We're glad you're coming down to our neck of the woods for Hill Country Harmonica. North Mississippi has its own distinctive flavor, and it's only an hour's drive from the heart of the Delta. We encourage you to build an extra day or two into your stay and do one or more of the following things:
§Visit THE SQUARE in Oxford and have a drink on the balcony of CITY GROCERY after visiting SQUARE BOOKS. Oxford, Mississippi is the home of The University of Mississippi, otherwise known as Ole Miss. Oxford is famous for many things--including the riot that ensued when James Meredith attempted to enroll in the University as the first African American student in 1962--but the Square, smack in the middle of town, is where visitors should start. Square Books is one of America's great independent bookstores; you can find any Mississippi author's works here, and pretty much anything else. City Grocery is one of a handful of restaurants in town run by award-winning chef John Currance (shrimp and grits is a local specialty), and if you're into fine dining you should check it out. I'd rather just climb the stairs and relax with a drink on the balcony of the bar, overlooking the Square. Somebody once described Oxford as a drinking town with a football problem. That may be true. Ole Miss is also known for having produced more Miss Americas than any other university in America. A drink on that balcony on a warm May afternoon may be the place to figure all this out. (If you get hungry later, amble across the Square and have some down-home food at Ajax Diner.)
§Have fried catfish for lunch at TAYLOR GROCERY. Fried catfish is what Mississippi does well. And nobody fries catfish like the folks at Taylor Grocery. Taylor is a small town--a crossroads, really--about 10 miles from Oxford. The weathered, slightly tattered front porch looks like...well, it looks authentic as hell, like something out of an old photograph of Mississippi from the 1930s, which is why the proprietors keep it that way. Folks are friendly! The only thing I've ever had there is the fried catfish filets with french fries, coleslaw, and hush puppies, and that's all I ever want. And iced tea. Sweet tea is standard issue, but they've got the other kind, too.
§Drive over to the Delta and visit CAT HEAD in Clarksdale. Every blues fan has heard of Ground Zero by now. It's a blues club in Clarksdale founded in the early 2000s by actor Morgan Freeman and local businessman Bill Luckett. Nothing wrong with it; it's got some good live blues, including a jam session on Thursday, and some decent soul food. But the real start of any Delta blues pilgrimage should be Cat Head--the website as well as the establishment, which is just down the block from Ground Zero. Roger Stolle moved to Clarksdale around the same time Ground Zero got off the ground, and Cat Head is a testament to his love and knowledge of the blues. It's the place for blues CDs, DVDs, videos, maybe even an old record or two. He's got a terrific variety of blues books and blues magazines. Best of all, he's got folk art by a huge array of local artists. If you've been hankering for one of those handmade gas-can guitars by James "Super Chikan" Johnson, you can find it here. Roger is also the acknowledged expert on where to find live blues on any given night in the state of Mississippi. The listing on his website is amazingly comprehensive. IF YOU DRIVE; Clarksdale is 60 miles due West from Oxford on Rt. 6. When you cross I-55, continue a couple of miles on a gentle downward slope through Batesville until you cross a small bridge, at which point you'll flow out and down--bang!--and everything suddenly becomes pancake-flat. The highway stretches out before you; cottonfields stretch away on either side. You are in the Delta. As for live blues: if something is going on at Red's Lounge, that's where Roger will send you. And you will go. You will drink at least one big-ass can of ice-cold beer. You'll realize very quickly that you have never actually been in a real juke-joint before but that you are definitely standing in one now. The blues--whoever Red has booked for that night--will cut right through you the way good blues does. And before that first beer is gone, you'll be glad that you decided to visit Mississippi.
§Visit historic Holly Springs. This might be an especially good option for wives, girlfriends, etc., who don't play harmonica and want to have touristy fun while the boys are harping it up. Holly Springs, 10 miles north of Foxfire Ranch, was a regional hub back in the old days, a major stop on the rail line. It has a handful of antebellum homes, an old-time town square--you might actually find a hardware store here, which you won't on Oxford's fancied-up square--and some other cool stuff, including Graceland Too, the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, and a couple of galleries and museums. All of it can be found hyperlinked on the Holly Springs Tourism and Recreation Bureau website: