The weather was a little chilly, but clear and sunny as I headed out Highway 78 on my way to C. Wakeley’s 5th Gainesville Music Summit in Florida. When I arrived in Birmingham, I stopped just long enough to fill up with gasoline and pick up a quick lunch from Chick-Fil-A, and then I continued out Highway 280. At Auburn, I turned off the main road into town, and stopped at Toomer’s Coffee Company for a latte and a chocolate chip cookie. Then I headed on into Columbus, across Fort Benning and around Albany. Highway 133 from Albany was a dark, single-lane highway through Moultrie, and it was nearly 9 PM when I arrived in Valdosta. I found a Loco’s Bar and Grill and ate a steak dinner there, and my waitress recommended a coffee place just up the road called Elliano’s. I noticed that in that area the old milltown of Remerton had been turned into a district of clubs, bars and restaurants, some of which were fairly crowded with students from Valdosta State University. I still had an hour-and-a-half drive to Gainesville, but the coffee helped me stay awake, and with some difficulty, I made my way to the Paramount Plaza Hotel and Suites. My room had been reserved for me, and I quickly checked in and went to bed.
I was supposed to meet up with Gravedigga for breakfast, but, as I had somewhat expected, he didn’t seem to be awake when I called him before I headed up to the Brandy House for breakfast. Only after I had finished breakfast did he call, so I agreed to meet him up at O’Charley’s near the mall. He and I sat at the bar to watch the Saints game, I ordered a dessert, and we talked about the music business. Afterwards, I headed out east on I-20 toward Jackson. I was surprised to find that Fusion Coffeehouse wasn’t open, and I ended up going back to Cups in the Fondren neighborhood, where I purchased a couple of pounds of coffee and a latte. When I got back to Memphis, I ate dinner with Tune C before I drove on to the house.
Feeling that the Brandy House would take too long for breakfast, causing me to miss the Grambling Homecoming parade, I tried a new place instead in downtown Monroe called Lea’s of Lecompte. There were only a few people in there, but the breakfast was good, and then, with the sun out but the weather chilly, I headed westward toward Grambling.
At Ruston, I noticed that the road heading to Grambling past Rabb’s Steakhouse was backed up all the way to Cooktown Road, so I drove down through the Louisiana Tech campus instead and onto Highway 80. To my amazement, I was able to park for free on the street leading to the stadium, and from there I walked across the campus where large crowds had already gathered to watch the parade, especially in front of the Favrot Student Union and on the quadrangle.
There were even more people along Main Street in the Village, and a cacophony of sounds from the intersection of Main and Martin Luther King Avenue, where the Grambling State University band and a number of high school bands were warming up and getting ready for the parade. As the parade got underway, the weather began to get warmer. There were a number of high school bands, one that had come all the way from Detroit, Michigan, and a huge RV decorated with Barack Obama banners which drew cheers from the crowds along the route.
I walked along the parade route, starting at the north end of Main, near the new Spivey’s Fried Chicken, and ending up near where Martha Adams Hall had been at Central Avenue and RWE Jones Drive, near the gate to the stadium. There the Fair Park marching band from Shreveport began to battle the Madison High School band from Tallulah, and they soon drew a crowd, playing songs back and forth. I walked back to the student union area, where there was a Starbucks, and I bought a latte and relaxed there before walking back over to the stadium for the game. Around the stadium were all kinds of RVs and tailgaters, some with old-school DJs playing southern soul and blues hits, and with the tantalizing smell of barbecue drifting over the area.
By the kickoff, the weather had finally warmed up enough that it wasn’t uncomfortable outside, but Alabama State had not brought their marching band to Grambling, so there was no battle, and Grambling’s band could only play sporadically because of new SWAC conference rules that restrict when bands can play. Grambling won the game, and afterwards, realizing the traffic gridlock that would follow for at least an hour, I decided to walk back over onto the campus.
Ralph Waldo Emerson Drive had turned into a rolling street party, much like the seawall used to in Galveston during the Texas Beach Party in its heyday. Customized and candy-painted cars were everywhere, with booming systems and people hanging out on the sidewalks. The police would not let people leaving the game turn left to head back north through the crowds thronging the street, but they were u-turning in the street south of Tiger Village and then heading back up through the crowd. As I stood on the sidewalk, I heard somebody yell “J-DOGG! I see you, homie!” and it was DJ Bay Bay from Shreveport, who was riding with his homeboy in a blue-and-white custom Chevy. He yelled that he was in Dallas now, and then he had gone on down the street.
