DeSoto Magazine August 2021

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august CONTENTS 2021 • VOLUME 18 • NO. 8


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Harry Connick Jr. Time to Play

​Chris Young The Hometown Anthem

MTV Celebrating 40 years

departments 12 Living Well Nature Remedies for Insect Stings ​ 16 Notables ​Sarah Thomas

38 On the Road Again ​​Opelousas, Louisiana 41 Greater Goods 60 Homegrown ​Musgrove Pencil Company

20 Exploring Art ​Memphis Deejay Ron Olson 24 Exploring Books ​Margaret Littman’s Moon Guide

64 Southern Gentleman ​Southern Nights Under The Stars 66 Southern Harmony Songwriter Brian Blake

26 Southern Roots ​Literacy Garden at Children’s Museum

70 In Good Spirits ​Further Southern Migration

30 Table Talk ​Rodeo Cafe in Holly Springs 34 Exploring Destinations ​Florida’s Lynyrd Skynyrd Trail


72 Exploring Events 74 Reflections Pickle Technology



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editor’s note | AUGUST

Southern Music

​ What an honor to have the multitalented singer, songwriter, and musician Harry Connick Jr. grace our cover this month for our annual music issue. Connick holds a place in my heart, not only for his music and acting prowess, but for his work helping to rebuild my hometown of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina blew through in 2005. You can read about his new album and tour, but also his effort to give a hand-up to the city’s musicians with the New Orleans Musicians’ Village. ​ This year marks a milestone in music — MTV launched 40 years ago to become the first cable television network devoted entirely to playing music videos. Mississippi native Bob Pittman helped make that happen and the Grammy Museum Mississippi in Cleveland honors Pittman and the anniversary with a new exhibit, “MTV Turns Forty: I Still Want My MTV.” ​If that’s not enough to have you singing, we also talk to Chris Young, who shares the stories behind his recent collaboration with Kane Brown, his many awards — including nabbing CMT’s Collaborative Video of the Year Award in June, — and his current tour. ​Meanwhile, we’d like to introduce you to a new member to our publication’s family, one who’s no stranger to our home base of Hernando, Miss. Casey Hilder is a writer, photographer, and designer who’s spent more than 15 years

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covering the South for a variety of publications. Casey has also served as an adjunct instructor for the University of Memphis Department of Journalism and Strategic Media, teaching courses on the basics of reporting, editing, web publishing, and print publication design. We’re honored to have such a talented member join our staff. We hope you’re enjoying the summer — I’m headed to the beach with a hot playlist! But, we know it’s steamy out there so maybe A/C’s more your speed. Either way, we hope you’ll pour yourself some cold iced tea, relax, and savor the many stories we offer this month.

Cheré Coen

on the cover

Harry Connick Jr. returns to touring with his new album, “Alone With My Faith.”

Photo by Gavin Bond

CONTRIBUTORS Tom Atkinson Michele Baker Jim Beaugez Cheré Coen Mary Ann DeSantis Jason Frye Pamela A. Keene Tracy Morin Karen Ott Mayer Karon Warron Kevin Wierzbicki Pam Windsor PUBLISHED BY DeSoto Media 2375 Memphis St. Ste 208 Hernando, MS 38632 662.429.4617 ADVERTISING INFO: Paula Mitchell 901-262-9887 SUBSCRIBE:

©2021 DeSoto Media Co. DeSoto Magazine must give permission for any material contained herein t o b e re p ro d u c e d i n a n y m a n n e r. Any advertisements published in DeSoto Magazine do not constitute an endorsement of the advertiser’s services or products. DeSoto Magazine is published monthly by DeSoto Media Co. Parties interested in advertising should email or call 901-262-9887. Visit us online at

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living well | INSECT STINGS

Wild Bergamot


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Bee Well Naturally By Karen Ott Mayer​ Photography courtesy of Karen Ott Mayer

Discovering the natural way to treating pesky insect stings through home remedies and tried-and-true country science. In the heat of the season when stinging insects like bees and wasps swarm about the yard, eventually deciding to sting, one burning question exists as well: Now what? Symptoms like pain, burning, redness, and swelling appear immediately. Depending on the individual, the histamine reaction varies from localized redness to life-threatening allergic reaction. Medicine cabinets are generally filled with the usual solutions like Benadryl or over-the-counter topicals like cortisone. On the other hand, home remedies may offer an alternative therapy for those motivated to explore the idea of plants as medicine. “Home remedies are super popular right now,” says Phyllis D. Light, a fourth generation herbalist/healer and founder of the Appalachian Center for Natural Health in Arab, Ala. Light supposes this may be a result of the pandemic lockdown, but in her 30 years as a practicing herbalist, she has also seen cyclical interest in alternative styles of treatment. When asking folks about their home solution to a bee sting, the answers can be as varied as the people. A myriad of suggestions include tobacco or an egg white and salt mixture, a paste made from aspirin, or a blend of essential oils. The efficacy of any of these ideas perhaps lies in personal opinion rather than exact science. Certified herbalists rely on intensive study of plants, the body, and how to extract chemicals from the plants in order to make remedies. This is entirely different than casual assumptions. Lisa Bedner spent 30 years as a practicing registered nurse while also earning certification as a Professional Medicinal Herbalist by the American Herbalist Guild. Located in a remote area of central Tennessee, Bedner is also part of the Teihanama tribal band and has lived on her farm, Pipsissewa Herbs, since 1983. She explains that plant gathering is the oldest traditional Native American method for finding cures. Hence, the well-known tobacco remedy.

Light has been in the deep woods since she was a child and echoes Bedner’s belief. “Tobacco was easy to get. You could wet a tobacco leaf and place it on the sting to draw the venom and reduce pain,” Bedner says. Using a leaf or part of a plant is the most basic practice. Bedner notes that even using a stem is possible for a sting. ​“Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot) has a hard almost square stem,” she says. “You can strip the leaves off of it and use it like a credit card to scrap off a stinger.” Because home remedies begin with a plant, basic knowledge is required to identify a plant and then create a product like a poultice, salve, or tincture to use as a remedy. And herein lies the challenge, given that today’s monocultural environment has not only taken over our residential landscape, but our larger wild lands. True plant varieties are becoming scarce. “For example, the monarda, or bee balm, has been hybridized so the properties are different from those plants in the wild,” Bedner says, noting that the true monarda grows in partial shade near woodland edges. “It grows to six feet and has white or lavender flowers. This plant has much more soothing ingredients.” Bedner points out another unexpected remedy which many Southern gardeners will appreciate. “Use clay soil to make a paste. It helps with the capillary action and can be rubbed on the surface of the skin. Sometimes, the simpler things are better.” Light says pine needles work great in salves and help reduce histamines. Both Bedner and Light take a practical, integrated approach with their crafts, offering grounded advice to consumers through trainings, seminars, and published works. ​ “Home remedies add useful and practical value to maintain health when used in the correct context,” Light

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says. “They can’t replace antibiotics for infection and herbs don’t take the place of an EpiPen. When integrated with mainstream medicine, they can work well together.” ​ She adds that perhaps another compelling reason exists to craft a home remedy for that next sting. “You can make the exact same oil or salve that is sold in a high-end grocery with no additives or preservatives,” she says. “Plus, you’ll experience a feeling of accomplishment you can’t buy.” Article disclaimer: This information is not intended to cure or treat any disease process nor is it approved by the FDA.

Freelance writer Karen Ott Mayer grows herbs on her farm in Como, Miss.

Infused Oil Primer Phyllis Light shares a basic method for making an infused oil using a small quart-sized crock pot. 1. Gather herbs. You can mix lawn weeds or herbs. Harvest the leaves. 2. Dry overnight. Moisture will cause mold if leaves aren’t dry. 3. Place herbs and organic olive oil in crock pot. Make sure the pot has low-warm-high settings. Important! 4. Use two-times the oil to the herbs. For instance, for one cup of herb leaves, use two cups oil. 5. Place lid on, but leaving it to one side for slight opening. Cook eight hours. Turn it off and leave overnight. Next day, turn on warm again for four hours. Cool. 6. Strain oil. Discard and compost plants. 7. Bottle oil which will be light green in color. Common lawn weeds for bee stings Chickweed Plantain Violets Cleavers

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notables | SARAH THOMAS

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Breaking the Rules Karon Warren | Photography courtesy of Sarah Thomas and the NFL

Sarah Thomas used a chance to stay active in organized sports to becoming the first permanent female official in the NFL. When Sarah Thomas started playing sports, she never dreamed she would don the black and white stripes of a National Football League official following her playing days. ​“When I played sports, I hated the officials,” Thomas says. “I was like, ‘I see you out here. You don’t have to blow the whistle every time I go up to block a shot,’ or something like that.” ​But, as the well-known cartoonist Allen Saunders once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” ​ For Thomas, a Pascagoula, Miss., native, those plans included a shot at the WNBA following a college basketball career at the University of Mobile. However, after breaking her leg playing softball, Thomas never tried out for the pro women’s basketball league. She did, though, continue to play basketball and volleyball in local church and pickup leagues. ​ While playing in a men’s church league, Thomas

learned she was unceremoniously voted out of the basketball league without any notice. The reason? She was a woman, and the men said they felt uncomfortable playing with her. This, after three years of playing in the league. “No one told me or called to discuss it,” she says. “It was kind of shady, really.” Not one to be knocked down for long, Thomas was having a casual conversation with her older brother, and asked what he was doing that night. He said he was going to a football officials’ meeting, and she asked if girls could do that. He said he thought so, and told her not to be late. ​Not only was Thomas on time, but she also started what would be a long string of firsts for women officiating in men’s sports. However, those firsts, like becoming an official, were not first of mind for Thomas. ​“I don’t think I really thought about it becoming a career until I got the call from (former NFL scout) Joe Haynes,” DeSoto 19

