How do we KEEP CLARKSDALE and continue to draw folks here?

Clarksdale, Mississippi at a Crossroads

Visitors on a Delta Bohemian Tour at the Crossroads in Clarksdale.

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 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

—Chilly Billy

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  1. Get the live feed and chat feature restored at Ground Zero. This was a huge, free recruitment tool for Clarksdale!
    I personally met over 50 blues aficionados from around the world and persuaded many of them to visit, all from that live broadcast! Mayor Luckett says take it up with management, management says take it up with the Mayor.
    I don’t think anyone there has any idea how valuable the ripple effect was to growing the base of blues fans in the Delta. Bring it back!

  2. Kelly Harper says:

    I have traveled to Clarksdale twice and found the town to be quite charming albeit economically depressed. Perhaps that is part of the mystique of the blues? I am by no means an economist or versed in community development but here is what I found to be Clarksdale’s most valuable asset. THE PEOPLE. In particular the locals (young and old) that would “hang out” in front of whatever venue, some offering to cook you a brat for a couple $$. To the wary traveler this could be intimidating but I found everyone of them engaging, pleasant and pretty much awesome.

  3. Jesse Scheider says:

    The exodus of industry has done a number on my home town. It seems like almost all manufacturing jobs have gone. That has got to account for a significant portion of the economy. I truly think that clarksdale needs to roll out the red carpet for manufacturing just to bring a block of decent wage jobs. Tourism economy is a significant portion of clarksdale’s soul, and clarksdale would suck without it, but without growing the population it just doesn’t seem like clarksdale could sustain much more growth in the restaurant/bar industry.

  4. Steve Wilson says:

    I am a three time visitor to the area. My first time in Clarksdale was brief, in April of 1983. It was rainy. I went to the fledgling Delta Blue Museum, then housed in the Public Library, but it was closed. I moved on to some other ‘blues sites.’ I didn’t return until 2015 and 2016, In those consecutive years I spent a total of six nights at the Shack Up Inn. Went to damn near every decent restaurant in town. Visited Roger at CatHead. Saw music here and there, most notably, in terms of venue and artist, Leo Bud Welch at Red’s Lounge. Made some day drips, out to Oxford, Greenwood, Glendora, and other towns, basically looking for blues vibes and decent eats.

    I’ve kinda come to love the area. I read your comments above with interest. I get it. You want your town to thrive, but you don’t want it transformed into some Disney version of the South, or the blues. You need your Abe’s and your Yazoo Pass. I don’t know how to do it, but I’d say support and subsidize those entities that represent your heritage with a sense of history and dignity … and fun. If there’s a core of lodgings and restaurants to satisfy savvy tourists your history will long beckon to music and history buffs. Are there homes (Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, etc.) that can be identified and perhaps made into places music fans would want to visit? I know I made the drive out to Stovall’s just to see where Muddy’s shack ‘was.’

    I am hoping to visit again in March and will see if I can take your tour. I tend to be a self-guided sort – I’m an historian, music nut and researcher. But I like your style.

    I don’t know if any of my comments are worth a damn to you or Clarksdale, but I love the place. I recognize the need for controlled growth, building, whatever, and even more important, sustaining the culture that made the place. It should be treasured nationally, even connected to the Smithsonian. The blues is our great music.

    Take care,
    Steve W.

  5. Tom Garmon says:

    The foundation for any successful community is education. A solid education system is a major tributary to a successful, thriving community. It lowers crime, attracts residents, and boost property values. To accomplish this, a school must be safe and secure. Problem students dealt with in a swift manner, moving them to a highly secure alternative school.

    Tourism will never sustain a community like Clarksdale. It’s more or less the icing on the cake. X the education system and many other factors will change for the better. Continue to market the blues without becoming another verse.

  6. Thank you so much for commenting!

    Please submit your feedback regarding this article via [email protected] or snail mail to Delta Bohemian Tours, 325 W 2nd St, Clarksdale, 38614. We are not here to fix anything. It is not our job. We are just collecting then reporting what submitters submit!

  7. Connie Akard says:

    Just wanted you to know Clarksdale is a wonderful trip! Anybody who loves the blues, the south, the food and enjoys sweet sweet people will fall in love! It is almost like going back in time! Had to cut trip short because of emergency but certainly intend to return and take some road trips and THE TOUR!!!! Was lots of fun for these 3 grannies!!! Hopefully will get to stay longer! Have done some research and we missed lots of stuff! I hope that the love for the Blues will continue to grow!!! It is what we are all about! Love your little slice of Heaven! Connie

  8. Gayle R. Simpson Get Delta State to buy in promoting K-12 educational tours and Events schedule for adults. Capitalize the Museums knowledge, skills, and abilities. Keep the street drinkin’ outlawed during the school children visits. If that doesn’t fit let Ole Miss come in.

  9. Blueskitten says:

    As you know, my husband & I moved here 8 yrs ago from “up North”. At the time, we were probably very naïve despite numerous visits here as tourists. Here’s what I’ve learned about Clarksdale: the people here are incredibly wonderful – diverse, friendly, welcoming, and accepting of you regardless of where your origins are. The amount of musical talent in the area is phenomenal as are the opportunities to showcase those talents. On the legal side, the laws in MS are the probably the least restrictive of any place I have ever lived (this can be a good thing!) On the downside, the crime rate/drug problem is appalling, the educational system is appalling, medical services are appalling, opportunities to purchase goods are severely limited – it’s no wonder industries are reluctant to come here Another thing I’ve never understood is that the Delta soil is among the richest in the US but there are virtually no local farmers’ markets – the ones that have been attempted in Clarksdale are insufficient and almost a joke compared to what I’m accustomed to. Despite all this, we’re here to stay! Hopefully better days are coming!

  10. Recently left the Delta after spending my entire 35 yr long life there & it broke my heart. (I also still own a business there in Clarksdale) When I couldn’t allow my teen to pursue gainful employment because I, myself, wouldn’t be caught on the streets of Clarksdale, it was a lightbulb moment. All of the years we spent “private school poor” living there, were for nothing when the kids graduating from the public schools can surpass mine in almost every given field. Why? Because my tax dollars paid for their public education, while my children’s under-funded school couldn’t keep up. Staring teenagers in the face and realizing I’ve actually worked my butt off only to fail them? That’s a hard pill to swallow. The Delta betrayed me. It was home, no matter what. But, when push came to shove, politics prevailed & working middle class could no longer afford a decent quality of life. So they bailed. With them went industry (not enough skilled workers) & the tax base. At this point we came to the crossroads: invest in what’s left or invest in tourism to shore the gaps. Obviously the latter was chosen. The slippery slope began years ago & i am angry that MY home is no longer even recognizable. There are several facets that have to be addressed: primarily, education, followed by healthcare & workforce training. None of which will matter because what we value beyond everything in the South, as you said, is our way of doing things and moving away from any of it will require a literal act of congress or a federal court judge that enforces the act of Congress 40 yrs later and ruins yet another Delta gem. But, I digress. I left out of FEAR. Basic human needs can not be met if one FEARS safety first and foremost. There wasn’t a choice any longer and unfortunately even as a DEEPLY rooted Delta belle, I could no longer see a future, no matter how hard I worked my fingers to the bone to make lasting change.

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