The crowds seemed more like the big homecomings of the 90’s, and I walked back onto the campus. Amazingly, Main Street, although it had its share of crowds, seemed far quieter than the busy boulevard to the west. Only up at the quadrangle was there a large crowd, and it proved to be the fraternities and sororities, standing and holding hands on their hills. As the Que-Dogs were gathered there singing songs, the boom of drums announced that the Grambling band was coming, and they soon marched in front of Long Jones Hall, heading across the quad and toward Dunbar Hall. Everyone soon lined up to see them, and though the band marched into the band room, the drumline, known as Chocolate Thunder, stayed out on the quad to entertain the crowd that had gathered. They played several funky cadences for the people, and then they too disappeared into the bandroom.
Even after an hour, I had difficulty in maneuvering my way out of Grambling and on the way back toward Monroe. I had decided to eat at the Waterfront Grill, but traffic nearby was thick, because the University of Louisiana at Monroe was playing their homecoming game as well. After a filet mignon dinner, I drove back over to the Corner Coffeehouse for a chocolate-peanut-butter brownie and a latte, and then I stopped by the West Monroe Civic Center to meet Gravedigga, who was DJ-ing a high school dance.
From there, I drove one last time to Grambling to see what was happening on the campus, but aside from a crowd of people at the new Plush Sports Bar, things had quieted down considerably.
Back in Monroe, I stopped by Club Envy on Catalpa to leave promo CDs with DJ Phat, and then I did the same at Club Dominos, where the DJ was visiting from Baton Rouge. Finally,thoroughly tired, I returned to the room and went to bed.
When in Monroe, I always like to eat breakfast at the Brandy House restaurant at the Atrium Hotel on Louisville Avenue. The place is never crowded, the waitresses know me from having eaten there so frequently and the breakfast is among the best anywhere in the South. So with the sun rising over a beautiful, blue, chilly fall morning, I headed there for an omelet breakfast before making the rounds of antique malls along West Monroe’s Trenton Street. The results were far more disappointing than in previous years, as I didn’t find anything pertaining to Grambling in any of the shops, but I continued west into Ruston, and stopped for lunch at Raising Canes, a chicken finger place that I was thrilled to see had put Grambling logos and pictures on their walls as well as those for Louisiana Tech in Ruston.
After lunch, and a brief look-through at Acorn Creek Antiques in Ruston, I took the backroad past Rabb’s Steakhouse into Grambling. On this Friday before Homecoming, Grambling was beginning to come more to life. Main Street in the Village was lined with cars, and students were beginning to hang out. A new barbershop called the G-Spot had opened, and its proprietors had placed large stereo speakers outside on the sidewalk, which were blasting a hip-hop mixtape of some sort. The quadrangle wasn’t all that crowded, other than the group of Que-Dogs gathered around their hill near the sidewalk, but down at the Favrot Union there was a considerable crowd of students hanging around. The bookstore was quite crowded indeed, and there were a number of Grambling items that I would have liked to have purchased, but, with Barnes and Noble having taken over the bookstore, the prices were quite steep. I did buy a new Grambling T-shirt for myself, and a book about Grambling’s long-time sports information director Collie J. Nicholson, but I had to leave two other books I wanted behind because they were so expensive. As I headed back up the street toward the quad, I could hear the beat of drums, and thought that perhaps the Grambling band was on their way to a pep rally, but it turned out that they were practicing inside Dunbar Hall, near where a group of student were busy at work on a Homecoming float for the next day’s parade.
I reluctantly decided not to wait for the pep rally, and headed back to Monroe instead, since I had not visited any of the record stores there yet, and since I wanted to eat dinner there rather than in Ruston. To my surprise, there weren’t as many Grambling fans in my hotel as I would have expected. Instead, the football team and some fans of the University of North Texas were staying there, as I assumed their team was in town to play the University of Louisiana-Monroe at their homecoming. I had promotional CDs in my trunk for Li’l DJ (whose album Welcome to the SWAC was a tribute to the Black college athletic conference of which Grambling was a member), Bohagon, Hittman and Donnie Cross, and I dropped these off at Mr. E’s Music and Mad Flavors clothing store. Sadly, no other stores remained in Monroe, so after that, I headed to dinner at the Mohawk Tavern in West Monroe, where the radio was broadcasting a pregame show for West Monroe High School’s homecoming game.
