibits continue through June 24.

Moscow Nights: Scenes From A Rural Juke in West Tennessee

The Delta Review has given a thorough description of Saine’s Blues Club on a couple of previous occasions. The remote juke joint north of Moscow in Fayette County, Tennessee is a throwback to the kinds of places where Black people routinely partied in rural areas prior to the rise of radio, television and urban development. A handful of these places still exist, but most of them have shifted to DJ entertainment strictly. Saine’s, with a live band every Saturday night is an exception in that regard. In a county where life has never been easy for African-Americans, people party and play as hard as they work.

Further On Up The Road: Celebrating the Legacy of Bobby “Blue” Bland in Barretville

On January 27, 1930, Robert Bland was born in rural Shelby County, Tennessee. Most biographies place the birth at Rosemark, which is barely a wide spot in the road between Millington and Arlington, although Rosemark at one time had several churches, a gin, a telephone exchange and a public school. But Rosemark also had a twin city of sorts, a village called Barretville, which consisted of the Barret homestead, several other houses for employees and family, a bank, a gin and a general store. The community has had a long and separate identity from Rosemark, and the Barret name still carries considerable political and economic weight in the area. Since the general store closed some years ago, it has been through a couple of iterations, serving as the home of Long Road Cider Company, and now as Barretville General Store restaurant, which offers breakfasts, pizzas, burgers and baked goods. The store is said to be owned by a young faction within the Barret family who also a few years ago decided to create an annual festival celebrating Bobby “Blue” Bland, who may well have been born on Barret land.

Bobby “Blue” Bland Day 2022 was a bright, blue, coolish day that was still comfortable enough to enjoy a day of blues. Some descendants of the famous musician were present, and were given a special tent on the festival grounds. Along the wall of the store, all kinds of great things to eat were available for sale, as well as T-shirts and other festival merchandise.

A fair crowd of people gathered in front of the new outdoor stage to hear people like Dr. David Evans and Blind Mississippi Morris perform traditional blues, and the music was quite good, even if considerably different from Bland’s more urbane and sophisticated style.

Blues culture in Memphis and Shelby County is sadly neglected. Tennessee does not have a Blues Trail in the way that Mississippi does, and rural blues artists in particular are neglected. It is good to see the Barretville community and Barret family support a festival dedicated to celebrating and appreciated Bobby “Blue” Bland.

Coldwater: A Struggling Town Celebrates Its Legacy

The original town of Coldwater, Mississippi was founded in Tate County, Mississippi in 1872 along the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad, which ran from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi. Colonel Frank White of Como, Mississippi (for whom the Whitehaven neighborhood of Memphis was named) was president of the railroad and had some impact on where stations were located along its route. Although Senatobia was the county seat, the early town prospered, with a number of businesses and a hotel. In the 1920s, a local man named Hoyt Wooten founded the Wooten Radio Electric Company in Coldwater and successfully applied for one of the earliest radio broadcast licenses in the Mid-South. He asked for and received the call letters WREC, which represented the name of his company, and the fledgling station broadcast from the lobby of the Hotel Coldwater before it ultimately moved to the big city of Memphis.

But Coldwater’s prosperity would not last. During the 1930s, with massive unemployment coupled with unprecedented natural disasters, including drouths and dust storms in the midwest, and floods in the South, the government began massive public works projects, many of which were river dams to create large reservoirs. These would both prevent flooding and provide sources for lower cost electric power, and Mississippi, lagging behind in electricity and suffering from frequent flooding, was a priority spot for large man-make lakes. One of these, Arkabutla, was planned by the Corps of Engineers near Coldwater, and it soon became clear that the townsite would be flooded by the resulting lake. The town and its streets and buildings would have to be abandoned.

The United States government therefore built the current town of Coldwater several miles to the south of the previous town, hiring a city planner from Memphis to design it, using the latest principles of city planning. Aside from the immediate town center, which was a rectangular square, streets were curved and meandering like modern subdivisions. The highway through town, Highway 51, was four-laned and given service roads. A special area was set aside for business and industry. A peculiarity of New Coldwater was that the streets were laid and planned before anyone actually moved there. Many of the residents had their original houses and buildings pulled to the new townsite, which opened in 1942. Although the location was several miles closer to Senatobia, Coldwater still retained a high degree of separate identity from its larger neighbor to the South.

