For those who love the music of the American South, Clarksdale is a place of pilgrimage.
Musical greats such as Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, and John Lee Hooker, among others, were all born here, in the land in which history seemingly walks hand in hand with the present. Muddy Waters lived and worked on the Stovall Farms plantation, some 20 miles to the south, and legend has it that, at the junction of Route 61 and Route 49, Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his extraordinary guitar-playing ability.
Paying tribute to its musical roots, Clarksdale puts on a varied program of events at its Sunflower Festival every August, and makes the ideal base from which to explore the rich legacy of blues heritage in the vicinity.
No trip to Clarksdale would be complete without a visit to the Delta Blues Museum, housed in an old station close to the railroad. At the Ground Zero blues club, a former warehouse that looks abandoned on the outside but springs to life on the inside, Eden Brent – one of the most talented blues singers in the region – is among the guests, having come to listen to one of the best blues duos around: James ‘Jimbo’ Mathus and Olga W. Munding.
Olga Wilhelmine Munding, originally from Austria, grew up in San Francisco and is now a permanent fixture off and on the stage, with Jimbo at her side. Together they have embarked on a musical quest to explore all aspects of the blues, old and new, but giving special attention to roots music in danger of extinction. The concert tonight at Ground Zero is vibrant, as Jimbo Mathus sweeps his hands up and down the neck of his guitar, and Olga passionately serenades the crowd with her distinctly deep voice.
Taking photos beside the stage, Bill Luckett, one of the club’s partners, explains during a quiet moment: “People like Guitar Mikey and Richard ‘Daddy Rich’ Crisman; or Fiona Boyes, the Australian from Portland; or the young Gina Sicilia from Philadelphia; or the Eric Hughes Band or shy Amy LaVere from Memphis... This is a land of great blues artists, and some of them come here sooner than later.”
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