Monday, April 6, 2009

0070--Highway 61 Blues Museum

Stopped in Leland, MS, to check out the Highway 61 Blues Museum, which is definitely a work in progress but still very interesting.

There, we met Pat Thomas, son of the legendary James "Son" Thomas. Pat plays all his father's songs and sounds remarkably like his dad. He showed us around the museum and played a few songs for us. Pat represented The Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indianola, MS in this year's International Blues Competition in Memphis, TN.

The town of Leland was also the boyhood home of Jim Henson--and Kermit the Frog was born on Deer Creek, which runs through the town. The Cohen brothers also filmed parts of "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" here.

This all makes it sound rather idyllic . . . it's not. In the heyday of juke joints, Leland was regarded as "the hellhole of the Delta" because of the railroad town's wall-to-wall bars, drunks, prostitutes, etc. In the 1970s, major efforts were made to clean up the town. By all accounts it worked--at least for a while. Today, there are some lovely homes on the river, but the rest of the town is filled with, well, basically shacks. Tiny (two-room), railroad houses that are universally falling down, boarded up, and/or half burned down. The lots and streets are full of trash, abandoned cars, and people eager to help you with your drug purchase. (Here's to the community activists who are still trying to make something of this town--they are clearly battling overwhelming odd and crushing poverty.)

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