After leaving Alligator, we ended up heading down to Drew, and taking Highway 49W through Ruleville, Doddsville and Sunflower into Indianola, to one of my very favorite restaurants in the world, The Blue Biscuit. The Biscuit is owned by renowned chef Trish Berry, who had been the executive chef at Bill Luckett and Morgan Freeman’s ill-fated Madidi Restaurant in Clarksdale. While Madidi was expensive fine-dining, the Blue Biscuit is something altogether different, sort of a cross between a diner and a juke joint. While the restaurant menu is diverse and varied, in my opinion, the pulled-pork barbecue is the star of the show. A few years ago, it was possible to order something called “Biscuits and Barbecue”, which was exactly that, four freshly-baked buttermilk biscuits that were halved, with pulled pork placed between the halves. This was literally one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Unfortunately, we noticed on this visit that the menu has changed, and that biscuits and barbecue is no longer available, but the pulled pork is still on the menu, and just as good as I remember it from previous visits.
An added treat on this visit was live music from a Cleveland, Mississippi band called Jake and the Pearl Street Jumpers, whose repertoire consists of blues, soul and funk. Somehow, I had not encountered them before, but they are an accomplished and versatile band, and they kept the crowd mesmerized all evening. This was my first time seeing a live music gig at the Blue Biscuit, and I found the location and atmosphere perfectly suited to the music, and everything quite enjoyable.
Each year in B. B. King’s hometown of Indianola, Mississippi, deep in the historic Delta region, the great bluesman returned in late May for an event called the Homecoming, where he performed for the people of his original hometown, and on the occasion of the 2014 Homecoming, he stated that that year’s event would be his last. The old man’s health was fading, and the travel was hard on him. But none of us could have imagined that he would not live to see the next one. This year’s Homecoming, coming a week or so after B. B. King’s death, was a sad occasion, and yet an opportunity for many great blues musicians to come together and honor King’s life and legacy on the grounds of the museum that bears his name. Just as the occasion was both joyful and sorrowful, the day was alternated by periods of heat and sunshine and downpours of rain, but in between the showers came a diverse array of performers, including Greenville blues diva Eden Brent, youthful St. Louis blues star Marquise Knox, Lil Ray, son of the Louisiana blues star Raful Neal, and the North Mississippi All-Stars, with Cody and Luther Dickinson, featuring Sharde Thomas on the keyboards and fife, and Lightning Malcolm on the guitar. The crowd ebbed and flowed due to the weather, but at its strongest seemed to be about 200 or so, equipped with lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets, and even sparklers. The North Mississippi All-Stars had barely finished their outdoor set, when the rains came a final time, more decisively, and some of the crowd headed around to the Club Ebony for the indoor evening performance. There really couldn’t have been a better way to honor B. B. King.
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Our whole goal for the afternoon had been to make it to Indianola for lunch, but we were in for a disappointment, because when we got there, we found that the Blue Biscuit, where we had intended to eat, was not open for lunch on Wednesdays. So we went across the street to the Gin Mill Grill instead, and then over to Church Street, which was the traditional street for juke joints in Indianola. We found that the walls of the Blues Corner Cafe (or Cozy Corner Cafe) were painted with interesting murals full of wit, wisdom and portraits of Delta life and blues legends. The murals were also found on the adjacent White Rose Cafe, which is now the Motor Mouse Motorcycle Club, and even included a 2Pac portrait with the words “Thug Life” and “Only God Can Judge Me.” A banner in a nearby vacant lot promoted the Church Street Festival, which is being held on Saturday June 28th, as a way of celebrating the historic Black neighborhood’s legacy. The event is being organized by Charles McLaurin, a former Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and COFO leader, and perhaps not coincidentally will take place during the 50th Anniversary of the Mississippi Summer Project.
Easter Sunday afternoon after church proved to be an absolutely beautiful day, so I headed first down to the Blue Note on Beale Street in Memphis where my homeboy Tune had started working to try the food there, and had a bacon cheeseburger, which I can truly say is the best burger on Beale Street. Then, with nothing else to do for the day, I decided to head down into the Mississippi Delta with my camera, taking pictures and finally ending up at The Blue Biscuit, Trish Berry’s excellent restaurant in Indianola. Two things stood out about my trip overall that afternoon, one of them the extent to which many of the Delta towns’ business district are basically ghost towns, all too many of them collapsed into absolute ruins, even though the towns themselves are still inhabited. The other thing that I noticed was the groups of young people walking in many of these places, still dressed in their finest clothes. In a few of the towns, family reunions and gatherings were going on either in private yards or parks. At Drew, for the first time, I saw walls and makeshift shrines commemorating young people who had been murdered, yet Ruleville looked cleaner and more prosperous, and families had gathered in its park to enjoy the afternoon. Nearby, on the stretch of Front Street traditionally nicknamed “Greasy Street”, two clubs were jumping, the venerable Club Black Castle which I remember from WCLE radio broadcasts back in the day, and the more grown folks-oriented Main Event next door. But at the next town of Sunflower, something else was going on altogether. The town seemed abuzz with young people the moment I entered it. They seemed to be in yards, in parks and on every corner, in what seemed to be a festive mood, so I gave little thought to them as I headed downtown to start photographing old and historic buildings. Sunflower, which was an historic battleground in the Civil Rights Movement (the legendary Fannie Lou Hamer was from nearby Ruleville), is home to a Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee offshoot called the Sunflower County Freedom Project, which has taken over the row of historic buildings along the railroad downtown. However, I noticed almost immediately that Gangster Disciples graffiti had been spray-painted on the back of a stop sign, and not long thereafter, I heard police sirens heading into the downtown area. Apparently a brawl had broken out between two young women, in which bystanders had soon joined in. I parked my car outside a juke joint called Club Wide Open, as people gathered on the corner to see what was going on. “Oh, boy! Look at them run”, said a man from the club as a group of young men came running from the neighborhoods to the north toward the corner of Quiver and Martin Luther King where the fight had broken out. As I walked in that direction, I noticed pieces of hair weave strewn along the street, presumably from the fight, but as I got to the corner, I realized that the town police had sprayed pepper spray, and I caught some of it, so I prudently made my way back to my car. The remaining crowd seemed reluctant to disperse. “I want to know who jumped my muthafuckin cousin!” one young man kept yelling repeatedly, and I realized that the problems stirred up by the fight were likely to persist all night, so I got back to my car and headed on to Indianola.
It was nearly sundown when I reach Indianola, but there was just time for me to get some beautiful shots of the sun going down over Indian Bayou. The B. B. King Museum was closed, as was Club Ebony and 308 Blues Club (whose owner had been found dead earlier in the month), but the Blue Biscuit was open, and there was a decent crowd inside although there was no live music on Easter Sunday. I ordered my favorite meal there, biscuits and barbecue, which is exactly what it says it is, pulled pork placed between the halves of four buttermilk biscuits. It is truly incredible, and something that has to be tried to be believed. Afterwards, I made a drive around Indianola, but found very little going on, and called my DJ partner Bigg V to see if he knew where things were jumping off, but I couldn’t reach him either, so I started the drive back to Memphis. I considered stopping off at the Black Castle in Ruleville, but having to work in the morning, I thought better of it, and drove on into Memphis.