Mohawk Tavern was a seafood restaurant, and I ordered grilled halibut, which was very good. On the other side of I-20, I stopped by the Corner Coffeehouse again for a Reese’s cupcake and a cafe latte. I had called my friend Dr. Reginald Owens, the journalism professor who taught at Louisiana Tech, and he was grilling chicken over at his house, so he invited me to drop by and we hung out for awhile talking.
Then I parked in the Village and walked onto the campus, still feeling like this year’s crowds were smaller than previous homecomings, but there were crowds at the Plush club and at the old Renaissance building. I had heard on the radio that Gravedigga was supposed to be DJing at the Endzone, out southwest of Ruston, so I drove out there, and found that he wasn’t there, but one of his associates was, and I left some promotional singles with the DJ there. Then, resisting the temptation to head back to the Plush in Grambling, I drove back to Monroe, where DJ Phat was spinning at a new club on Catalpa Street called Club Envy. There was hardly anybody there, and that was despite the fact that G-Spot from Dallas was supposed to be there to perform their hit single “Stanky Leg.” I left DJ Phat a stack of promos, and then drove over to Club Dominos, and, as with the night before, this is where the crowd was gathered, as well as four carloads of Monroe police who seemed to be expecting a problem. I had to pay to get in, and I had never heard of the DJ that was there, who said his name was KC, but I gave him another stack of promos, and then, thoroughly tired, returned to my hotel, hoping to get up early enough the next day to make it to the Homecoming parade.
A cold front had brought a dreary, heavy, continuous rain to the Memphis area as I was preparing to head out of town to the Grambling homecoming, and even though I had intended to run by early voting before going out of town, the line was so long that I couldn’t wait. I called Charlie Braxton in Jackson, Mississippi and decided to meet him at lunch so I could pick up some Donnie Cross singles to take to DJs in the Monroe/Grambling area, and fortunately it wasn’t raining in the Jackson area.
I had planned on going to Up The Creek Fish Camp, but Charlie decided he preferred pizza, so we stopped at a Mellow Mushroom Pizza in Flowood next door to the Up The Creek, and a Jackson rapper named Tony B met us there. After a latte at Cups in Fondren, I headed out west on I-20 toward Vicksburg, running back into the rain that was heading east toward Jackson.
The weather was truly nasty for the better part of my trip, but just outside of Monroe, the rain tapered off, and the weather became much cooler. Streets were still wet, but it wasn’t raining as I pulled into the Holiday Inn to check in. After getting settled into my room, I headed out to dinner, choosing Portico Bar and Grill on Tower Drive, which was crowded as always, and decorated for Halloween, just as I remembered it from last year. Despite the huge crowd, I was amazed that there was no wait, and as I enjoyed a filet mignon, a band began playing in the lounge area, and people were sitting around the bar watching a college football game.
Afterwards, I stopped by Books-A-Million, specifically to see if there were any new books about Grambling there (there weren’t any), and so I went on into West Monroe to the Corner Coffeehouse for a latte. Then, listening to my compilation of Monroe rappers, I continued the 30 miles to Ruston and Grambling.
At Grambling, a large crowd was gathered at a new nightclub called Plush that had opened next door to the Chevron near the I-20 exit, and I thought about going there, but decided against it, and headed down into the Village instead, but Main Street seemed relatively deserted, and even the quadrangle was unusually calm and subdued. There was only a small crowd in front of the Favrot Student Union and food court area, and a few students coming from the area of the stadium and assembly center (perhaps the talent show had been held in the new assembly center this year). I noticed that the last high-rise buildings had been demolished as I drove back up RWE Jones Drive to the interstate. Back in Monroe, nothing was happening on Olive Street, nor at Club Krystal on Washington. Club Dominos clearly had the crowd, but I decided to go back to my hotel room and get some rest.
The Sanctuary Jazz Orchestra was part of the tribute to James Williams that was being held at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center, so we all met up there around 7 PM.
Not only were we playing there, but also the fine Memphis pianists Mulgrew Miller and Donald Brown, the trumpeter Bill Mobley, and the saxophonist Billy Pierce. Renardo Ward was to have been the drummer for much of the gig, but he was sick, and was replaced by James Sexton, who did a great job on probably short notice. Even though it was a mainstream jazz event, it was a sell-out, and the room was full to capacity!
