Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Shacking Up in the Cradle of the Blues

Me: Honey? Can we stay in a sharecropper’s shack when we’re up in Clarksdale next month?

Husband (looking up over his book): Does it have air conditioning?

Me: Yes, I see a window box a/c unit in the picture.

Husband: OK, if it will make you happy.

And that is how we came to spend two nights in a shotgun-style shack with a tin roof and Mississippi cypress walls on the Hopson Plantation just 3 miles east of Clarksdale, MS. And next to the plush Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, it was Jerry’s favorite stay of the trip.

The Shack Up Inn developed over the past 15 years on the Hopson Plantation in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, the cradle of Blues music. Located just 3 miles east of Clarksdale, MS, there are over 30 “units” sprawled in a ramshackle fashion. They have been modified just enough so as to provide the modern amenities of an indoor bathroom and shower, heat and air conditioning, and coffeemaker/fridge/microwave and sink.
A visitor can stay in a former sharecropper shack, seed house, old tractor shed or in one of the newly created "bins" in the old cotton gin.

We stayed in the two-room Pinetop Perkins shack, named in honor of the legendary Blues pianist of the same name. A tall upright piano stood in the corner of the front room with a life sized mural of Pinetop smiling from the opposite wall. There were “dishtowel” curtains and old Mississippi license plates nailed down over holes in the bare wood floors. There was a  screened porch with rockers for sittin' which made for a fine early evening spot to wave to our neighbors and read in the fading light.

The Ground Zero Blues Club operates out of one half of the big old Cotton Gin building offering smokin’ blues and zydeco several nights a week. Donuts and coffee are available in the morning, beer and wine in the afternoon after 5 pm. The old gin has seen a lot of living and hard work in its decades of use. Now it provides for a place to sit, play and listen to the music that grew up out of all that living and hard work.

The complex is littered with ancient Ford and Chevy pick-up trucks, colorful bottle trees, a windmill, silos converted to shade structures, and even one of the first mechanized cotton-picking Int'l Harvesters.

The bottle trees (or “haint” trees for some) are common to the south and are believed to be a tradition brought by slaves from Africa. Now used primarily for garden decoration, the original belief was that a bottle tree outside of a home would attract evil spirits with the sunlight shining through the bottle. When evil spirits followed the light into the bottle, they were trapped and could do the house no harm. Blue bottles were thought to be the most attractive to the evil spirits.
We heard tell that when a strong wind is blowing that the bottle trees moan and whisper with the wind. Not hard to understand how some would believe they were filled with evil spirits. Now the colorful hand-made trees stand on the grounds of the Shack Up Inn dedicated to honoring the hard work and music of the Mississippi Delta, so perhaps now those bottle trees are simply joining in to sing the Blues.
From the Shack Up Inn it is an easy 3-mile drive west on Hwy 49 to Clarksdale's legendary juke joints and the Delta Blues Museum, Abe’s BBQ, and the childhood home of Tennessee Williams.

 More about all that in another post. 

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