Sarah Thomas and brothers

Thomas says. “I literally called it a hobby. I loved doing it. But then my competitive juices started flowing, and I thought this was a way I could give back to the community, to stay involved in organized sports, and it was a challenge to me because I didn’t play the game of football. And I fell in love with it.” ​ In 2006, Thomas joined the Conference USA officiating staff, and, in 2010, became the first woman to officiate a major college football game. In 2009, she became the first woman to officiate a college bowl game. Although these firsts were notable, they were not on Thomas’ to-do list. ​ “Whenever you’re in football, wherever you are officiating, you want to stay focused on that,” she says. “You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself. I learned that when I got hired into Conference USA. Somebody asked me one time in an interview, and, it’s a stupid remark, I said I wanted to be the first female in the NFL. An idiotic statement. Because then I worked my first game in Conference USA where you have a video of yourself afterward. And I went, ‘You know what? I need to focus on being the best I can be whenever I’m working for Conference USA.’” ​ That focus led to more firsts for Thomas. In 2011, she became the first woman to officiate in a Big Ten stadium. In 2015, she was named the first permanent female official in the NFL. In 2019, she was the first female official to work an NFL playoff game. And on Feb. 7, 2021, Thomas became the first female official to work the Super Bowl. While some may see her accomplishment as prophetic based on her earlier comment, Thomas knows it was the result of hard work. 20 DeSoto

​ “I have a job to do,” she says. “I never ever set out to be the first. I say this wholeheartedly, that I just pray for the day that my daughter doesn’t have to grow up and say, ‘Can girls do that?’ They’ll have already seen it done. When those firsts first happened, some of them I didn’t even know were a first. I just knew I had a job to do. When they called me about the Super Bowl, all my friends and family were just stoked. And they were like, ‘Sarah, you’re so somber.’ And I was like, ‘I have a job to do. Once it’s over, then I’ll be able to celebrate.’” ​ And celebrate Thomas did. She did all she could to take it all in, to soak in the experience, to enjoy the moment. ​ “Every official hopes they get a call to go work a Super Bowl, that you rank No. 1 at your spot, that you did the job you were supposed to do and you did it well,” she says. “I was stoked, pumped, and I was glad my kids were there. I got them down on the field, and we took a picture at the end of the game. That was monumental. It was the Super Bowl.”

A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Karon Warren is a huge football fan who loves to cheer on her Southern Miss Golden Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, and New Orleans Saints.

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exploring art | RON OLSON

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Ron Olson

Rhythm and Hues By Jan Schroder Photography courtesy of Ron Olson and Vicki Olson

Memphis radio deejay Ron Olson turns lifelong passion for music into an art career. “You mean that radio guy? He does art?” It’s a common reaction from visitors to the shops, galleries, and homes where Ron Olson’s music-related art is displayed. Since the 1970s, Olson has entertained Memphians by spinning tunes, instigating stunts, and telling stories as an FM radio deejay. He grew up listening to soul music and began his radio career while still in college. “My first paying job was at a little AM station that played country music,” Olson says. “Our number one song was ‘Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer.’ I got paid $1.25 an hour.” In the late ‘70s Olson was program director of K97 in Memphis, then one of the largest urban stations in the country, before returning to being a deejay.

“We were all lucky enough to be in the music industry at the time we were in it,” he says. “Deejays were the influencers then — we told you what songs were great and where to buy them and what concerts to see. It was the most fun I’ve ever had. We worked with the best people and discovered a lot of artists. Our biggest song was ‘Rapper’s Delight’ — we could have played it every 10 minutes.” He did play a song repeatedly on his show once, which led to the Rolling Stones changing their tour schedule to come to Memphis, the result of his most memorable stunt as a deejay. “The album, ‘Some Girls,’ had just come out and I didn’t think the song ‘Miss You’ was getting the airplay it deserved,” Olson says. That led to him playing it repeatedly during his show, getting tossed off the air, and getting back on the air by having 500 people show up at the station by offering DeSoto 23

he quickly moved to music-related themes, usually featuring a guitar. “The guitar is the symbol of Memphis, which is the cradle of music,” he says. “So many people love to play the guitar and often people buy my paintings to encourage their spouses, their kids or friends to continue playing.” ​ Olson often incorporates song lyrics into his artwork. “I’ve heard the song ‘Domino’ by Van Morrison a million times,” he says. “Then I heard it recently and the lyrics, ‘Well, Mr. Deejay, I just wanna hear some rhythm and blues music on the radio, on the radio, on the radio’ just jumped out at me. That inspired another work of art.” ​ His wife Vicki, whom Olson fondly refers to as his partner in life and art, has a retail background and helps Ron with marketing. She is also the first person to see each piece and his test to see if they are any good. ​ Music remains his first love, creating a passion that earned Olson an induction into the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame in 2020. Today, he can still be heard alongside with his longtime co-host, Karen Perrin, weekday mornings from 6 to 10 a.m. on 104.5 The River. ​ Although his music career keeps him busy, he devotes as much time as he can to his art. “It’s my new passion, and you don’t cuss as much as you do when you play golf,” he says. ​Olson’s artwork is available in selected shops and galleries in Memphis.

the crowd free albums. “The Rolling Stones were rehearsing for their next tour, heard the whole radio segment, loved it, and decided to change their tour schedule to come to Memphis,” he says. “Tickets sold out in a few hours and I got to go backstage and meet Mick (Jagger). They gave me the gold record for ‘Miss You.’” Olson also has gold records from other famous artists including Queen, Billy Joel, and Journey that he keeps in his music room, which now doubles as his art studio. He got into art several years ago through a friend, David Stough, who owns David’s Frames & Art in Memphis and inspired him to pick up a paintbrush. Olson paints on wood, regular canvas, and metal. At one point, he painted on more than 100 pieces of rusted metal shelving he found in an Arkansas field that the owner let him have. “I started participating in some art shows, although I was intimidated by the other artists,” he says. “I was particularly intimidated by an amazing painting of a moose at one show, threw my name tag in the trash, grabbed some free meatballs and left. I told myself I needed to step up my game.” But then he got his first big sale to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, which gave him the motivation to continue. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” Olson says. “I’m self-taught and wanted my art to be raw, funky, and hand-drawn.” While his first works featured sunrises and sunsets, 24 DeSoto

Jan Schroder is an Atlanta-based travel writer and book author who loves to travel the world but always happy to return to the South.

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Concert on Wheels By Mary Ann DeSantis Photography courtesy of Margaret Littman and Moon Guides

In this newly revised Moon travel guide, the journey starts with a biscuit and country music and ends with a beignet and jazz riff. ​​ ​ Author Margaret Littman’s “Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip” offers so much more than descriptions of roadside attractions and places to eat typically found in guidebooks. While those kinds of detailed lists are included, she also explores history, arts and culture, recreational areas, and interestingly, the places where the nation’s musical legacies began. ​ At first glance, the book focuses on the Natchez Trace Parkway — the 444-mile route from Nashville to Natchez — but Littman veers off the parkway to explore several other iconic cities that influenced the Southern way of life. ​ After completing Moon Guides for both Nashville and the state of Tennessee, Littman began talking to the publishers about a guidebook for the Natchez Trace. First published in 2018, “Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip” was updated this past spring. ​From Nashville’s Jefferson Street Sound, where legends like Jimmy Hendrix, Little Richard, and Sam Cooke played, to Muscle Shoals rhythms and on to New Orleans’ iconic jazz clubs, the route is easily a musical journey. “If you do all of the drives in this book, you’ve covered the nation’s formative music,” Littman says. 26 DeSoto

​ Those off-the-parkway drives include stops in Memphis, Oxford, Jackson, and the Mississippi Blues Trail. Littman’s total drive is 620 miles and she recommends 12 days to do it all. ​“In just under two weeks, you can wind your way from one epic music and food city to the next,” she adds. ​ Of course, that is by car. Littman also includes a section in the book about riding bicycles or motorcycles, both popular modes of transportation along the parkway and the blues trail. Her “essentials” chapter even includes a list of repair shops. ​ A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Littman is a full-time writer who now lives in Nashville and covers stories in Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, with an emphasis on her adopted hometown. She says hiring local writers is what separates Moon Guides from other travel guides.

“If you do all of the drives in this book, you’ve covered the nation’s formative music.” Margaret Littman, author

Native Americans to the War of 1812 and the Civil War to the women in the early 1900s who fought to preserve the roadway.” ​ She drives the parkway often as it is one of her favorite places to explore, especially in the spring when the redbuds are in bloom and the temperatures are pleasant enough to hike. ​ “My favorite hike is Cypress Swamp (east of Canton, Miss.) because I didn’t grow up in the South,” says Littman, an Idaho native. “Seeing the swamp feels almost otherworldly to me. The boardwalk trail winds through the swamp, and I always make time to stop there.” ​ Her other favorite stops include the Native American mounds, especially Emerald Mound at Mile Post 10.3 near Natchez. ​ “Emerald Mound is the second largest mound in the United States,” Littman explains. “It was a very powerful experience. When I visit the mound, I think about the people who once lived there.” ​ Her favorite musical destinations include Muscle Shoals, which she calls an “essential music stop,” and Jackson’s Iron Horse Grill, which is connected to the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame. ​ In the book, Littman gives details and recommendations for exiting the Natchez Trace for gas, food, and accommodations. Many people, she says, do not realize service stations or restaurants are not located right on the Parkway itself, which is maintained by the National Park Service. And because visitors must get off for those essentials anyway, Littman decided to include the Mississippi Blues Trail and other nearby cities not usually associated with the Natchez Trace. ​“If someone wants to do a Mississippi road trip, those sites are relatively easy to get to and it made sense to include them as thematic connections, especially for music,” she explains. “If you are in Starkville or Oxford for a ballgame, here are some suggestions to add on to your trip.” ​ Littman is not done with the Natchez Trace. She traverses the area regularly looking for things that may need to be updated in future guides. She is also working on her new Moon Guide, “52 Things to Do in Nashville” to be released in December.

