ALONG THE MISSISSIPPI TO THE WINDY CITY
Getting there: North American Highways (www.nahighways.co.uk) offers tailor-made 12-day itineraries from New Orleans to Chicago, including flights, taxes, accommodation and midsize car rental with insurance and unlimited mileage. AmeriCan & Worldwide Travel (www.awwt.co.uk) specialises in personalised musical itineraries. Bedding down: Accommodation along the Blues Highway is fairly ordinary American fare with little character. There are two exceptions, both in Clarksdale. The Big Pink Guesthouse (www.bigpinkguesthouse.com) is a plantation owner’s dream. Just outside town, by the old Hobson Plantation, the Shack Up Inn (www.shackupinn.com) provides the field workers’ experience; reconstructed plantation shacks, with full mod cons. In Memphis the Peabody Hotel (www.peabodymemphis.com), famous for the ducks that splash in its lobby fountain, offers genuine southern opulence. In Chicago it may be time to splash out at the fantastic Park Hyatt (www.parkhyattchicago.com). Singing the blues: 930 Blues Cafe (www.jesdablues.com) at 930 N Congress St in Jackson is a good old juke joint with live music every night. Club Ebony (www.clubebony.biz) in Indianola is B.B. King’s hometown bar; he plays here every year. Blues on Sunday evenings. Ground Zero (www.groundzerobluesclub.com) in Clarksdale is the home of blues in the home town of the blues. Live music Wednesdays to Saturdays. Wild Bill’s, a shopfront at 1580 Vollintine in Memphis, has live music Thursday to Sunday. In Beale Street there’s lots of choice, including Blues City Cafe and B.B. King’s. In Chicago don’t miss Rosa’s Lounge run by an Italian mother and son at 3420 W. Armitage Ave. B.L.U.E.S. at 2519 N Halsted St is also good, as is Kingston Mines across the street. More convenient locations, and a bit more touristy, are the two Blue Chicago bars at 536 and 736 N Clark St and Buddy Guy’s Legends at 754 S Wabash St. Festivals: Clarksdale is host to the annual three-day Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival on the first weekend in August (www.sunflowerfest.org). Just across the river, in Helena, Arkansas, the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival (www.bluesandheritage.com), formerly known as the King Biscuit Blues Festival, is a great gig held the first weekend before Columbus Day at the beginning of October. Museums: Mississippi recently inaugurated the Blues Heritage Trail with 100 markers at bars, gravesites, plantations and much else (www.visitmississippi.org). The Rural Life Museum (www.rurallife.lsu.edu) at 4650 Essen Lane in Baton Rouge is a good introduction to plantation life. Delta Blues Museum (www.deltabluesmuseum.org) in Clarksdale is a must. Just up the street at 252 Delta Ave is blues emporium Cat Head Store (www.cathead.biz). In Memphis, check out the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (www.soulsvilleusa.com) and, in Chicago, the Blues Heaven Foundation (www.bluesheaven.com) in the old Chess Record Studios at 2120 South Michigan Ave. Personalised touring: Tad Pierson and his 1955 Cadillac (www.americandreamsafari. com) can take you on a Memphis juke joint tour for $US75 a person or a Delta day trip costs $US225 a person.