Clarksdale, Mississippi - October 2012 and May 2013
Don and I were planning a road trip which included the Mississippi Delta when we heard about this oddly named place, located on the historic Hopson Plantation. When I called to reserve one of the renovated sharecropper shacks, I found out they were booked. "It's The Pinetop Perkins Homecoming!" I was told. "But you're lucky, we still have 1 room left in the cotton gin."
I had never heard of Pinetop Perkins, but learned that he was a blues pianist, who later became the oldest to win a Grammy, at age 97. When he was a younger man he worked on the Hopkins Plantation, outside of Clarksdale, just a few miles from the legendary crossroads of Hwy 49 and Hwy 61... where the Blues is said to be born. Pinetop picked cotton and drove a tractor on the plantation, but had moved on with his music by the time Hopson became home to the first mechanized cotton pickers in the 1940's. In recent years, Blues musicians and fans have gathered at the Plantation to honor Pinetop each fall. Proceeds from the celebration go to Pinetop Perkins Foundation which provides music education for youth.
Long story short, Don and I lucked out. Our road trip would not only allow us a unique night sleeping in an old cotton gin, but we would experience a Blues Festival as well!
The Cotton Gin
This photo shows the rear of the old cotton gin, where hotel rooms were created by attaching carved out cotton bins. A winding staircase in a silo took us to our room on the upper level. We had a nice little balcony with a view of the sharecropper shacks across the grass. We also could see an old wagon here and a rusty truck or tractor there. The skies had just turned blue after a couple days of rain and folks were starting to emerge into the common area to socialize and play music.
The owners of this compound make it clear there are no frills, but our room was actually quite spacious and clean, with wifi and coffee maker. We didn't have a piano like some, but we did have a few old music posters and record albums for our amusement. The corrugated metal roof, headboard made from a door and oil drum/bedside table added a nice touch. A couple of folding chairs on our balcony gave us a place to sit while we pondered our best strategy for enjoying our stay.
Absorbing our Surroundings
Don and I bought a couple beers and roamed a bit. The atmosphere was calm and relaxing, with a gentle breeze carrying the music of numerous jam sessions. A sort of bluegrass group with bass and fiddle used an old wagon as a stage. A few shack porches held musicians jamming with guitars and harmonicas.
We wandered by a few of the sharecropper shacks, wondering about the history of each. There were a few other options for rental as well...a tiny trailer and a weathered houseboat.
The Old Commissary
This is where most of the music was happening. The building was crowded with oddball antiques and music fans. One man listened while perched on a dusty barber's chair. A woman swayed to the tunes underneath a hanging mass of dried cotton. The musicians and equipment squeezed happily onto a barely raised stage near the front door.
It felt like we'd stepped into a private party of musicians and friends playing for each other, cheering each other on. There were pros sharing the stage with amateurs. The young playing with the old... men, women...black, white. A great mix of performers with not one acting like a star.
Don and I returned last May, when things were a little quieter. Many of the shacks were in use since there was a harmonica and guitar workshop going on that weekend. But our little rental house (near these signs) seemed isolated from the other activity.
Once again we had time to explore the grounds just as evening was upon us. This time it felt very different. I'm not even sure which I like better.
Our Little House
Our house was once an office, rather than a sharecropper's shack.
It had a porch and wooden swing nearby.
Don and I happen to love cats so we were happy to have our friends share the porch. The furry one liked the handy psychiatrist's couch, which we didn't really put to use. And the gray cat liked the old chair covered in vines.
Best of All!
The skies grew dark and we ended up with a dramatic thunderstorm. We sat on the porch while rain pounded on the metal roof and gushed over the side. Thunder crashed and trees blew sideways! This was our muddy view from the porch a while later.
The Shack Up does not attempt to please everyone. Music and history buffs are more likely to feel comfortable in a room with warped floors and curtains hanging on tree branches. Our room décor included an antique desk and typewriter, a wooden Dutch shoe, 2 old box radios, a couple of soda fountain stools plus a roller skate. We had a TV and microwave and a bathroom with a big broken piece of mirror glass hanging over the sink. It's not for everyone, but it is what it is...without being cutesy.
We got to enjoy a sunset a few steps from our porch and then drove into Clarksdale for a feast with locals at Abe's Bar-B-Q! Back at the Inn we were invited to come in and enjoy the workshop students perform on their last night.
What made our 2 stays notable and unique?
We slept in a cotton gin! We stepped into history...music, farming... We met and observed incredibly interesting people. We had free Delta Donuts in the morning!
Would we visit again?
Yes! Bed and bath were not ideal, but the experience more than made up for it!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!