​ “Moon empowers us as locals and that is the thing I love about working with them,” she explains. “They really listen to us [writers] when we want to break out of the mold. If there is something offbeat, I can make that argument because I am local. It’s an exciting and thoughtful approach.” ​ Although she writes for a variety of publications, she A native of Laurel, Miss., Mary Ann DeSantis is planning her own on the Natchez Trace Parkway this fall, using Littman’s especially enjoys guidebooks because she loves showing people what is journey guidebook to find the special places. in their own backyards. “The Natchez Trace Parkway literally goes through people’s backyards and that spoke to me,” she says. ​ Littman believes the people who drive the parkway tend to be folks who like to learn about history and the route doesn’t disappoint. ​ “The Natchez Trace is a microcosm of U.S. history in this one road,” Littman says. “There are so many layers of history from DeSoto 27

southern roots | THE LITERACY GARDEN

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Sowing the Seeds of a Love for Reading By Michele D. Baker | Photography courtesy of Mississippi Children’s Museum

The Literacy Garden lets children explore and play in a magical space while encouraging storytelling. Imagine yourself in an enchanted garden like something out of a fairy tale. Pink mushrooms tower over your head and sing songs, giant yellow flowers become tables to write and draw upon, and a dancing waterfall spells out words. Luckily for little ones, this “magical kingdom” is a real place, part of the Mississippi Children’s Museum in Jackson. The Gertrude C. Ford Literacy Garden is designed to encourage language and reading skills using whimsical, literaryinspired sculptures, innovative technology, and native plants along with an edible garden to pull children from newborn to eight years old into the creative, limitless world of stories and imagination. Playing outside — celebrating and exploring the natural world — is an integral part of each child’s development and young children discover language and learn to love reading

as they play, explore and interact in the garden. There’s also a zone where smaller children and their caregivers can become collaborative learners. The unique space meets national and state education criteria, as well as Common Core standards and exposes youngsters to elements critical for literacy acquisition and allows them to become the heroes of their own stories. In fact, recent brain-based research supports the notion that storytelling is an effective way to help children’s brains develop. In “Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain,” Renate and Geoffery Caine state that “organization of information in story form is a natural brain process and … brain research confirms this evidence and begins to explain why stories [and storytelling] are important.” DeSoto 29

With these research and learning concepts in mind, landscape architects Robert Poore, Rob Anders, and others developed a “living building” themed around a sensory landscape based on author and storyteller Sherry Norfolk’s concept poem. “The Literacy Garden is a magical space where [children] can use their imagination to create stories, visit new or old worlds, climb the Tall Tale Tree House to survey the countryside, dance among the pylon sculptures, discover the secret reading rock, serve tea at the fairy table, or build a castle in the sand,” says Charley Frye, director of facilities for the Mississippi Children’s Museum. “I have especially enjoyed seeing adults in the rocking chairs telling their own stories to the children.” Organized as an outdoor forest, hundreds of children each week can explore, taste, hear, touch, and feel each “chapter.” They may pretend to be a talking monkey like Curious George when climbing the Tall Tale Tree House and splashing and sliding are encouraged at the Dancing Waters Word Fall. Kids may listen to stories read aloud in the Fairytale Mushroom Forest or write out skits to perform at the Act It Out Amphitheater. Visitors may also sample basil, rosemary, dill, mint, sage, oregano, strawberries, and baby tomatoes in the Jack and the Beanstalk Edible Garden — and play with the butterflies that flock to them — or clap along to the beat at the Rhythmic Sound Story Sculpture. A Topsy-Turvy Pathway weaves its way throughout the entire garden and is emblazoned with the words of the concept poem “The Enchanted Land of Story.” Despite the name, it’s easy to find your way out of the A-Maze-ing Hedge Maze. A Creativity Wall allows children to get in touch with their inner artist, and sun-loving toddlers will adore the Desert Island Exploration area. Work of Art writing station tables in the shapes of giant flowers offer a quiet opportunity to sit and color, draw or write. The outdoor literacy garden is just one of the exhibits available at the Mississippi Children’s Museum. Inside, children of all ages can discover the World of Work, a sampling of the industries and jobs available in Mississippi; Wild About Reading, which offers literacy-related games such as a giant Scrabble board, a playhouse and puppet theater; and the Public Broadcasting Service’s Between the Lions center. The Healthy Fun area focuses on a healthy body and takes children on a lifestyle tour to the Farmer’s Market and Little Cook’s Corner, and climb through a giant model of the digestive system starting at the mouth, winding through the stomach and intestines, and ending with a “whoosh!” Little kids and big kids alike will enjoy the Exploring Mississippi section’s giant map of the state, pine tree maze, underground cave, digging for fossils, “fishing” with magnetic poles in a lazy river, and kid-sized tug boat. For more information, visit Michele D. Baker is a freelance travel writer and blues music lover in Jackson, Miss. She also loves cats, books, and puttering around in gardens. Visit her website at

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table talk | RODEO CAFE

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The Rodeo Life By Tracy Morin | Photography courtesy of Rodeo Cafe

Rodeo Cafe wrangles up hearty home cookin’ for families in a unique rodeo-themed environment on the historic Holly Springs square. ​ When Rodeo Cafe opened its doors to the locals of Holly Springs, Miss., in January 2020, no one could have predicted the tumultuous months just around the corner. But for this budding restaurant, the rocky pandemic period became a blessing in disguise — it allowed co-owners Kent Holt and Barry Thomas to refine and perfect their concept. ​“Both Barry and I are interested in and involved in rodeo and equestrian events — he’s into barrel horses, and I have children in rodeo,” Holt explains. “I’ve been in the restaurant business 26 years, and we decided to start out as a lunch concept with a rodeo theme.” ​ After closing for six months last year to regroup, the duo reopened in November with expanded meal service. On Thursdays through Saturdays customers can enjoy lunch and dinner, while Saturdays offer up hearty breakfasts, too. ​ The rodeo theme permeates the entire environment, from TVs that play horse- and rodeo-themed events round the

clock to a water-trough chandelier. Pictures on the wall show off local folks with their prized horses. Luckily, Holt also owns a construction company with his sons, working on commercial concrete and metal buildings, so he was well-versed in updating and maximizing the layout. ​ “Barry owns the building, and it didn’t have a basement, so we dug one out and now we have downstairs seating,” Holt explains. “We did all of the design ourselves; Barry, me, and our wives put in our own interior design.” ​ Though the unique environment is a surefire draw, the food remains a major focus — and no one leaves hungry. The lunch menu consists of hot sandwiches, salads, and pasta, while steak filets and ribeyes highlight the dinner service. ​ Best sellers include the Get a Long Doggie, a footlong hot dog with brisket, slaw, and barbecue sauce, and The Rodeo, its take on a traditional Reuben sandwich. Holt’s wife, Shannon, even makes nightly yeast rolls that are irresistible DeSoto 33

when served with Rodeo Cafe’s house-made sweet butter. ​ “We have wonderful hot sandwiches and high-quality food,” Holt says. “We buy higher-end meats and have great breads, like rye and sourdough. But probably our No. 1 seller is our hamburger. It’s a half-pound on sourdough bread and people rave about it. The Bodacious is the bacon cheeseburger, the Cripple Creek is the cheeseburger, and the Wagon Boss is the plain hamburger. We have fun with the Western names.” ​ Even better, Rodeo Cafe maintains affordable prices so that families can fill up without breaking the bank. In fact, post-meal soft-serve ice cream is always on the house, which has been a hit with all ages. ​“Our price point is reasonable so that people can come out and eat a steak, and not just for a special occasion,” Holt says. “People love the atmosphere, too. We get a lot of five-star reviews. Plus, we train our folks to take care of the customers. They understand the importance of quality service.” ​Indeed, the fun, family-friendly concept has attracted visitors not only from neighboring towns, but from far beyond the region. Lately, for example, Holt has noted many out-oftowners passing through on their way to Florida. ​ “They’re coming from Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa — you name it,” he says. “They all think it’s a great experience. And we know Holly Springs has a smaller population, so we were always hoping to pull people from Oxford, Memphis, and Tupelo. It’s a nice trip for motorcyclists to see the square, stop and eat with us.”

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​ Next up, Holt and Thomas are looking to expand even further. By fall, the duo will install a small retail area and a mechanical bucking bull for kids and adults alike to try their luck at the rodeo life. Then, by mid-2022, the owners plan to have outfitted an entire upstairs area with more seating and room for live music. An old Western bar — the non-alcoholic kind — will serve up ice cream treats and sodas from the fountain. ​ “Upstairs, we have a beautiful, old stamped-tin ceiling that runs across the length and width of the whole building, and there’s room for 300 to 350 more people up there,” Holt says. “With live entertainment and a bar serving up root beer floats and banana splits, plus our good food, we think people will enjoy coming out.” ​ Aside from the visitors that flock in, Holly Springs locals have also come out to support the restaurant from day one. With second and third phases planned to improve his establishment even further, Holt believes it’ll only attract even more visitors in the future. ​“We have a unique feel and something very different, with the Western theme,” Holt says. “It’s just a fun place to take the whole family.” ​ Based in Oxford, Miss., Tracy Morin is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with a passion for covering food, beverage, beauty, and boxing.

