No Strangers in the Delta

delta

I spent my late Thursday evening into Friday’s morning glued to a screen. I was a few feet away from my friend who was also enveloped by his laptop, and the two of us spent 14 hours tracking the manhunt in Watertown, Massachusetts. It was all unfolding a short five miles from the apartment we occupied. It was a shaky situation, a lot of dead air from the police radio, miscommunicated reports on all major news networks, and a very quiet chill all across the city.

It wasn’t until this night that a trip I took the weekend previous really hit me.

I went to the Mississippi Delta last weekend. I was in northwestern Mississippi for four days, absorbing and experiencing as much as I could. The people I met and the beauty I saw will never leave me, and I turn to those memories now, as the town I’ve returned to desperately needs some good vibes.

The group I was part of was six students all studying fingerpicking guitar, and our two professors Paul and Annie. We piggybacked on a trip lead by bass professor Lenny Stallworth with the all-student Berklee Mississippi Music Exchange band. They had a bunch of responsibilities like gigging and auditioning high school kids from the area for Berklee scholarships- all we had to do is drive around and see as much as we could.

We met an ancient man named Sonny Payne, he’s been in radio since 1942. The King Biscuit Time radio hour has been on air since 1951, and Sonny has since been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for his thorough commitment to playing the best music in the area, and historically, being just about the first guy to play black musicians on the radio.

An absolute highlight of the trip was our time spent in Greenwood, MS. On one side of the railroad tracks is a relatively nice town, modern brick homes and a CVS. The other side of the tracks is what is still called Baptist Town. This town is where The Help was filmed. The shacks used as the characters’ homes still stand, some from as far back as the 1910s, and are occupied as family homes.

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This store belonged to the father of Sylvester Hoover. Sylvester showed us around Baptist Town and worked with the location manager on The Help.

Sylvester and the rest of Baptist Town still haven’t seen any money from the project, but everyone still talks in great spirits about the time Hollywood came to Greenwood. I wanted to ask Sylvester, as he lead us around town, how the other residents felt about his historical blues tours and the tourists he’d brought to Greenwood; but it was so apparent in their smiling faces and open arms that they loved to have us. A keyboard was dragged out in front of the smoking barbecue, and with many a song, beer, and smoked ribs, we shared in real hope and happiness.

mikemusic

The six of us, all Berklee students from six different homes and backgrounds, have been studying music and the blues for a while now. We’ve all learned the tunes, we work toward mastering the techniques, and we scramble for Charley Patton records or Skip James on tape. But we’re students, this is academia. This is a particular art form that we’ve chosen to pursue. I knew something was missing in all our playing, and we had to go find whatever it was.

Whatever you want to call it, the missing link between just playing and really getting, was waiting for us in the Delta. I consider myself so lucky to have seen what I did, and to have met the amazing spirits I did down there. Sylvester Hoover in his infinite wisdom, said to us while taking us through Baptist Town: ain’t no strangers in the Delta.

Art by Laura C.

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