Charleston, MS: Gateway to the Delta

My homeboy Travis McFetridge, the owner of Great South Bay Music publishing firm, was down from New York City for an event sponsored by the Memphis chapter of The Recording Academy in Jackson, Mississippi, so we decided to drive down through the Delta on Wednesday June 11, and I decided to go backroads so that he would see a different Mississippi than that offered by I-55. Once we left the interstate, the first town we came to was Charleston, Mississippi, a town that I had been to only once before, and which is one of Tallahatchie County’s two county seats (the other is Sumner). Charleston has the traditional courthouse square that is typical of so many Mississippi towns, but what was more interesting was the painted mural honoring three legends from Tallahatchie County, actor Morgan Freeman, jazz musician Mose Allison and blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson. The town also has some interesting-looking clubs and jukes, which suggests it might be worthy of a deeper investigation on a future trip.

Phillip Carter and the Blues Underground at Ground Zero Blues Club (@GZBC) @VisitClarksdale #jukejointfest

Ground Zero Blues Club in some ways was the beginning of modern Clarksdale- the Clarksdale that has become a tourist destination instead of a dreary, dying Delta town. Who could have imagined that Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett’s modern reinvention of a classic juke joint would launch a civic renaissance, but that’s exactly what has happened. With its shimmering, brightly-colored lights, old posters, graffitied walls and comfort-food menu, Ground Zero is not to be missed, and worth the drive from Memphis even when there’s not a festival going on. Phillip Carter is a librarian at the Carnegie Library in Clarksdale when he’s not playing some of the best modern blues in the Delta. The hard part at Ground Zero is finding a table, but once I finally did, I sat enjoying my bacon cheeseburger and listening to Carter’s first-rate band, the Blues Underground. After an intermission, they brought a lot of visiting musicians up out of the crowd, as so many were in town for Juke Joint Festival.