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exploring destinations | CLAY COUNTY

Skynyrd display credit Clay County. Photo by Mike Cella

Guitar at Whiteys. Photo by Pamela A. Keene

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Temporary Skynyrd exhibtion credit Clay County. Photo by Mike Cella

Rockin’ Northeast Florida By Pamela A. Keene Photography Credits: Vintage Photos and Jeff Carlisi, Courtesy of Jeff Carlisi. Photos of Reception: Clay County/Mike Cella All other photos: Pamela A. Keene

Clay County offers unique Southern Rock heritage of Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special. All that’s left of Hell House, the sort-of secret songwriting and jamming site for the rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, is a piece of raggedy cinder block in the Clay County, Fla., archives. Located in the Old County Jail, the archives attracts Southern Rock music fans who want to be part of history. ​“We’ve had people come by just to have their picture taken with that piece of cinder block,” says Clay County Archives Specialist Vishi Garig. “You’d be surprised that they come here on a quest to find out about this area as the one of the birthplaces of Southern Rock in late 1960s and early 1970s.”

​ Back then, Clay County was one of a couple of Florida hot spots where the band, regular guys who grew up as neighbors and friends, started jamming and later made music history. Members of Lynyrd Skynyrd came together at Hell House to play and jam; its remote location ensured privacy. Once in a while, they’d include their friend, guitarist Jeff Carlisi, to join them at Hell House. “The guys in Lynyrd Skynyrd and I had similar musical tastes and would invite me to come out,” says Carlisi, who with Donnie Van Zant and Don Barnes, went on to found .38 Special. “It was a good ways out, a perfect place along Black Creek to get away, practice and write music; we always kept it a secret,” he says. DeSoto 37

Carlisi, who now lives in the Florida Panhandle, retired from .38 Special in 1997. Since then, he played in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame house band for nine years and performs at charity events. Carlisi and Donnie Van Zant started a couple of bands together, playing teen clubs in the area when they were in high school. “Most of the musicians around Jacksonville, Orange Park and Green Cove Springs knew each other.” Carlisi’s neighborhood was rich with talent. Billy Powell, who became the keyboardist for Skynyrd, lived three blocks away. Skynyrd founders Ronnie Van Zant, Gary Rossington, and Allen Collins also lived in Jacksonville. “We’d go over to Billy’s house and play,” says Carlisi. “Leon Wilkeson was two streets over, and I’d jump on my bike and ride over to Allen’s house.” When Carlisi went off to college in Atlanta, Ronnie, Billy Powell, Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, and Bob Burns took to the road. After Carlisi graduated from Georgia Tech, he, Donnie Van Zant and Don Barnes founded .38 Special. Several years later, when Skynyrd and .38 Special’s rehearsal studios were near each other in downtown Jacksonville, Carlisi and producer Kevin Elson sat down with Ronnie after recording a demo. “I remember sitting there, just Ronnie, Kevin and me, and Ronnie just started singing — he never wrote down the lyrics; they just came to him,” he says. “I picked up a dobro and we worked on the arrangement together. That was ‘Four Walls of Raiford.’” After the air crash in 1977 in Gillsburg, Miss., that killed six people, including Ronnie, the band’s survivors quit performing for 10 years. Johnny brought the group back together a decade later with Rossington and other musicians. They still perform at area events. Although they’ve traveled the globe making music, these days, Johnny and brother Donnie live next door to each other on several acres in Clay County. They still make music and travel, performing as The Van Zant Brothers. “We moved back to Clay County 40 years ago and found this great land with horses out near the Black Creek Swamp,” Johnny says. “We traveled so much that it’s nice to be back in Clay County. We love it here.” The brothers often get together in their backyard studio to work on projects. “Right now, we’re working on a gospel album,” he says. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” He’s also still performing and recording with Lynyrd Skynyrd. As for the legacy Skynyrd has in Clay County, Johnny says he has high hopes. The 90-acre Ronnie Van Zant Memorial Park in Lake Asbury was built in 1992 and is a popular place for recreation. “You know, it’s great to live here,” he says. “Maybe one day, they’ll even put a Skynyrd museum here.”

Atlanta-based journalist Pamela A. Keene went to high school with Jeff Carlisi and later wrote about Southern Rock, Capricorn Records, and the Allman Brothers Band when she worked at The Macon Telegraph and News.

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, s a s u o l e p O Louisiana

on the road again | OPELOUSAS, LOUISIANA

8:30 a.m. Enjoy breakfast with locals at Chicorys at the Palace, located on a corner of the historic Opelousas Courthouse Square. Locals have been visiting this spot for years, since Greek immigrants opened a restaurant called The Palace Sandwich Shop. It closed in 2019, but new Chicorys owners carry on the name and tradition. 10 a.m. Head over to Le Vieux Village Heritage Park for an overview of the cultural significance of Opelousas, Louisiana’s third oldest city. With a name than translates to “old village,” the site offers buildings from centuries past, including the home of Marie Francois Venus, one of the oldest Creole homes west of the Mississippi River. 11 a.m. The Heritage Park also contains the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum. New York City had an exponential rise in orphans in the late 1800s, so two charity institutions found homes for the children across the country until 1929. About 2,000 of these orphans arrived in Louisiana and the museum tells their stories. 12 p.m. South Louisiana residents love their boudin, a sausage stuffed with rice, pork, and Cajun seasonings. Enjoy this delicacy at DezMeaux’s Boudin, but take it a step further with their fried chicken wings stuffed with boudin. 1 p.m. Opelousas sits in the center of St. Landry Parish and is one of several cities that have spawned American music genres. Head north on Interstate 49 with a stop at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center to view the statue that honors musician Amédé Ardoin, known as the father of Creole music, which evolved into today’s distinct zydeco genre. 1:30 p.m. Up the road in Ville Platte, visitors can learn about swamp pop, a genre of music that includes Fats Domino, Hank Williams, Bobby Charles, and Dale and Grace. The music marries a New Orleans-style R&B with country, Cajun and Creole influences and the railroad depot-turned-museum highlights when swamp pop singers made the Billboard charts. 3 p.m. In the neighboring town of Eunice, learn about the roots of Cajun music at the Cajun French Music Hall of Fame & Museum. Visitors can increase their scope of this unique American musical genre with a short walk to the Jean Lafitte Prairie Acadian Cultural Center, a national park which hosts weekly events, including music sessions. 4:30 p.m. Swing by the Savoy Music Center in Eunice where pioneer accordion builder Marc Savoy crafts “Acadian” squeezeboxes that fuel dozens of local Cajun and zydeco bands. Visit on Saturday mornings and join in the weekly jam session. 6 p.m. Finish the day with a relaxing meal at Café Josephine in the quaint town of Sunset, just south of Opelousas. Try Creole and Cajun dishes such as gumbo, or something more modern like their Zydeco tacos, spiked with a drizzle of Sriracha and pecan pepper jelly.

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To plan your visit:


Please check websites or call ahead for updated information.

Swamp Pop Legends Show Aug. 21 The circa-1901 Grand Opera House of the South in nearby Crowley, with its magnificent stage, has welcomed music legends, plays, and comedy acts for more than a century. The Swamp Pop Legends Show on Aug. 21will feature The Cypress Band with Willie Tee, Warren Storm, T.K. Hulin, Bert Miller, Lynn August, and Christopher John.

Original Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival Sept. 4 Opelousas is the “Zydeco Music Capital of the World” and every Saturday before Labor Day musicians rock the town with this annual festival. It begins with the Bloody Mary Zydeco Breakfast and then music flows all day. Look for Grammy nominee Geno Delafose & French Rockin’ Boogie, Nathan Williams & the Zydeco Cha Chas, Grammy winner Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band, and more. This year’s festival theme is “Zydeco Brings You Back, Comment ça va,” the latter which translates to “How are you?”

Festivals Acadiens et Créoles Oct. 8-10 Lafayette This annual festival brings together the best of Cajun and zydeco music, along with the indigenous cultures and foodways of South Louisiana for a three-day extravaganza. Best of all, admission is free. Compiled by Cheré Coen. Photos by Cheré Coen

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greater goods | BACK TO SCHOOL

Back to School












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By Pam Windsor Photography Credits: Georgia Connick, Sasha Samsonova, Paul Mintzer and Little Fang Photography

Harry Connick Jr. is excited about hitting the road this month for his first tour since the pandemic. The multi-Grammy winning singer, composer, and musician has a number of stops scheduled throughout August for his aptly named “Time to Play!” summer tour. DeSoto 45

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Like countless other musicians, Connick’s last tour came to an abrupt halt in March of 2020 due to COVID-19, so he returned home to Connecticut. After a month or two of dealing with the uncertainty of all that was happening in the world around him, he felt himself drawn to his home studio. He began playing and recording music to help work through some of the different emotions he was feeling. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was the start of an eight-month creative endeavor that would result in his most deeply personal music project ever, an album called “Alone With My Faith.” “I just thought it might be cool to play and sing some songs about what I was feeling,” he says. Those feelings ranged from the joy of spending time with family to concerns about the pandemic to sadness over the loss of loved ones. “I was happy to be a person of faith, but I was questioning my faith and everything in-between and I thought I would document all of those feelings in an album,” he says. “And maybe it would resonate with some other folks who were feeling the same thing.” The songs range from well-known hymns like “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “Old Time Religion,” to those he wrote like “Alone With My Faith,” “Benevolent Man,” and others. While the album delves into Connick’s faith on a deeper level than he may have shared in the past, it also showcases his varied musical talents in a way that might surprise even his most devoted fans. He served as producer, sole musician, and vocalist, and filled other roles in what turned out to be a complete one-man effort. “I’ve never done an entire album like this where I played all the instruments and sang all of the vocal parts and was actually the engineer,” he says. “I was setting up the drum mics and everything, because there was literally no one else for the entire eight months or so that I did it.” He took time to arrange each song, choosing the distinct vocal and instrumental approach he felt best suited the lyrics. Even his take on familiar gospel songs is uniquely his own. Listeners hear him sing everything from lead to harmony to background vocals and play a wide range of instruments including the piano, trumpet, tuba, drums, B3 organ, and many others. Once the album was finished, DeSoto 47