Now that our company was on a four-day schedule, I had Friday off, so I called up Tune C, who didn’t have to be in to work until 4 PM, and we headed out to lunch at a new restaurant in Cordova that I had heard about, called Skimo’s. The place was at Houston Levee Road and Macon, and featured a wood-fired oven for pizzas, as well as five flat-screen TVs. I ordered a ciabatta burger, which was quite good, but the TV screens were full of the shocking stock-market crash that occurred even after Congress had passed a bailout bill. From there, we headed over to the new Cafe Eclectic on McLean across from Snowden Middle School, where I ordered a Viennese capuccino. This place features coffees, or course, but also fabulous breakfasts, burgers, gelatos and homemade desserts. Later in the afternoon, I drove over to Wellworx health club and completed my membership, and by that time, it was time for dinner. I was so impressed by Skimo’s that I suggested that my mother and I try it again for dinner, so we did, and this time I ordered a shrimp po-boy. Like the burgers, it too came on ciabatta bread, which was a little unusual, but very good. In the evening, the Sanctuary Jazz Orchestra had a rehearsal at Johnny Yancey’s house, so I drove over there, and we finished with that about 9:30 or so, getting ready for our performance Saturday at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center.
There was no kind of breakfast anywhere in Douglasville other than Waffle House, so I went there and ate breakfast, and then, after checking out of the hotel, I drove west into Alabama. Finding gasoline was just as much of a problem in eastern Alabama as it had been in Georgia, and at Anniston, the Exxon station was compeltely sold out, so I had to drive on to Pell City, and even there, I could only get premium gasoline. I decided not to stop and eat in Birmingham, but I grew so sleepy on Highway 78 outside of Fulton, Mississippi that I decided to stop in Tupelo for a coffee at JoJo’s Java downtown. However, when I got there, a sign announced that Jojo’s was moving to the old Uptown Coffee location on Gloster Street, but I soon found that it wasn’t open at either location, at least not yet. My iPhone was showing a Starbucks location on East Main Street downtown, but I never could find it, so I gave up and drove on into Memphis. My mother and her husband had only been back a day from their own vacation to Branson, Missouri, and they were tired and worn out from their trip, just like I was from mine.
I woke up early to another beautiful day, and I almost wished I wasn’t checking out until Monday. The SMES Awards would be held later in the day, but the whole point of my checking out early was to first of all see Charleston for the first time, and also to not have to drive all the way back to Memphis in one day. So I checked out and drove over to Eggs Up Grill on Highway 17, where I enjoyed a delicious breakfast while all the talk on the TV screens in the restaurant was about the congressional bailout bill to try to rescue the US economy and to prop up failing banks like Wachovia. I drove into Murrells Inlet, which billed itself as the “Seafood Capital of South Carolina”, and found it to be a rather sleepy fishing village except for the elegant waterfront restaurants along the main road.
Further down the highway pulled away from the coast and crossed over a drawbridge into the town of Georgetown, South Carolina. Georgetown was very old, with a number of historic buildings and homes, as well as a charming riverwalk along the harbor behind the downtown buildings. Here too there were a number of restaurants, mostly seafood, and a lot of yachts anchored in the harbor.
The trip from Georgetown to the Charleston area seemed to take forever, but eventually I came to the road that led to the Isle of Palms, so I headed down that way and into the little resort island, which had a hotel, a small downtown village of shops and a few beachfront restaurants. The beach was actually quite crowded, perhaps due to the warm, sunny weather. The island road crossed a small pass onto Sullivan’s Island, and there crowds of people were eating outdoors on decks in front of the restaurants. The main street was named for Edgar Allen Poe, who apparently had been stationed at a fort on the island.
Another causeway took me back onto the mainland and into the town of Mount Pleasant, where there was a beautiful creek called Shem Creek which was lined with restaurants, lounges, boat docks and a hotel. I took a number of photos there, but I resisted the temptation to eat there, and drove on through Mount Pleasant and into the city of Charleston itself.
Many of the restaurants and shops I had seen on my iPhone were on Market Square, so I immediately headed in that direction when I got into Charleston. The city was far more like New Orleans than I had realized, with an old brick market several blocks in length, which reminded me of the French Market in New Orleans. There was a French Quarter in Charleston also, although it was a residential area and not a tourist destination, and many of the Black youths in downtown streets were speaking a patois not unlike the unusual New Orleans accent. (I was later told that this slang/patois in Charleston is called Geechie or Gullah.)
On either side of the market were restaurants and gift shops, but I soon found that parking (at $1 per half hour with no daily maximum) was quite expensive. I knew I would have to pay it to enjoy the city on foot (and that’s about the only way to enjoy Charleston), so I paid and parked my car and then began a walking tour of the area, snapping photos of nearly everything. While trying to snap a picture of the old US Customs House, I nearly backed into to a bellboy of what turned out to be the Market Place Hotel behind me. Seeing that they had a rooftop bar, I decided to ride the elevator up there, and found that the view of the old city from there was beautiful beyond description. The weather was downright hot, but the bar was crowded with people sitting around the rooftop pool, and I took pictures of the city, and of Mount Pleasant’s yacht harbor, visible to the north beyond the amazing bridge that I had crossed into the city over earlier.