In the 1950s, Coldwater began to become famous in the music world, when Robert “Buster” Williams built Coldwater Indsutries Inc. which was actually a second record pressing plant for Plastic Products in Memphis. The pressing plant in Coldwater pressed records for Sun, Stax, Hi and a number of major labels as well, but closed in the 1970s after a unionizing effort and the closure of many of the company’s clients, including Stax Records. Music researchers also came through in the 1960s and 1970s, including folklorist Dr. David Evans who was attracted to the city’s Black gospel scene at that time.

In recent years, Coldwater has suffered from a loss of retail business to Senatobia and Hernando, and also the threatened loss of their high school, which the Tate County School District wants to split between predominantly-white high schools in Independence and Strayhorn, despite the fact that both are a half-hour drive from Coldwater and are in remote parts of the county. Residents of Coldwater have opposed the move, and are continuing to stand up for their town.

In October of 2022, the Coldwater Sesquicentennial was held, which people in the area informally called “Coldwater Day.” A crowd of several hundred people thronged the town square to hear performances from local gospel groups and blues and soul performers. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was a performance by Dre Walker and the Mississippi Boys, a popular soul band from Como. There were also a number of food trucks, and with election season so close, plenty of politicians campaigning for votes and lots of political signs everywhere.

Recently, there are signs that Coldwater may be finally starting to turn a corner, including the opening of Red’s Bar-B-Q and Blues, which is not only a good restaurant but also a live music venue, and the reopening of a long-vacant supermarket. Coldwater is also the new home of Sharde Thomas’ annual Goat Picnic, after they were forced to move from Otha Turner’s historic ground at Gravel Springs. We can wish Coldwater a prosperous next 150 years.

Whistling Past The Graveyard: Helena Celebrates Amidst the Ruins

The annual King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas is one of the United States’ major blues festivals. But time has not been kind to Helena, which due to a drastic loss of population merged with its neighbor West Helena to form a city with the unwieldy name of Helena-West Helena, because the residents of the two former towns could not agree on a shared name for the merged community. A former riverport, Helena in the early 1960s became dependent on factories, especially the large Mohawk Tire Company plant. When that closed in the late 1970s, the heart was ripped out of the city’s economic base. Population plummeted; crime increased. Buildings, especially along historic Cherry Street began to deteriorate. I had noticed this increasing deterioration on visits to Helena over the years. Things seemed far more desperate in 2017 during the King Biscuit Festival. Not only were there abandoned buildings around, but my car was broken into.

But nothing prepared me for the degree of desolation that I saw in 2022. Apparently, in part caused by a tornado, more buildings on Cherry Street have collapsed or become unstable. Businesses and restaurants I had seen in 2017 are now closed. Bailey Mae’s Coffee Bar, which had been such a nerve center for King Biscuit in previous years is closed, and so is Southbound Tavern, which has turned into something called Que & Brew. The buildings behind the Sonny Boy Williamson II historic marker are abandoned and in a shambles.

Amidst the bombed-out, apocalyptic landscape, a festival was going on, but the effect was somewhat surreal. Helena is practically a ghost town now, and West Helena is not that far behind the same end, and trying to have a party amidst all the ruin and devastation just seemed sort of like the proverbial whistling past the graveyard.

Most of the authentic blues at King Biscuit Blues Fest nowadays is relegated to the smaller, backstreet stages away from the main area. The one that featured Lady Trucker with her band and Garry Burnside was in the walls of an abandoned structure a block off of Cherry Street near an abandoned movie theatre. Hearing what sounded like a Hill Country guitarist nearby, I walked down a block and found Ms. Australia “Honeybee” Neal playing on another stage next door to the ruins of an abandoned motel, and I also ran into Clarksdale musician Sean “Bad” Apple there. Blind Mississippi Morris came up after Garry Burnside and performed a good set of traditional blues.

But Cherry Street was a shell of its former self too, with not even half as many vendors as were present in previous years, and smaller crowds, despite the beautiful and fairly warm weather. The wonderful Blues Corner record store at the end of the street has also closed, as its owner died during the COVID pandemic.

Helena is a Delta town, and Delta towns have not fared well anywhere, with the partial exception of Cleveland, where the presence of Delta State University has made a significant economic impact. But still, Helena has a fair number of historic buildings, and a storied past which includes blues and even rock and roll. Famous drummer Levon Helm who played with Bob Dylan and The Band was born in Helena. But the community seems to lack the leadership with vision that have guided Clarksdale, Mississippi into a renaissance. Around 1983, nobody would have thought that Clarksdale could bounce back, but it has happened, and there is no reason it could not happen for Helena too. But the way things seem to be going, there may soon not be a festival or even a town at all.