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It ain’t just about the music

Cathead Delta Blues & Folk Art in Clarksdale is a staple for visitors traveling through the Delta.

Cathead Delta Blues & Folk Art in Clarksdale is a staple for visitors traveling through the Delta.

Delta getaway includes great music, food, people and attractions

Sometimes people don’t appreciate what is in their own backyard. A case in point might be a blues getaway to the Mississippi Delta. While many people in the state might not know how many great blues attractions there are in the Delta, it is no secret to people in Europe and Australia. An estimated 25 to 30 percent of visitors to blues venues in the Delta come from foreign countries.

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) has partnerships with local communities to promote blues attractions in Clarksdale, Indianola, Greenwood, Leland and other Delta towns.

Mary Beth Wilkerson, director of tourism for MDA, says stops along the 100 Mississippi Blues Trail markers are a natural part of any blues getaway vacation. More information about those markers can be found at www.msbluestrail.org.

“The blues markers help us to tell the whole Mississippi story by using our music heritage to open the door,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said a fun blues getaway in the Mississippi Delta begins with immersing oneself in the rich culture of the area — the places, the people, the music and the food.

During a visit to the Mississippi Delta, a must see in Indianola, the home of B.B. King, and the new B. B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.

“The B.B. King Museum includes thousands of rare artifacts, award-winning films, computer interactives and a story that is unforgettable,” said Lora Bingham, membership and development coordinator for the museum. “Indianola also offers many wonderful restaurants that are sure to fit any appetite. George’s Lounge and Betty’s Place serve traditional soul food that is unlike any other. The Crown and Nola also offer delicious contemporary southern cuisine. One of our newest restaurants, The Lost Pizza, serves up great pizza in a family-friendly atmosphere.”

She also recommends Indianola’s charming downtown for great shopping and a new art gallery, The House of Khafre. Also, a shopping trip in Indianola is incomplete without a stop by the Indianola Pecan House on U.S. 82.

“And, of course, blues is in the air here in Indianola,” Bingham said. “Tourists can enjoy live music at one of our blues clubs — the historic Club Ebony, The Gin Mill, 308 Blues Club and The Blue Biscuit. Blues enthusiasts will also want to check out our three Mississippi Blues Trail markers in Indianola. Two are located in Indianola on Church Street and at Club Ebony, and the third is located only a few miles away in the community of Holly Ridge at Charlie Patton’s gravesite.”

It’s impossible to really experience the Mississippi Delta and all that it has to offer in one or two days.

“We encourage our visitors to spend several days visiting all of the communities in the Delta,’ Bingham said.

Interest in blues tourism has existed for quite some time in the Mississippi Delta, but most of it was from outside blues fans and musicians visiting or moving here, said Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folks Art, Clarksdale.

“That said, the past few years have seen tremendous growth in interest and investment by both outside and native individuals and entities,” Stolle said. “The State of Mississippi finally began to seriously recognize blues music, history and culture as a revenue-generating tourism draw around the time of the so-called ‘Year of the Blues’ in 2003.”

Stolle said after forming the Mississippi Blues Commission and initiating what has become a wonderful Blues Trail, interest from the business community within the state seemed to stand up and take notice. In addition, with the announcement and ultimate opening of the B.B. King Museum, Delta towns like Indianola who hadn’t previously done much to overtly support blues tourism started to put more time and energy into it.

Roger Stolle is owner of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folks Art in Clarksdale.

Roger Stolle is owner of Cat Head Delta Blues & Folks Art in Clarksdale.

“In Clarksdale, the historic downtown has had a bit of a head start, of course, when it comes to blues tourism,” he said. “Within the last decade or so, it has been a sometimes slow, but always steady climb with the Delta Blues Museum expanding into its current location in 1999, Ground Zero Blues Club opening in 2001, Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art opening in 2002, Juke Joint Festival starting in 2003, Hambone Gallery opening in 2004, Rock & Blues Museum opening in 2006, Clarksdale Revitalization starting in 2008 or 2009 and so on.

“Currently, there is live blues music in Clarksdale most Tuesday through Sunday nights with at least three venues running on most weekends. That’s an amazing amount of live music for a town of less than 20,000, and it exists only because blues tourism exists. There are also several building renovations going on in downtown Clarksdale, and blues fans and investors continue to talk about possible future blues-related businesses, even in this tough economy.”

In Clarksdale, the Juke Joint Festival (www.jukejointfestival.com) has grown from a few hundred attendees in 2003 to over 3,500 in 2010 — including visitors from at least 43 U.S. states, 17 foreign countries and a majority of Mississippi counties.

“Even as I speak, new blues-related businesses, clubs, festivals and museums are either in the planning stages, working on expansion or recently opened — both in Clarksdale and the rest of the Delta,” Stolle said.

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