I walked down to Meeting Street, noticing a lot of youths in military outfits who were cadets at the Citadel, and then I made my way back to the Charleston Crab House restaurant, where I enjoyed a shrimp dinner. The T-Bonz family of restaurants had a dessert cafe called Kaminsky’s across the market from the Charleston Crab House, so I walked over there foran after-dinner dessert and coffee. I instantly noticed a chocolate-peanut-butter torte, which proved to be moist and delicious, as Kaminsky’s only serves fresh desserts each day. Thoroughly relaxed and contented, I sipped my cappuccino while hearing rousing cheers from the T-Bonz next door where people were apparently watching a pro football game.
As I drove up Meeting Street, I stopped at an Exxon for gasoline, and then continued through some rough and ramshackle ‘hoods into North Charleston and on out Highway 78 into what truly was a primeval wilderness, broken only by the occasional small town. Some of these were a little bigger than others, and Branchville proved to be a rather good-sized place, where I stopped for a cold drink. The town was in a state of excitement due to some sort of fair and street festival, and crowds of young people were everywhere.
It was thoroughly dark by the time I got into Beech Island, and I called V-Tec who agreed to meet me at the T-Bonz on Washington Road in Augusta. I was still heavy from dinner, but I ordered some cheese fries that were quite good, and he and I hung out watching an NFL game, while a jazz group was playing in the restaurant. I considered checking into a hotel there in Augusta, but, wanting to get closer to Memphis, I decided to head on towards Atlanta. Gasoline was still hard to come by in Augusta, but I found some, and headed west, passing through Atlanta into Douglasville. I had picked up a coupon book for hotels in Georgia, and had been heading to a Quality Inn in Douglasville, but when I got there at almost 2 AM, that hotel had rooms whose doors opened to the outside, a security nightmare. So, even though it was slightly more expensive, I opted for the Comfort Inn next door instead, and as soon as I got into my room, I went straight to bed.
There had been an afterparty until 2 AM the night before, and I was convinced that people wouldn’t show up for the conference panel I was supposed to speak on at 10 AM, but I was told that it would go on as scheduled, so I decided that there wasn’t time to eat breakfast away from the hotel, and I went into the restaurant there for breakfast instead.
When I got to the conference room, however, I learned that it had been rescheduled for 7 PM, and there were several rap artists there waiting for me who thought it would be held at 10 AM as scheduled. So we held a little panel discussion about distribution in the foyer in front of the ballroom door, and afterwards, I decided to spend some time in the whirlpool. The sun was out, the wind had died down, and the weather was much warmer.
At noon, I drove down to the River City Cafe in Surfside Beach’s little downtown, since I was told that they had the best hamburgers on the beach. The place was crowded and cute, with an upstairs view of the Surfside Beach pier and beaches, but the burgers, which could have been really great, were only mediocre because of a South Carolina law that requires burgers to be cooked to medium well or above. So, needless to say, my burger was grey throughout, and dry as a bone.
Afterwards, I used my iPhone to locate an internet cafe around the corner, where I ordered a latte, and then I headed back to the hotel for the performance showcases. These ran longer than expected, however, and the 7 PM panel didn’t get under way until nearly 9 PM. By the time it ended at 10:15 PM, it was much too late to go to the Crab House at Barefoot Landing, where I had planned on eating dinner. In fact, to my surprise since Myrtle Beach was a resort area, I soon found it was too late to go anywhere at all. Most restaurants closed at 9:30 or 10 PM, even on weekends, I was told, because this was the off-season. I finally found that TGI Friday’s in Murrell’s Inlet was open, so three rap artists that had been at the panel discussion rode with me and we rode down there to eat a late dinner.
Upon our returning, we learned that there had been a fight outside the hotel, but on the hotel grounds, and the Surfside police had been called. Once again, alcohol seemed to be the catalyst, and the individual who had gotten the worst of the incident had threatened to bring a weapon up to the conference and kill the person who had whipped him. After things had calmed down, there were some conference panelists and attendees in the lobby talking about the Obama candidacy and hip-hop versus gangsta rap. But I was tired, so I headed up to the room and to bed.