Ellis Marsalis Center for Music

Connick looked to his daughter, Georgia, a photographer and videographer, to direct the music videos for “Amazing Grace” and “Alone With My Faith.” Both videos were shot during the cold, snowy Connecticut winter with much of “Amazing Grace” taking place in an old structure that worked perfectly for the visuals but offered a bit of a challenge during the shoot. “This place was a beautiful opera house that had probably been out of business for 60 years,” Connick explains. “So, it was a shell, and it was absolutely freezing. If you watch the video, you can see smoke coming out of my mouth.” He laughs, then adds that the end result was well worth it, commending his daughter for a job well done. “She knew what she wanted, she shot and edited it, and I was really proud of her.” Connick and his wife, Jill, have three grown daughters and he says they’re all equally strong, principled, and incredibly creative. Like most of Connick’s work, “Alone With My Faith” reflects the musical styles Connick learned growing up in New Orleans. He began playing piano and singing at the age of five. As he grew older, he was mentored by music legends, keyboardist James Booker, and jazz pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis Jr. Sadly, Marsalis passed away on April 1, 2020. The Associated Press reported his death was due to pneumonia 48 DeSoto

brought on by the coronavirus. Connick maintains close ties to his beloved hometown decades after leaving to pursue his music career. “Everything I am is from that town,” Connick says. “My whole musical identity and a lot of who I am as a person is a result of being born and raised there. My dad still lives there, my extended family lives there, so I go home all the time. I would say probably 10 times a year or more.” Connick also works with several projects in the area, including some that evolved after Hurricane Katrina. He traveled to New Orleans immediately after the August 2005 storm decimated the region. “When it happened, I was really concerned about my dad and the rest of my family because I couldn’t get in touch with anybody,” he recalls. “I got down there a day or two later. Eighty percent of the city was under water and many, many people were essentially ignored. When I went to the Convention Center there were thousands and thousands of people who’d been told to go there and they would be evacuated after three days. There were white, black, old, and young people, there were dead bodies there.” He remembers being approached by several elderly women who recognized him and asked if he knew what was happening.

“They had been there for three days with no food and no water, and it was the most awful thing I’d ever seen. Yeah, that was a tough time.” As Connick pitched in to help, he partnered with Branford Marsalis and Habitat for Humanity to create the Musicians’ Village and the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. Both the village and the center have continued to flourish and serve the community. “In the Musicians’ Village there are 80 homes and about 80 percent of them are lived in by musicians and their families. That was the whole point, to get as many displaced musicians back as we could. And right in the center is the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music which is an amazing multi-million-dollar community center and recording center where we host classes.” The Center offers services a n d prog rams to under privileged youth and musicians from poverty-stricken neighborhoods. “If you take two kids and you give one of them an opportunity and you take opportunity from the other one, you know which one is going to succeed,” Connick says. “This is something Branford Marsalis and I started and are intimately involved with. It’s thriving and it’s a model for other places around the country to emulate. It’s a special, special place.” As Connick returns to performing live music, he’ll continue welcoming other new projects, as well. An accomplished actor known for his roles in movies like “Hope Floats” and TV appearances in shows like “Law & Order: SVU,” he saw the release of his latest film, “Fear of Rain” earlier this year. And while the lockdown slowed entertainment production for a while, he still has a number of things in the pipeline. During more than three decades in the entertainment business, he has proven he’s always eager to embrace what comes next. “I’m always pushing myself to do more because I think I should, and I can,” Connick says. “I like the idea of working and filling my days with creative stuff. I’m just lucky I can do it.” Pam Windsor is a longtime journalist who enjoys writing about music, travel, and extraordinary people.

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Grammy Museum Mississippi celebrates the 40th anniversary of the cable network that changed music forever.

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By Jim Beaugez Photography courtesy of Grammy Museum Mississippi

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MTV's first VJs

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Nearly four decades after the Aug. 1, 1981, launch of MTV, the first cable television network devoted entirely to playing music videos, co-founder and Mississippi native Bob Pittman found himself back in his home state, surrounded by relics of the cultural revolution he helped ignite. Pittman was on hand in May when the Grammy Museum Mississippi in Cleveland unveiled “MTV Turns Forty: I Still Want My MTV,” a comprehensive exhibition that tells the story of the Music Television network’s rise to prominence not only in music but also popular culture. Seeing the finished product, says museum executive director Emily Havens, wowed even the man who witnessed it all firsthand. “Bob was certainly on board [and] he helped open some doors with the VJs and with MTV,” Havens says, but the finished exhibit exceeded his expectations. “I don’t think he realized what a big exhibit it was, and how comprehensive.” “ M T V Turns Fo r t y ” i s t h e f i r s t exhibition fully conceived, researched, and produced by the staff and interns at the Grammy Museum Mississippi. The new exhibit, which will run through June 2022, was the brainchild of Lucy Janoush, a community educator and leader who served as president of the museum’s board of directors from its inception in 2011 under she passed away in 2017. “She wrote notes to people to carry on without her,” explains Havens, “She really wanted us to do an exhibit honoring Bob Pittman. She wrote down an outline of what the exhibit might look like, and we were able to, a couple of years ago, decide that this was something we really wanted to pursue as a Mississippi team.” Pittman and fellow co-founder John Sykes sat for interviews that became centerpieces of the exhibit. Once the team secured those assets, the acquisition process got easier. “After we started curating that part of the exhibit, we were able to work on a lot of those individuals [who] had a wonderful collection of artifacts, from contracts to marketing pieces to T-shirts,” she says. “There’s the jacket that Alan Hunter wore on the launch, at his debut on MTV. And from there, we started looking at what artists we could reach out to, and we’ve gotten some great artifacts.” The exhibit chronicles MTV’s beginnings, with the first set where “VJs” DeSoto 53

(video jockeys) like Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman, and Martha Quinn recorded their earliest on-air segments, and progresses through the network’s phases with sections like the dancefloor from Club MTV. Along the way, museumgoers can see iconic pieces of music history, such as outfits worn in videos and live performances for MTV by Sting, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. “My favorite piece is a guitar Bret Michaels [of Poison] used on the ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ video,” says Havens. “And there’s a beautiful guitar and outfit from the VMAs (Video Music Awards) that Jon Bon Jovi wore and performed in,” she says of the rocker’s memorable 1989 duet with guitarist Richie Sambora on “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

I Want My MTV!

Despite the heights MTV reached, especially during its first two decades — replacing radio as the dominant engine for breaking and promoting new music, popularizing reality television programming with “The Real World” and other franchises, and becoming a cultural tastemaker whose influence crossed into politics during the 1992 presidential election — from the outset, the network seemed destined to fail. When the channel launched, it had fewer than 250 music videos in its library — not enough for a day’s worth of programming, even when combined with branded ads and news and banter segments featuring the VJs. Record companies, still deeply invested in the system of radio promotions, weren’t eager to divert cash to support an unproven business model with free content. Cable networks didn’t buy in, either, and without viewers, advertisers sat on the sidelines. Even in Manhattan no cable providers would carry the network, so the staff crossed the Hudson River to the New Jersey suburbs just to watch the channel makes its debut. The network slowly gained support from advertisers and expanded its footprint with cable companies, but it wasn’t enough. Pittman doubled down with what he saw as their last chance by pushing an advertising campaign aimed at putting pressure on cable gatekeepers to carry the network. The phrase “I Want My MTV” may be remembered as the refrain to Dire Straits’ 1985 No. 1 hit “Money for Nothing,” but before that it was literally a call to action for music fans across the United States. 54 DeSoto

The gamble worked, and the MTV Video Music Award “moon man” statue Dire Straits received for the “Money for Nothing” video, which won Video of the Year, is part of the collection of artifacts on display at the Grammy Museum Mississippi. Nearby is a contract between Michael Jackson, the network’s first megastar, and the Screen Actors Guild concerning the cinematic 13-minute video for “Thriller,” which debuted in 1983. The highly successful promotional film broke down the racial barriers at MTV by being the first video by an African American artist to receive heavy rotation, as well as upping the stakes for the artform itself. After “Thriller,” thematic and arthouse-style videos became the norm. On the opening night of May 14, the museum hosted an educational program featuring Pittman, Quinn, and Hunter for about 150 students in the Delta. Even the original VJs who couldn’t be there in person contributed to the oral history. Mark Goodman and Nina Blackwood opened their personal collections for the museum and also sat for video interviews that became part of the exhibit. “[Quinn and Hunter] were excited to be in Mississippi, excited to see this exhibit; it brought back a lot of memories for them,” says Havens. “Alan Hunter still has quite a collection and most of his collection is in the museum. You could tell that they still really are connected.” While most of the original MTV team has moved on to other careers, Pittman, who parlayed his years of working as a radio programmer to bring vision to the nascent cable music channel, has stayed in media, serving in executive roles at Clear Channel and AOL Time Warner. Pittman has now come full circle as CEO of iHeartRadio, back in the radio business where he began as a disc jockey in Brookhaven, Miss. “Bob [being] from Mississippi certainly helped us, to be able to honor him and at the same time celebrate MTV’s 40th anniversary,” says Havens. “The exhibit has great interviews, it has great paper artifacts and contracts and marketing pieces, and it also has really beautiful outfits and instruments. It’s been really fun to watch it all come together.” Jim Beaugez is a freelance writer based in Mississippi. Follow him on Twitter @JimBeaugez.

