Clarksdale, Mississippi at a Crossroads
The following thoughts on the status of my hometown bear no reflection on anyone or any entity that I might have an integral or loose association with business-wise or personally. I will not address individuals or specific entities in this post as I muse out loud about how to Keep Clarksdale and where it might be headed.
Again, this is just one Dude’s opinion who has a little, not a lot, of skin in the game. It’s always difficult for someone who loves something to publicly address challenges because of the very love of the object.
Even though this is my opine about how to Keep Clarksdale, I am soliciting your feedback, too. (See the end)
Crossroads: a place where at least two roads cross, or a point at which important decisions need to be reached, often with life-changing consequences. Clarksdale, MS is at a Crossroads—metaphysically, allegorically, symbolically and “for reals!”
I love my hometown, though I left it for over two decades with no intention of ever returning. Sometimes life grinds on a fella and home is not a bad option. I am thrilled I came home and will forever be grateful to my mother for making it happen. I was not in a good place before I returned, and I fell back in love with the Mississippi Delta upon my repossession.
I have been blessed with several wonderful jobs and fantastic bosses since my return and am most thankful for Madge Marley agreeing to marry me. It changed my life. She and I have several irons in the Crossroads’ fire and they are all interrelated with Tourism and a celebration of this unique place we call home, a magnetic spot people from all over the world visit time and time again—first for the blues, then again for the people.
The Mississippi Delta has been called the most Southern Place on Earth, and there ain’ no doubt about it. We are a hodgepodge of rugged individualists, salty flatlanders, lovers of narrative, church-going, big-time eating, hard drinking and thinking folks, who will welcome strangers into our homes like they are family and just as quickly whip their ass if they disrespect us and our way of life. That’s a fact!
We are a story of characters: black, white, blue-blooded, thin-blooded, red-blooded, straight, gay, not cammo-shy, seersucker-wearing eccentrics and non-conformists who listen to country, blues, R&B, rap and Classic Rock. That too is a fact.
And, we ain’ real crazy about folks telling us what to do if we figure they don’t have the “right.” Kinda makes us like everybody everywhere, really. So, here I go telling us what to do…
Clarksdale has a rich history and a sense of place that many people from all over the world find fascinating, so fascinating in fact that it is difficult for us not to think too highly of ourselves at times. We seem to inherently know that we are the center of the known-and-unknown universe—slightly tongue-in-cheek, but only slightly.
A downside to our recognition of what a cool place we live in is related to the old proverb about “pride going before a fall” and all. It is easy to believe folks will continue coming here because we know it’s a cool spot and we assume folks will always find it and us fascinating. And they might, but they might not keep coming given the non-static nature of world economies, perceptions of safety regarding travel, etc., a strong dollar hindering tourism, technological advances, an aging blues population, socio-economic realities, and other high-falutin’ concepts posing threats to our local economy.
Due to a lot of demographics I am uncomfortable addressing here, our local economy is largely predicated on agriculture and tourism. With little industrial infrastructure, we are dependent on farming and folks coming to visit, contingent on our celebrated blues history and our 365-days-a-year live music scene. That’s a big-ass deal for a town of roughly 17,000 people.
I am so thankful for the local venues, musicians and people who ensure live blues is being played somewhere every night of the year. This was not always the case and it is not something we should take for granted. Many open on nights when few customers are present and they do so to ensure our tourists can always count on a place to hear blues. Thank you! All of you!
The blues world and our community locally have lost many old-school blues musicians over the last few years. This reality coupled with stagnant crop prices and farming becoming prohibitively expensive, it is imperative that we do a better job marketing our multiple positives to interested populations who are still craving something real.
We are real, and what we have in the Mississippi Delta is real. Visitors mention time and time again, what a warm, welcoming people we are. Great music in the place it originated, peopled with friendly folks who are genuine and even when they are not it is genuine, is an offering not many communities possess. We have a great product—ourselves, and the cheerful, honest effluence that manifests in how we relate to others—the blues doesn’t hurt either.
There are always “wars and rumors of war” in any small town, and Clarksdale is no exception. Every town in America is constantly ebbing and flowing, businesses opening and closing, residents coming and going, this is normal. I do, however, think Clarksdale’s dependence almost solely on agriculture, governmental beneficence, and tourism leaves us a bit underinsured in case any of the three goes detrimentally south.
It sure seems to many of us that our tourism-dependent dollars have diminished over the last few years, as several seminal downtown and area-related businesses have closed their doors, and others are rumored to be on a non-articulated precipice. We have had many entrepreneurs move to Clarksdale and hang a shingle, and this is a blessing. Also, other businesses have opened and for this we are thankful.
So, how do we stay in business, keep Clarksdale real, continue to draw folks here who want to come and who we want to come, how do we continue to make folks who visit and spend their money here feel like they are getting more than they expected? How can we market ourselves better, where should our tourist dollars be focused, what can we offer that we are not presently offering, and how can we strengthen what remains and do better at meeting tourist’s needs and expectations?
These are broad questions worth asking, so I am asking? Please tell us what you think regarding the above-mentioned questions. Please be civil, understanding, discrete, succinct, kind, thoughtful, and honest.
Magical Madge and I will collate the input in an orderly, anonymous fashion and we will write a proactive summary to be disseminated in some format, likely on the deltabohemian.com. Your input by name will be protected, but we do request that you let us know generally what your relationship to and interest in Clarksdale is, if you feel comfortable providing it.
If interested, please send your succinct thoughts to [email protected] with the subject heading: KEEP CLARKSDALE, or for snail mail, please send your thoughts to: Delta Bohemian Tours, ATTN: Chilly Billy Howell, 325 W. 2nd St., Clarksdale, MS 38614