Memphis and Crossroads
I am frequently reminded that my friends are all very different people. The inherent quality of being a good person and adding some interest and excitement to my life is all I require in my friends. Jen is just such a person and her super -secret -friend talent, among a lot of other stellar qualities, is her music knowledge.
In my family, we grew up loving and listening to a wide variety of music. My Dad could be described as the oldies guru, which in the 80’s seemed to mean classic rock. My mom valued the oldies but also embraced and loved newer pop hits, alternative, and even Metallica. The only thing I don’t recall hearing much of at home was country.
My friend Jen lives in Nashville, a magical place where we decide to go out last minute and find an empty bar and a wonderful sounding band easier than finding a CVS across from a Walgreens. South Florida is a little short on original music and live music in general, so when I first visited her I was amazed at the talent playing at most regular bars. We went to two shows at the Ryman and both had amazing mainstream musicians show and play that were even on the ticket.
Jen’s love of music and the Nashville scene means she is constantly mentioning “this person” and “that song” which leaves me not really having any idea of what she is talking about half the time. Her enthusiasm and legit taste make it impossible not to go along with what she gets excited about, and so far her taste hasn’t let me down. When Jen mentioned going to Memphis as a road trip it seemed like a great way to continue my own journey accompanied by a friend for a little while. I’m in!
We both drove since it was along the path of my westward journey, got an Airbnb, and made a plan for what we wanted to see. My interests were mostly internet researched, along with a couple of suggestions from another music aficionado in my life; Beale Street (of course), A. Schwab Trading Co., The Peabody (and their ducks), and the Stax recording studio museum. A. Schwab is the last original store of Beale Street (according to their website http://a-schwab.com/) and filled with all the souvenirs you could want from Memphis along with some really unique gifts, and an old soda and malt bar. The malt bar stopped us and we had a little peanut butter, banana, chocolate malt (with Southern Comfort) in honor of Elvis. They also served grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches and these beautiful looking sodas made the old way with phosphate and homemade syrups.
The Peabody ducks were a site to see swimming in an upscale hotel lobby; the hotel and the view from the roof weren’t that bad either. We missed the procession but apparently there is a “duck wrangler” (not sure if that is his official title but if not it should be) who walks the ducks from their rooftop home, ushers them down the elevator, and then walks them red-carpet style to their tiny little pool around a fountain where they eat and swim around all day. We were too busy at brunch sharing a bottle of mimosas to make it in time to see that happen, but I wouldn’t want to have all the fun on one trip. I’m finding that most places I visit I am creating lists of things I want to do when I go back.
The Stax Museum was AMAZING. I am not really a soul music fan but this museum is much more about the history of civil rights and how music played such an important role in that. The introductory video (which, in most museums, does not hold my attention) was spot on and provided a thorough backdrop of the history. The museum itself displayed a jaw-dropping collection of memorabilia, and interpretation was at times overwhelming yet engaging. I had planned to spend an hour, but it was 2.5 hours later before we got back to the parking lot.
Jen’s main interest in going to Memphis was not the city itself; she wanted to check out the Crossroads. I wasn’t sure what this meant so to get the best definitions we Googled it and learned all about Robert Johnson, Blues Great, selling his soul to the devil so he could play the Blues.
There are two “suspected” locations of the Crossroads in Alabama and we went to both. The first was in Rosedale which we circled three times before we were certain of the location. Not too much fanfare but Jen still got an amazing shot with a broken guitar hanging from the street sign (both Crossroads signs below are hers). The second in Clarksdale, AL, is the most well known and has a large Crossroads marker. Clarksdale is also the home of Ground Zero Blues Club, owned partly by Morgan Freeman. We got there early enough to try the fried grits and catfish along with a couple of beers before the band went on and we got to hear a little bit of the Blues.
We also found a dive bar, Po Monkey, listed between the two towns, that sounded like an interesting place. So, we stopped in the middle of the cotton fields to check it out. I also almost bottomed out my new car (again). It wasn’t open so we will never know if it is the diviest of dive bars, but it sure looked like it from the outside.
Memphis was a great end to my musical trip to the South and a great fun-filled last couple of days with Jen.