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The Hometown Anthem By Pam Windsor Photography courtesy of Jeff Johnson

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Chris Young and Kane Brown

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2021 has turned out to be a pretty good year for Chris Young. He watched his “Famous Friends” duet with fellow artist, Kane Brown, become one of the fastest climbing singles he’s ever had. The smash hit also won CMT’s Collaborative Video of the Year Award in June. After a lengthy moratorium on touring due to COVID-19, Young is back on the road performing before enthusiastic crowds across the country. And this month (on Aug. 6), Young releases his first new album in four years. “I’m just thrilled about it,” he says. “This has been the longest gap I’ve ever had in getting new music into people’s hands. I love the album and can’t wait for people to get to hear it.” T he album, called “Famous Friends” like its popular title track, features 14 songs with all but one of them co-written by Young. While the coronavirus lockdown posed a number of challenges, he says if there was any bright spot, it was the extended amount of time it gave him to write, look for meaningful songs, and work a little more on the producing end with some of his music. “There’s love songs, there’s breakup songs, then there’s something like ‘Raised on Country’ which talks about my (musical) influences on radio growing up,” Young says. That song, in particular, highlights Young’s love of traditional country music, with references to artists he’s always looked up to like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and George Strait. Then there’s the popular, catchy, title track with has an interesting twist. At first, a song called “Famous Friends” might lead some to believe it’s about Young’s famous “country music” friends. However, it focuses on some of the special people who knew him “before” he made it big. ​ “It’s a song that spotlights the people that are ‘famous’ to you that you grew up with,” he explains. “Everybody else might not know them, but you know them, and they helped shape who you are.” For Young, who hit the music scene after winning season four of the “Nashville Star” TV show in 2006, getting the chance to highlight some of those who “knew him when,” was a lot of fun. “They were all excited,” he says. “There was only a couple of them who didn’t know about it beforehand. One guy in particular hit me up and was like, ‘Is that me you’re talking about? And I was like, ‘Yep, it DeSoto 59

sure is!’” After writing the song, Young asked friend and fellow artist, Kane Brown, to sing it with him. They revised the lyrics, which already had references to Rutherford County, Tenn. (where Young grew up), to include Hamilton County, Tenn. (where Brown is from). The song also mentions Nashville’s Davidson County. The music video, which won this year’s CMT award, shows Young and Kane singing from a rooftop overlooking Music City, and includes shots of some of those real-life friends. Since bursting onto the country music scene 15 years ago, it’s been a steady ride for Young. He’s had a stream of No. 1 hits, been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, and so far, had the rare opportunity to stay with the same record label his entire career. “You can put in all the work in the world and some of that stuff is going to be out of your hands,” Young explains. “The fact that I’ve been able to stay at one label my entire 60 DeSoto

career has been very cool because you don’t hear those stories very often. You hear more about people moving around or getting to a point where, okay, now it’s time to go our separate ways. That may happen at some point, but the fact that I’m still here means something. When I started my career, my first three songs were not hits. None of them even broke 37 on the charts. So, the fact that I can look back at all of these No. 1s and Top 5s and other gold singles that may not have even been on radio, is just wonderful.” A powerful vocalist, Young’s talent as a songwriter has also helped cement his strength as an artist. One song on the album called “Drowning” touches on the loss of a close friend. “That was a tough song to write, but it was very cathartic,” he says. “It was about a buddy of mine I lost many years ago in a car accident. He was there one day and the next day he was gone, and I’d never really dealt with that sort of loss before.” Young got together with co-writers Corey Crowder

and Josh Hoge and they wrote a song to touch on dealing with grief over the loss of someone gone way too soon. “Whether it’s a close friend or a family member, most people at some point in their life have that instance where they lose somebody,” Young says. “And one of the things about grief is sometimes it’s not all at once and then it goes away. It comes in waves and goes back and forth and it’s something you continually get through.” The song, which was an early release, has resonated with many of Young’s fans. “A lot of people have come up to me and said they needed the song,” he says. “And that means the world to me.” His ability to connect with people — through music, as well as his personal and professional relationships, — has only added to his staying power as an artist. Just like his “Famous Friends” song suggests, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. In January, he returned to Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro for the grand opening of a learning lab and entertainment center that bears his name. It came nearly two years after he donated $50,000 to renovate an older building on campus for its use. He’s been honored to work with the school on a number of things. “Yeah, this is my hometown and where I went to school,” Young says. “They named a building after me which is really wild. I feel really lucky I’ve been able to maintain that relationship with them and that they wanted that relationship with me. There are plenty of people who have been to that school.” As Young looks ahead to the release of the new album, he’s grateful for an incredible year, so far. “Seeing the success of the single has been great,” he says. “And I know it sounds trivial because I’ve been really lucky to have the number of albums I’ve had, but putting out new music is always exciting. After a year-and-a-half away from performing and everything else, now with it all starting back up, it feels really special. And I’m not going to take any of it for granted.”

Pam Windsor is a freelance music, feature, and travel writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

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homegrown |

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Henry Hulan

Putting a Fine Point on It By Tom Adkinson | Photography courtesy of Musgrave Pencil Co., Steve Haruch and Tom Adkinson

Musgrave Pencil Co. is well into its second century of turning out topquality pencils as a thriving survivor in an industry that has largely moved overseas. Henry Hulan knows pencils. He should. He’s worked in pencil manufacturing for most of his 80 years, following in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather. “Granddaddy” James Raford Musgrave created the company in 1916, and a fourth generation is positioned to keep it going. Musgrave Pencil Co. was a major reason former Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington once dubbed Shelbyville, 60 miles south of Nashville, “Pencil City.” Musgrave Pencil, other manufacturers, and numerous support businesses made the nickname quite logical until foreign competition practically erased U.S. pencil making. In addition to the pencil manufacturers in Pencil

City’s heyday, there were machine shops, imprinters, eraser manufacturers, graphite core manufacturers (don’t call what’s inside a pencil “lead,” it’s a graphite core), box makers, and shippers. Today, all that remains is Musgrave Pencil, but its pencils still fly off the production lines quite nicely, thank you. Hulan knows of only three other major U.S. pencil companies. “We were lucky to have a few stable customers that basically kept us in business (in some lean times),” Hulan says, noting that a solid market remains for Musgrave’s American-made pencils — even if they command a premium price — compared to lesser-quality imports. DeSoto 63

Making their mark Pencils may seem simple, but making them is not, especially if you make good ones. The process starts with choosing a type of wood. Company founder James Raford Musgrave backed into the business by being a supplier of slats cut from Tennessee cedar trees. His customers were pencil makers in Europe. World War I put a wrinkle in that business plan, and Musgrave decided to handle the whole process in Shelbyville. He bartered cedar slats for European pencil machinery, found a German immigrant mechanic in St. Louis, and started hiring locals. Today, his staff is comprised of nearly 100 people. Touring Musgrave Pencil factory is a trip back in time. In fact, the company founder would feel quite at home. It’s noisy, nonstop, high-speed, and surprisingly labor intensive, despite the array of complicated machinery that might appear to be Rube Goldberg contraptions but actually are precision instruments. “We have machines that have been here since the late 1930s,” Hulan says. “(In the early decades) all the machines used to run off a line shaft powered by a steam generator that burned our own sawdust. Imagine all the belts and pulleys back then. We were largely self-sufficient from the start.” Getting to the point Watching thin slats of wood morph into finished pencils is intriguing. It’s an exercise in sandwich making, capped off with multiple coats of paint and some notso-gentle squeezing. The process starts with a slim rectangular piece of wood with channels cut into it. Graphite cores slide into the channels, glue is applied, and a mirror-image piece of wood is placed on top. That “sandwich” gets locked into forms so the glue will set. Later, the sandwich gets fed into a cutting machine that spits out raw pencils at a prodigious pace. The pencils could be round, hexagonal, or rectangular. The rectangular ones are carpenters’ pencils, useful to carpenters because they won’t roll away and are exceptionally good for advertising and promotional purposes. Many steps remain. If you think a Musgrave pencils gets a single paint baptism, you’d be wrong by a factor of at least six. Imprinting a logo or a special message comes next, and finally comes tipping. That’s when a machine grabs each 64 DeSoto

pencil to crimp down one end to add a metal ferrule. A whirling bin of erasers pops one into the open end of the ferrule, and a final squeeze locks the eraser in place. Tennessee red cedar isn’t as abundant as it used to be, and most of Musgrave’s pencils now are basswood or incense cedar. Ironically, much of that wood comes from American trees shipped to China and returned as pencil slats, the opposite of what James Raford Musgrave did a century ago. Drawing on variety Musgrave Pencil’s customers today are a diverse lot. The school market is big. Even a computer screen-addicted elementary school student enjoys being rewarded with a pencil that says, “I’m a Superstar,” “Student of the Month,” or “I Try My Best.” Perhaps even better are ones decorated with dinosaurs, turtles, or lizards. One truly serious product is a school pencil with a graphite core designed specially to be used on standardized tests. Beyond that, companies want promotional pencils, family celebrations want special mementos, artists want pencils with discrete gradations of graphite cores, and some people simply want a top-quality, distinctive, American-made writing instrument. That explains Musgrave Pencil’s Heritage Collection, its own branded products, some with great backstories. For instance, Single Barrel 106 pencils are special because they are made from wood that never made it into the company founder’s last shipment to Europe. When that wood is gone, it’s really gone. Another example is Tennessee Red. Musgrave Pencil still can find Tennessee red cedar trees for limited production of pencils that honor the roots of Pencil City. Buyers can purchase Tennessee Reds, Single Barrel 106s, and Heritage Collection pencils through Musgrave Pencil’s website and at some stationery stores. Some are even packaged in sweet-smelling cedar boxes ready for gift giving.

