Back in the early 1970’s, Shelby County formed their own housing authority and built a housing project called Horton Gardens, at the dead-end of Horton Road near Northaven. In 2009, ignoring Federal laws and housing policy, they evicted the remaining residents and abandoned the complex altogether.
The internet is full of blogs that offer pictures of abandoned sites, buildings and whole towns. Much of it is intended to titillate the viewers. But I posted these pictures I took at Horton Gardens in the hopes that you who see this will get mad. I want you to get mad that in a city with as much of a homeless problem as Memphis, our elected officials saw fit to abandon this complex that probably could house a couple of hundred people. I want you to get mad that these sturdy, well-built apartments were allowed to rot and be burned by vandals. I want you to get mad at the complete waste of taxpayers’ money, which was used to build this complex in the hopes that it would offer a solution to very real housing problems in our community. I want you to get mad that funds were available for rehabilitation of these units, but that Shelby County chose to abandon them anyway, and misused the funds according to a government audit. I want you to get mad that they left the personal financial information of the former tenants strewn about the complex at one point. I want you to get mad that the complex has apparently been sold twice at auction since its abandonment, yet there has been no effort at rehabilitation or replacement. Yes, I want you to get mad, because unless you are mad, nothing in our community will ever change. Horton Gardens, as it is in 2015, is an example of everything that is wrong with Memphis and Shelby County. And it will never get any better until you are mad enough to vote the traditional leaders out and select new ones.
Although the Friday night shows had been harassed by storms, no such problem occurred on the Saturday of the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic. In fact the day was a bright sunny blue one, with fairly cool temperatures compared to what we had been having, and it was the perfect setting for a full day of Hill Country blues. The gates had opened with R. L. Boyce at 10:30 in the morning, but by the time I arrived, Joseph Burnside was on stage, with Duwayne and Garry Burnside backing him up. He was followed by Bill Abel, then Cary Hudson of the band Blue Mountain, and finally Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band from the Gravel Springs community near Senatobia, one of the last Black fife and drum bands in America. Garry Burnside and his band went up on stage after that, and then I left to go to dinner at Lamar Lounge in Oxford. In addition to the live performances, there were lots of arts, crafts and clothing for sale at various tents up on the hill, and a raffle, which was being held to raise money for a gravestone for the late bluesman Robert Belfour. And the whole day’s proceedings were broadcast live by New Orleans’ superb radio station WWOZ.
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The North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, sponsored annual at Waterford, Mississippi by Sarah and Kenny Brown, is arguably the most important annual event in the world of Hill Country Blues. It helps preserve the legacy of R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, and allows their descendants and disciples an opportunity to perform in the county where it all began, and takes on aspects of a music festival, a jam session and a family reunion all in one. But this year’s festival got off to something of a rocky start due to a series of violent thunderstorms, with lightning and hail that caused the festival grounds to become a mud-bog, and which caused a significant delay in the schedule. Fortunately, it all passed over eventually, and indie-blues/country/rock star Jimbo Mathus came out to perform with his band, followed by David Kimbrough Jr’s band, although David’s brother Kinney handled the vocal chores since David had a touch of laryngitis. And finally, Friday evening’s lineup was closed out with Duwayne Burnside fronting his newest band, which was extremely tight indeed, and which sounded great. Just as they were leaving the stage, the first flashes of lightning from a new round of storms appeared, but no rain could bring anyone down after all that great Hill Country blues.
Jazz is getting increasingly harder to find in Memphis these days, and if that wasn’t bad enough, it recently got voted the least-popular genre of music in America, although that dubious distinction was based on downloads, and I could argue that we jazz fans prefer to buy discs or vinyl. But at any rate, it becomes more crucial than ever for us to support the jazz events we do have, and a great one happens every Thursday night at a quaint nautically-themed bar in the Broad Avenue Arts District called The Cove. Ed Finney is of course a legendary jazz guitarist around Memphis, and Jeremy Shrader is a younger trumpet player and singer, and together this duo performs a satisfying mix of jazz standards and original tunes each week from 9 to midnight. It’s nothing loud, or brash or bombastic, just a cool, hip aural ambiance. It’s definitely worth checking out, and although I didn’t eat, I’ve been told the food at The Cove is remarkably good as well.
2559 Broad Av
Memphis, TN 38112
I was really not familiar with Tawanna Campbell at all, but I was in Little Rock on business, and saw that she was performing at the Afterthought Bistro and Bar, which is Little Rock’s oldest jazz club, and that her drummer was Cliff Aaron, so I decided to swing by and check out the show before driving back to Memphis. The band was first rate (Cliff is an amazing drummer) and Tawanna Campbell proved to be a great vocalist and an exquisite show personality on stage. The crowd was engaged through both sets, and unlike so many neb-soul shows, I was amazed at how diverse the crowd was- young and old, Black and white. The Afterthought is a wonderful venue, and this particular Friday night show was worth coming from Memphis to see.
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I had never heard of Thunder on the Water until my friend Sherena Boyce mentioned it to me a month or so ago as a festival where blues artists were supposed to be performing. So when I saw that the festival was being held on the weekend of June 12th and 13th, I told Sherena and we decided to go to Grenada Lake. Ironically, we never found the music stage, as the Thunder on the Water event was spread out at several locations near Grenada Lake and Grenada Dam. But what we did find was an absolutely gigantic festival at Grenada Lake, with a midway as large as the Mid-South Fair, and plenty of food and fun. Up on the dam, people had chosen spots overlooking the lake to set up tents and chairs for the fireworks, which were set off over the lake at 9 PM. In addition, a large number of pleasure boats were dotted all over the lake, which is not surprising given that Thunder on the Water started as a water safety awareness event. After a brief stop by the barbecue festival, we headed to Jake & Rip’s in Grenada for a late-night dinner before heading back to Senatobia.
A few days after the Tate Street Block Party, the anti-violence group Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives (FFUN) sponsored a youth rally at Foote Homes, the only remaining public housing project in Memphis. Toys were distributed to the younger children, hot dogs and chips were given out, and horseback rides were given to young people. A DJ provided the music for the occasion, and of course some politicians showed up as well.
Tate Street, like all east-west streets in Memphis, is really an avenue, but it has always been called Tate Street by those who live there and in the vicinity. On the first Saturday of June every year, it becomes the location of the annual Tate Street Block Party, an event sponsored by Memphis rapper Lionheart. Food, fun and music are the order of the day, but the purpose of it all is to help steer South Memphis young people away from violence, and toward that end, a full evening of entertainment is staged on the outdoor stage. This year, young people enjoyed performances from Big Mota, JMoney Trulla, Money Man Melvo, the Trap Mob, Treyhaitian and Chicago rapper Joe Rodeo. As always, for the older young men, the event became something of a reunion for residents of the former Cleaborn Homes housing project as well, and noted Memphis producer Drumma Boy and veteran rap artist GK were among those who made an appearance.
Keep up with Big Mota:
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Memphis has almsot no Caribbean expatriate community at all, and as a result, little Caribbean music either. What Jamaican music comes through the city is largely due to the efforts of one band, the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, who not only perform and promote their own music around Memphis, but who also arrange for out of town ska and reggae bands to come to the city and perform, such as Nashville’s Roots Of A Rebellion, who opened up for them at the Hi-Tone in Midtown in early June. CCDE has developed something of a cult following in the Memphis area, and their authentic approach to dub and reggae is refreshing in an era where computerized digital styles are all the rage.