School is out, and the weather is beautiful. Question is where to go? The USA is one huge country, with such diverse pockets of culture, but luckily for everyone, they are all connected by the great US highway system. One long, looping road doubling over itself over and over, sometimes frayed at the edges, and sometimes shiny and new. If you and your family or friends are looking for somewhere new to explore, you might want to look into the Americana Music Triangle! Within this delineated area covering all the miles between Nashville (TN), Memphis (TN), and New Orleans (LA), intersecting Alabama, you will find so much music and cultural history, you may just spend all your vacation time zig zagging this area for years to come!
A bit of backstory behind the Americana Music Triangle. This in-depth, interactive website was launched for the purposed of connecting people with the stories and the land which has given rise to such rich music history. This area is comprised of so many cities, towns, villages, settlements, pit-stops and landmarks, with each one a story to tell. This website acts as a resource to navigate the highways, back roads, and trails, to give you a thorough guide to any which route you choose on your great southern American road trip. (Plus, who knows, you may find yourself visiting us at the New Roxy here in Clarksdale, Mississippi!)
For any of you might still ask yourselves “Why would I want to hop in a car and drive around the South?”, we here at the New Roxy, along with the Americana Music Triangle are here to tell you a little bit of why you should be gunning your engines. Did you know that there are NINE (9!) identified distinct musical genres that have risen from the soil between the three points of the triangle? See if you can name them, we’ll wait.
Okay, okay! Here they are: Blues (hello, Clarksdale!), Jazz, Country, Rock N’ Roll, R&B Soul, Gospel, Southern Gospel, Cajun/Zydeco and Bluegrass music. Each of these musical traditions has an origin story rooted in this area, and every genre on this list holds a place in the music we listen to today, which have evolved and spread to all the corners of this great wide world we live in.
The story of the triangle begins with the Native people along the Mississippi River, the Paleo tribes. As European settlers arrived, they displaced the Native Americans, yes, but there were overlapping cultural influences and exchanges. Spanish stringed instruments (guitars and mandolins) met the folk songs and dances of the French. English, Scottish, and Irish storytellers and their traditional narrative ballads were counterpoint to the rhythms in African chants, percussion, banjo, and wind instruments. Haitians, French-Canadians, Germans, Czechs, to name a few more of the languages and cultures that pitched their culture and stylings into the musical cauldron, simmering to create the music we recognize today. As the area was cleared, built, expanded, there were stories of exploration, pioneering, loneliness and struggle. As wars were fought, land was disputed, and lives and cultures were squelched, there were songs of loss and gain, victory and defeat. As the people beginning to populate the area suffered through natural disasters, so came stories of perseverance and fortitude in the face of adversity. The music that took shape was a result of people taking root in the region and thus begun the rich tapestry of food, music, art, and literature in the South.
Have we hit on a particular musical genre that piques your interest? Or, are you a music history buff that gleans inspiration from the many interweaving stories of the evolution of modern music? Have you ever read interviews with your favourite musicians from pop artists to gritty guitar rock and been surprised, or perhaps fascinated, by their list of influences? Chances are pretty great that they have all derived some inspiration or guidance from the artists that came before them, whose lives were lived and whose markers and gravestones lay along the meandering roads of Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama. From the early recordings captured by ethnomusicologist, Alan Lomax, for archival purposes in the Library of Congress to the modern day wanderer, there is a fascination to see, hear, witness, and document the goings on, past and present, all throughout the region mapped out by the Golden Road.
The Americana Music Triangle lays out driving trails for you!
For every road trip suggestion, there is an overview (exhaustively researched but not exhaustive to read!) of what you can expect to find and the stories behind it all. Just click on each drop down menu to get more detailed suggestions for sights and sounds suck as museums, birthplaces, gravestones, festivals, food, venues, lodging, and further tourist resources.
Not are there trails for you to follow, the information is also organised by timeline, if there is a particular topic that interests you, such as the history of the blues, or the the evolution of broadcast radio. Let’s say you’re plotting out your visit to the American South, and you don’t know which direction to point your car. Or, let’s say that you’re weary after a long day on the road, taking in all the sights along the Golden Road and you just want an entertaining read about topics that interest you. The Americana Music Triangle website has done all the research for you, and compiled it into easy-to-read, mobile-friendly pages on their site to lead inform and excite you!
Not to leave ourselves out of the equation, we’d like to take a moment to talk about our corner of the triangle! Clarksdale, Mississippi is widely regarded as the birthplace of the delta blues. Situated just an hour south of Memphis, TN, along the Mississippi River, Clarksdale was a bustling town and a hub for the surrounding plantations. Workers would pile into cars on the weekends and head into downtown Clarksdale to stock up on supplies, and to come together to share stories and music in the juke joints. Many blues, soul, and rock n roll legends called Clarksdale home: Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, W.C. Handy to name a few. In fact, the great legend of Robert Johnson’s deal with the devil took place right here in Clarksdale. “The Crossroads” is where Robert Johnson allegedly traded his soul to The Devil in exchange for the ability to play guitar exceedingly well. The intersection is said to be at the crossing of Highways 61 and 49. There is a marker there in honour of the story, which many people refer to in song and art. It represents a crossroads for many people, as a meeting place, or passing through, or as a place of refuge in a moment of quandary. Where to go, what to do, how to kickstart the creative juices…just visit Clarksdale! Clarksdale, Mississippi is not JUST the home of the blues, however! Playwright Tennessee Williams also spent time here growing up, using landmarks as inspiration for his plays. Actor, Morgan Freeman, lives in nearby Charleston, Mississippi, and is co-owner of the Ground Zero Blues Club. History is not simply stories of the past in this town, but a learning opportunity, an experience, and a past shared to forge a bright future. We encourage you to stop into Clarksdale on your great American road trip!
The New Roxy Theater, if you haven’t already pored over the photos on this website, is a venue in the New World District in downtown Clarksdale. This traditionally African-American neighbourhood was abuzz before the great migration north. The New Roxy Theater opened to replace the Roxy Theater after it burned down. It is said that Muddy Waters played the opening ceremony, and that Ike Turner worked as an usher there. After 4+ decades in business, the New Roxy finally closed it’s doors as a cinema in the 1980s. The building sat empty for approximately thirty years, as many businesses did too when workers moved to the north. The roof caved in, and the local flora took root. While it may have provided a haven for strays for some time, we believe it serves better as a unique music, theater, film, and events space! Under it’s current ownership since 2008, the renovations process has been extensive, labor-intensive, rewarding, and most assuredly, ongoing. A never-ending realisation of an ever-expanding vision! We invite you to come to Clarksdale, Mississippi and take a look inside what Roger Stolle of Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art called “Perhaps the South’s coolest venue”.
The main theater area houses a stage where one has the unique opportunity to be both inside and out while watching live music. Whatever do we mean? Well, the lobby area has been roofed and weather-proofed, but the main stage remains open to the stars. It is a space that can only be understood once you step inside.
Check out the Americana Music Triangle website to plan your next vacation, and stop into Clarksdale, Mississippi in your travels!
See y’all in Clarksdale!