Tom Adkinson especially appreciates the erasers on his Tennessee Reds when he works crossword puzzles. He is a Marco Polo member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers) and is author of “100 Things to Do in Nashville Before You Die.”

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southern gentleman | STARGAZING

Peep the Perseids at their Peak By Jason Frye | Photography courtesy of Mark Taylor

August brings meteors, fireballs, and more to the night sky — and a new moon might make it all the more special this year. When I was 17 or so, my dad and I were hunting, making that pre-dawn hike into the woods to settle into our spots for daybreak. We were walking an old logging road up a ridge when we stopped to rest and take a drink. In that moment of silence — a canteen going back and forth between us — a meteor streaked across the sky, a bright, green blaze that shone then winked out, gone as suddenly as it appeared. It wasn’t an omen for the day’s hunt (I don’t recall if we did or didn’t leave with a deer) or a portent for things to come, it was just a meteor, just a moment that lives in my memory. ​ Where I grew up was, by most standards, rural. Seeing the Milky Way was a nightly occurrence. We’d watch comets through binoculars or a cheap PTA fundraiser prize telescope. Our ears would perk up when the weatherman on WSAZ would tell us of an upcoming meteor shower. And the Perseid Meteor Shower became one of my favorites to watch. ​ The Perseid Meteor Shower takes place from mid-July to mid-August every year. That’s when earth passes through the cosmic dust and detritus and pieces from Comet Swift-Tuttle’s 66 DeSoto

tail and we are bombarded with meteors. How many? This year, 100-150 meteors per hour are expected during the peak from Aug. 11-13. With a new moon just a few days before, those nights will be dark and if the weather’s right, the stargazing will be fabulous. ​ Expect to see meteors, fireballs, and maybe even the rare Earthgrazer. Meteors — tiny bits of comet that burn when they enter the atmosphere — are most common. Fireballs — think of slower, slightly larger meteors, but with a bright flare as they break up during their fall – are more rare, but if you watch long enough you’ll see one or two. Earthgrazers are the most rare. These long, slow-moving, and very colorful meteors travel horizontally across the sky, appearing to graze the earth, and are visible for more than an eye-blink or two. ​Originating in the northeastern sky in the constellation Perseus, this meteor shower has long been among the most popular for U.S. stargazers to watch. With the kids out of school, warm summer nights, and generally clear conditions, it’s timing for us to gaze to the heavens and be amazed.

We — humans, not Americans — have been noting the Perseid Meteor Shower for centuries, and early Catholics tied the meteor shower to the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence (the meteors are reminiscent of the sparks and embers when he was burned for his faith in 258 AD), but it was 1835 when an astronomer pinpointed Perseus as the origin point, and 1862 when another astronomer tied the meteors to a passing comet. If you’re hoping to see Comet Swift-Tuttle, however, you’re in for a wait: it doesn’t reappear until 2126 when the meteor shower will be epic, to say the least. You don’t need any special equipment to view the Perseid Meteor Shower, all you need is a blanket or a chair where you can comfortably recline, a dark sky, and a little time to watch. Across the South there are places where the sky stays dark and light pollution stays away and you can see the stars with the naked eye. At, you’ll find an interactive map of places around the world showing great stargazing spots, just zoom in on your region and find a spot. Tips for Viewing • Find a dark, wide-open place to watch. A field or mountaintop will work best, but really you need to get away from light pollution — streetlights, house lights, highways, your smartphone, moonlight — and gaze into that big, open sky. • Watch for at least an hour. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust and get used to spotting and tracking meteors. This shower also comes in waves and spurts, so if you go out for a quick 15-minute stargazing session, you might miss something good. • Know that the Perseids originate from one spot: the constellation Perseus in the northeastern sky just above the horizon. When you see one, backtrack it to a likely origin point and wait. The next few meteors will help you hone in on the

place in the sky where they’re the thickest. • Get comfy. It’ll take a while to get your eyes adjusted to the dark and to settle into watching the meteor shower, so spread out a blanket or hop in your reclining lawn chair, get cozy, bring something to sip, and don’t forget the bug spray. Then just sit back and enjoy. • Be patient. This is nature, not a ticketed event. You might watch for 30 minutes and only see a few, but the next 30 minutes will be jam-packed with meteors. So, exercise a little patience, enjoy the night and company, and prepare to be amazed. Other Space Events in August • Aug. 1: International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission. Launches from NASA’s Wallop Flight Facility, Wallop Island, Va. • Aug. 2: Saturn appears the biggest and brightest it will be all year. • Aug. 8: New Moon. • Aug. 11-13: Peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower (moon is only 13 percent full then, so the sky will be quite dark). • Aug. 18: Space X launches an ISS resupply rocket from Kennedy Space Center.

Jason Frye writes about the South from his home on the coast of North Carolina. His newest book, “Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip,” is out now. Follow his travel and dining adventures on Instagram where he’s @beardedwriter.

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southern harmony | BRIAN BLAKE

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Verses for a Veteran By Kevin Wierzbicki Photography Credits: Brian in studio courtesy of Farmhouse Studio. All others photography by Aaron Brame

Nesbit, Mississippi songwriter Brian Blake nabs top awards for his moving tribute to a World War II veteran. Sing and the world sings with you. Write a song, on the other hand, and the world may offer more than just harmonizing voices. Memphis-based songwriter Brian Blake knows all about that; his recently-penned “Move on J.D.” earned top honors from the folks at the Memphis Songwriters Association. “In April I won the Memphis Songwriters Association’s Song and Songwriter of the Year during their annual songwriter competition,” Blake says. “I’m honored that the judges thought it worthy of being named top song. Just to be named a finalist, along with some of Memphis’ best songwriters, was quite special. And to actually win is something I’ll cherish forever. I’m so grateful to the MSA for helping me share this song and

J.D.’s story with others.” While the accolades for “Move on J.D.” are reason to celebrate, the song itself is a real tug at the heartstrings. “J.D. Lowe was a sometimes-homeless World War II veteran in my family’s hometown of Liberty, Texas, and he was permanently disabled during the war,” Blake says. “I remember J.D. being around town when I was a kid, and though I didn’t know him I read comments in a Liberty-focused Facebook group from people that did, and also got some information about him from friends back home. From those stories, you could gather that J.D. was quite a real-life character. “The song is about his post-war life as a homeless man in a small town where he is kind of always being told to ‘move DeSoto 69

Recording session at Farmhouse Studio

on’ even though he had nowhere to really go,” Blake says. “I think J.D.’s situation and the theme of the song are as important and as relevant today as ever.” As you might expect, the song ends with J.D. moving on for the final time, to the great beyond. “I think he died in the late ’80s or early ’90s,” Blake adds. Blake’s award-winning song came after many long years of hard work and he admits he also wrote some clinkers during that time. “I’ve been writing seriously for less than 10 years so I still consider myself somewhat of a newbie to the game,” Blake says. “And while I’m not prolific in the quantity of songs I write, I like to think I’ve written some good ones here and there. I’ve also written a number of duds that may have been well intended but poorly arranged or that lyrically just didn’t have any meat on the bones, so to speak. Those duds just come with the territory I guess. “As a performer, you can tell if a song is resonating with an audience or if it still needs a little spit shining,” he adds. “However, even if the end result is not a masterpiece, or never really sees the light of day, it’s going through the creative process that’s important. Sometimes you may write a song that isn’t worth the paper it’s written on as a whole, but may have a good line or two in it. You can recycle that line in some other song and I’ve done this a number of times. Anything you work hard at you get better at over time and I’ve learned it’s the same way with songwriting.” Much of the live music scene in Memphis is concentrated on Beale Street, a scene that Blake is familiar with. “There was a time in the early to mid-’90s when Beale Street was having a resurgence; it was very organic and exciting to watch and be a small part of,” he says. “I was playing mostly blues back then but there were a ton of bands of all genres around town, and smaller music venues with their own niche communities were seemingly everywhere. I miss the rawness and energy of that time. In addition to an abundance of world-class musicians, Memphis has some of the best recording studios anywhere. I’m constantly inspired by my peers, both young and old, and I love that 70 DeSoto

Memphis-area songwriters continue to have platforms to build audiences and connect with them. That is so important.” Blake says he’s anxious to follow up “Move on J.D.” with more good music. “My album is going to be titled ‘Rice Field in the Distance’ and it’s themed around myself and my family’s roots in southeast Texas and our hometown of Liberty. I’ve got the songs written and mostly ready to get into the studio and I’m currently scouting producers and recording studios. It’s a bit of an intimidating process but I’m looking forward to sharing these songs with the world.”

Music writer Kevin Wierzbicki is not a songwriter and he also doesn’t play one on TV. But he is grateful for these talented tunesmiths not only for the entertainment, but also for giving him plenty to write about.

