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An Old-Fashioned Political Rally in Slayden, Mississippi
An Old-Fashioned Political Rally in Slayden, Mississippi

An Old-Fashioned Political Rally in Slayden, Mississippi

Political rallies used to be a ubiquitous feature of late summer in Southern counties, and the old tradition continues in rural counties like Marshall County, Mississippi. Hill Country bluesman Duwayne Burnside got called to bring his band to a rally in the northern part of the county near Slayden, Mississippi, just a few miles south of the Tennessee state line, and although bluesman Robert Kimbrough was having a commemoration of the late Junior Kimbrough’s birthday further south near Chulahoma, several hundred people turned out to an old softball field near a nightclub.

The nightclub in question, usually called Club Emotions, has been through several names. When I first visited it with Memphis rapper Al Kapone back in the 1990s, it was called the Brick House, and was surrounded by cottonfields in my memory. The occasion then had been a going-away party for Memphis radio personality Andre “Cash” Money. The road leading to it is still called Brick House Drive, but the building proclaims it “Club Unk” while others call it “Elmo’s” or “Club Emotions.” But the rally took place on the large open fields between the club and a nearby house, which I instantly recognized as a former ball field. Some of the older men present confirmed that it had indeed been a softball field and had been the site of fife and drum picnics long ago.

Our band was set up on a flat-bed trailer, while people set up tents to distribute food, and WKRA radio from Holly Springs set up a tent to broadcast. Despite the oppressive heat, several hundred people ended up gathering, probably lured by the free food and live music, although many in the crowd listened attentively to speeches by the incumbent Marshall County Sheriff Kenny Dickerson, District 2 supervisor candidate Johnny Walker and others. Much of the discussion was on the suburban growth in the county spilling over from Olive Branch in DeSoto County, and the need for a new high school in the northern part of the county to accommodate the growing number of students that will result from new housing developments.

As for the food, it was incredible, with plenty of catfish, ribs, freshly-baked brownies and cookies, and plenty of cold drinks. Some of the attendees had brought their own beer, and a number of young people had come up in jeeps, four-wheelers and slingshots. The atmosphere ended up being more of a festival than a political rally, and everybody had a good time, with the grassy space near the trailer where Duwayne Burnside played eventually full of dancers. When the rally broke up at 8 PM, the crowd seemed reluctant to leave, but Burnside had to head to a second performance at the Junior Kimbrough event at Faulkner Park.

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