October 10, 2023
There is a place along Highway 1 in Mississippi that has always drawn my attention. I’ve been known to stop there on my hauls to and from points south of Clarksdale just to rest.
The pecan trees are a cool spot to rest on a hot Delta day. The river flows slowly about a mile to the east and other travelers on 61 often wave as they pass.
An old cotton gin and other outbuildings stand empty at an intersection that takes you a short drive into Clarksdale.
Before I knew its history, I thought it was the perfect inspiration for the most heartfelt music in existence – the Blues. I have also thought that it would be a great venue for some sort of get together with lots of music and some good eats. The cool, open lawn and trees make it perfect for a gathering.
I was surprised in 2021 when I received an invitation from the Delta Council to attend a special meeting on the property sponsored by the council and Delta F.A.R.M. (Farmers Advocating Resource Management) as part of the Mighty Roots Music Festival.
That first year, I went to see what was going on out at Stovall Gin as much as to hear the speaker, Mac Marshall, talk to growers about the global soybean market and its impact on Delta soybeans.
Now three years in, the September festival seems to be a hit as music lovers from afar come to Stoval Gin for the tunes and cotton field vibes.
It’s really as it should be. The cotton side of things come from the Stovall family ground, where World War I hero, William Howard Stovall came home to farm cotton on the land following the end of that war.
Stovall is credited with six victories in the air above the European battlefield during WWI. He went back into service during WWII, ultimately earning the rank of colonel. His namesake son, born and raised in the Delta, gave his life in battle with enemy aircraft in 1944.
The Stovalls still manage the farm, although the gin ceased operation in 1991. The current building was built in 1948, but there has been a gin on the site since the late 19th century.
Despite the quiet peacefulness of the area, there is a subtle pulse that sometimes goes unnoticed.
While there are occasional pop up juke joint music events in the old Stovall store, the real rhythm of the corner of Hwy 1 and Oakhurst Stovall Rd., is the fact that McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morgan grew up on the Stovall Plantation, playing his guitar and developing the sound that would become the post-World War II blues and the modern Chicago blues.
The musical heritage of the Delta runs deep in the music we hear today. Maybe it’s that heartbeat that draws me to that grassy, tree-lined tract along the highway during harvest time.
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