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in good spirits | FLYWAY BREWING

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Spirits That Soar

Story and photography by Cheré Coen

Flyway Brewing in North Little Rock produces unique beers, but also incorporates some into refreshing summer cocktails at its sister restaurant, Brood and Barley. North Little Rock owns a unique history. A masked man named Shadow Vision walks the streets in costume, the Trail of Tears once ran through Main Street, and people fight over whether to use the moniker “Dogtown.” One theory for the long-running nickname is that, years ago, folks in the capital city across the river rounded up their stray dogs, crossed the Main Street Bridge from Little Rock, and let the pooches loose on the other side. Naturally, the folks in North Little Rock were not pleased, but they adjusted. “The citizens of North Little Rock fed [the dogs that were dumped] and adopted them, and the name ‘dogtown’ was bestowed on North Little Rock,” wrote John Cook in the 1985 winter edition of the Pulaski County Historical Quarterly. Some North Little Rock residents embrace the nickname — as does the city, which is home to an array of dogfriendly establishments, parks, trails, and the “Dogtown Proud” mural. Others see it as fighting words. Whatever the side they choose, most agree that North Little Rock has turned into quite a happening little city, with great restaurants, theater, and events occurring in its quaint downtown area. Take Flyway Brewing, for instance, a brewery that doubles as a community gathering place with a chance to sample beers made on spot along with fun food items such as cheddar bomb sliders and gator nachos. Their eclectic menu drew the attention of Guy Fieri and his Food Network show, “Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives,” spotlighting Flyway’s scratch pretzels and their gumbo cheese fries. Flyway gets its name from the Mississippi Flyway, a migratory bird trail that flows through Arkansas. The brewery’s new mural, painted by artist Robin Tucker during the pandemic, features a variety of birds including teals, mallards, and bluewings since nearby Stuttgart is known as the rice and duck capital of the world. The owners of Flyway’s had such good luck with their

menu and beer, they recently opened Brood and Barley down the street. The following Further Southern Migration cocktail created by the restaurant’s bar manager David Burnette is loosely based on the classic tequila cocktail, the Paloma. At its center is agave tequila, but the fresh fruit juices and the brewery’s Orange Radler Ale makes it an ideal refreshing summer drink. “If your readers don’t have access to the delicious Brood and Barley Blood Orange Radler Ale, they may try substituting Mexican Squirt (grapefruit drink) in its place,” Burnette suggests. “I would also recommend using Flyway Bluewing beer which is available in cans all over Arkansas.” Further Southern Migration 1 1/2 ounces 100 percent Agave Blanco Tequila 1 ounce fresh grapefruit juice 2/3 ounce simple syrup (1:1 ratio sugar to water by volume) 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice 2 ounces Brood and Barley Blood Orange Radler Ale (floated) Pinch of coarse salt Lime wheel Directions: Combine first four ingredients in a shaker over ice. Shake, and strain into a tall Collins glass. Fill almost to the top with fresh ice. Top with 2 ounces of Brood and Barley Blood Orange Radler Ale. Garnish with lime wheel sprinkled with coarse salt. DeSoto Editor Cheré Coen recently returned from a trip to North Little Rock where she enjoyed kayaking and hiking but then cooled off with Flyway’s finest.

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exploring events | AUGUST Hernando Farmers Market Saturdays through October Courthouse Square Hernando, MS 8:00am - 1:00pm Voted Mississippi's Favorite Farmers Market and 13th favorite in the nation by American Farmland Trust. This Mississippi Certified Market encourages & promotes access to fresh local foods. For more information call 662-429-9092 or visit

Unknown Child Exhibit Through December 31 DeSoto County Museum Hernando, MS The Unknown Child Exhibit honors the memory of 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust. Stunning black-and-white photographs, interactive images and holograms of the faces of the lost children are part of the display. For more information visit or call 662-429-8852.

Grammy Museum Mississippi presents MTV Turns 40 Through June 2022 Grammy Museum Mississippi Cleveland, MS The first major exhibition to be curated by the GRAMMY Museum® Mississippi team, MTV Turns Forty will explore the history of the iconic music brand—from the role of native Mississippian, Bob Pittman, in the concept and execution of an idea that revolutionized the music industry and, to why, nearly four decades later, people across the world still scream, “I want my MTV.” MTV Turns Forty is sponsored in part by the Maddox Foundation. For more information visit or call 662-441-0100.

51st Annual Watermelon Carnival August 6 - 7 City Park Water Valley, MS Fireworks show, street dance, BBQ contest, music, arts & crafts, children’s activities, car show and more. For more information visit or email

First Friday Back Porch Party August 6 - Catching Javelin DeSoto Arts Council Hernando, MS 7:00 - 9:00 pm Enjoy live music, food and cash bar the first Friday of every month. No admission required. For more information call 662-404-3361 or visit

14th Annual Bikes, Blues & Bayous August 7 Greenwood, MS Join us to ride the "flat and fast alluvial plains of the Delta" and discover "the BEST Southern Hospitality on Earth". For more information visit

Elvis Week August 11 - 17 Graceland Memphis, TN Celebrate the music, movies and legacy of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Highlights include a 50th anniversary concert celebrating Elvis’ Nashville recording sessions, Blue Hawaii Luau, Ultimate ETA Contests and concerts, exclusive tours, first-time experiences, Elvis in concert on the big screen, and much more! Fore more information visit or call 800-238-2000.

Live at the Garden presents Brad Paisley August 13 Memphis Botanic Garden Memphis, TN For ticket information visit or

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33rd Annual Sunflower River Blues Festival August 13 - 15 Downtown Clarksdale, MS Featuring safe outdoor performances on both the main stage and 9 acoustic stages in Downtown Clarksdale. For more information and lineup visit

Summer Jam: Benefitting John 3:16 Ministries August 14 Landers Center Southaven, MS 7:00pm Featuring Crowder, Rend Collective and Andrew Ripp. For tickets visit

James Taylor and his All-Star Band August 14 FedEx Forum Memphis, TN An intimate and memorable night, which will also feature special guest and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Browne and his band. For more information visit

Blues on the Back Porch August 14 - Lady Trucker & the Headcounter Band Holly Springs, MS 7:00pm Blues on the Porch is a summer music series that brings Hill Country Blues musicians home to Holly Springs, to play on local porches. For more information visit or call 662-278-0388.

18th Annual Tri-State Blues Festival August 21 Landers Center Southaven, MS 6:30pm Artists include Pokey Bear, Calvin Richardson, Bobby Rush, Lenny Williams, Ronnie Bell, Chic Rodgers, and Terry Wright! For tickets visit

Cheap Trick August 25 Graceland Memphis, TN 7:00pm For more information call 877-777-0606, email or visit

Harry Connick Jr. August 28 Brandon Amphitheater Brandon, MS 8:00pm For more information visit or call 601-724-2726.

Iuka Heritage Day September 3 - 4 Mineral Spring Park and Jaybird Park Iuka, MS Gospel singing, crafts and car show. For more information visit

Mississippi Book Festival August 21 State Capitol Building & Grounds Jackson, MS 9:00am - 5:00pm Join in celebrating writers and storytellers at our annual Literary Lawn Party. 100’s of authors, book signings and over 40 panel discussions. Free and open to the public. For more information visit

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reflections | I’LL SEND YOU A PICKLE

I’ll Send you a Pickle By Karen Ott Mayer

Technology enhances our lives but does that have to include gas pump entertainment? The other day as I was pumping gas, a voice startled me. Looking around, I realized the cheerful, perky voice was actually blaring from a monitor on the gas pump itself. As I waited for the slow pump to finish filling the tank, I thought how odd our world has become, not just because of COVID-19. I wondered what or who decided entertainment had become a requirement when pumping gas. Having spent my share of time in corporate conference rooms knocking around ideas, I felt a particular sense of curiosity as to this technology and imagined the concept sessions. “Anyone ever bored while pumping gas?” Knowing the contentious nature of throwing about ideas, at some point the majority of people in the room would have had to agree for this product to hit the streets. “Gosh, yes. I really wish we could watch 15-second, random commercials about upcoming movies or reality shows ... at the gas pump.” “Yes, Fred. The silence at the pump has been depressing me for years.” The odd American addiction to the endless marketing barrage leaves me even more confused. I’m not sure about anyone else, but if a winter wind is howling or the summer heat is beating down, I’m sure to hop back in my car while waiting for a slow pump. The last thing I want to do is consume another infomercial or listen to some hipster tell me about the latest YouTube sensation. Am I the only one not yearning to fill this void? ​ A writer friend once called me a Luddite. I immediately disagreed as I waved my Nokia brick in his face as he held an iPhone in mine. I decided to look up the formal definition and found neither meaning particularly appealing. 76 DeSoto

Derogatory: A person opposed to new technology or ways of working. Historical: A member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woolen mills, that they believed was threatening their jobs. ​ I felt vindicated. After all, I had never worked in a woolen mill or took part in destroying machinery. But technology? I shuddered, remembering when Facebook first entered our lives and another dear friend, Bobby King, begged me to try it. ​“Why do I need it?” ​“Because it’s fun and cool!” he said. ​“I don’t know…,” I replied. ​“Oh, come on! I’ll send you a pickle.” ​“What if I don’t want a pickle?” I can laugh now at that chat because I feel much more progressive, working on a Mac that’s 10 years old and living in a rustic cottage. This year has pushed all of our limits when it comes to technology. We’ve retooled, Zoom’d, upgraded, sidegraded, and migrated to closed restaurants reinvented as highly-private, personal internet cafes like the one where I worked during the pandemic. I believe in the clear distinction between innovation and progress. This year, I have watched all of my small business friends scramble and innovate to survive. Is a TV screen on a gas pump progress or innovation? Call me a Luddite, but I think I’ll stick to a pickle-free life and hope I can pump gas in peace. Writer, essayist, copywriter, and flower farmer Karen Ott Mayer runs Moon Hollow Farm & Country House bed and breakfast on 26 acres in Como, Miss.