At first glance, many people may see Clarksdale, Mississippi, and think it’s just another small, country town. Are they right? Absolutely. However, the town has a lot more to offer than you may think, and if you’re a true blues fan -- well you probably already know this.
Clarksdale, Mississippi, is the self-proclaimed birthplace of the blues and this isn’t just part of a marketing campaign. This small town in Mississippi was home to some of the best blues artists, from Son House and John Lee Hooker to Junior Parker, Ike Turner, Eddie Boyd, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, Earl Hooker, Lil Green, and Big Jack Johnson to name a few!
This blues-loving town truly embraces its heritage, honoring it with great historic attractions and soul-moving music festivities hosted throughout the year.
Hop on Highway 61 from Memphis and enjoy these five things all blues fans should do in Clarksdale!
1. Visit The Delta Blues Museum
The Delta Blues Museum is a great stop to make if you’re curious about why the Delta is known as the land where the blues began. The museum was established in 1979 by the Carnegie Public Library Board of Trustees. In 1999 the museum was reorganized as a stand-alone museum.
According to its website, “the Delta Blues Museum is the state’s oldest music museum.” The attraction sits in the historic Clarksdale freight depot, which was built in 1918. The building was appointed a Mississippi Landmark Property in 1996.
According to Roadtrippers, visitors will find many captivating artifacts, like old costumes and instruments, that help reveal the history of blues.
2. Experience The Crossroads
The Crossroads is a mythic Clarksdale intersection. An iconic Crossroads sign is situated at the intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 41, but some say the Crossroads is actually at the intersection of Highways 8 and 1 south of Rosedale. Others even insist the crossroads is on the Dockery Plantation.
Just what is the Crossroads? Well, legend has it that now-famous blues musician Robert Johnson, who was born and raised in Clarksdale, made a deal with the devil at the Crossroads.
On a page dedicated to the story of the Crossroads, Clarksdale.com says, “Robert disappeared for a season. ...He found himself at a dark and deserted crossroads around midnight where he was met by a strange man. The man tuned his guitar and played a few songs and returned it to Johnson.”
In 1932 Johnson returned to the stage with a brand new musical style. When he played for his blues buddies -- Son House and Willie Brown -- they were amazed at his improvement. Why the amazement? Well, Johnson was not a skillful guitarist prior to the strange encounter.
House said Robert “blew a harmonica and he was pretty good with that, but he wanted to play guitar.” As far as his guitar playing went? “Such a racket you never heard!” He recalled others saying “Get that guitar away from that boy!”
When Johnson reappeared, able to play the guitar -- amazingly well -- the legend about how he sold his soul to the devil at the Crossroads was born.
Johnson went on to write a few songs -- “Me and the Devil Blues” and “The Crossroads” -- that pay tribute to the legend.
Johnson’s death, much like the actual location of the Crossroads, remains shrouded in mystery.
3. Grab A Table At Ground Zero Blues Club
This blues club draws blues fans from near and far to partake in its festivities. Anyone in search of an authentic blues experience should give this place a visit. It was co-founded by Bill Luckett and the Academy Award-winning Morgan Freeman. Fun fact: Morgan Freeman is a Mississippi native.
Bill Luckett told The Washington Times, “We named the club for the fact, or because of the fact, that, for decades, Clarksdale has been referred to as ‘ground zero’ for blues music.”
Luckett and Freeman put a lot of thought behind the name for the club. It wasn’t given its name by coincidence.
“When we decided to open the club and call it Ground Zero Blues Club, I put the definition of ‘ground zero’ on the front door right out of Webster’s: ‘The point of beginning of something or where a nuclear explosion occurs. So we are the point of beginnings of blues music, which is America’s, in a way, gift to the world. Blues was the root music, and everything else is the fruit music, so to speak,” Luckett told The Washington Times.
Ground Zero opened its doors in 2001 and is now the host of Clarksdale’s annual Juke Joint Festival. It was also named one of the top 100 bars and nightclubs in America.
4. Attend Blues Festivals
With names like the birthplace of the blues, ground zero for blues, and the land where the blues began, it’s only right that Clarksdale has some amazing annual blues festivals to back up its names.
Clarksdale is home to some of the best blues festivals in the nation. Some of the most noteworthy are the Sunflower River and Blues and Gospel Festival, the Juke Joint Festival , and the Deep Blues Fest. If you want to hear live music from some of the best blues musicians around, be sure to schedule your Clarksdale trip around one of these festivals. The Juke Joint Festival typically occurs in April while the Sunflower River and Blues and Gospel Festival is always in August and the Deep Blues Fest is in October.
The birthplace of the blues has more than just a few annual festivals to offer, of course! Consult Visit Clarksdale’s calendar for a list of all the festivals happening this year.
5. Expect A Live Blues Concert 365 Days A Year
Yes, you read that right. Clarksdale embraces its blues heritage every day of the year. A weekly blues calendar features dates, locations, and times when live blues music will be showcased around town. The schedule is always subject to change, but if you really love live music, you can count on Clarksdale for 365 days a year of live blues music performances.
Blues enthusiasts coast to coast should add a trip to the birthplace of the blues to their bucket lists. Spend a day or a week immersing yourself in the deep blues culture Clarksdale, Mississippi, has to offer!
Headed further south in Mississippi? Explore Bay St. Louis, Mississippi’s excellent food culture.