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Clarksdale

Clarksdale, Mississippi should be high on any bucket list of travel destinations for fans of blues or rock music. Located less than an hour and a half from Memphis, Tennessee, Clarksdale is an ideal home base for exploring the Mississippi Blues Trail. But let me warn you, once you go, you will want to return.

At first glance, Clarksdale appears to be a dilapidated shell of a town, with closed shops and way more parking spots than there are cars. Yet under the patina, there is art and lots of interesting artists.

Photo of Clarksdale Birthplace of the Blues sign inside remains of brick building with no roof and open front.

Musicians have migrated to Clarksdale from all over the United States. Restauranteurs, shop owners, and residents have relocated from as far away as Australia and all across the U.S. Blues great Charlie Musselwhite recently moved to Clarksdale after 50 years of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. These folks have two things in common, a love of the blues and pride in Clarksdale.

On our first night in town, I noticed folks observing us upon entering the restaurant. Not passing judgment, they just gave us a good long look over. After finishing her meal, a woman approached us from across the restaurant as she was leaving and said with a wry smile, “Where are you TOURISTS from?” I guess that’s what they call Southern hospitality.

As the saying goes, “Come to Clarksdale for the music, return for the people.” It could not be more true.

When to Visit Clarksdale

I visited Clarksdale in March and April (11 months between visits), and both times the weather was sunny and cool. The town was quiet, boarding on desolate, even though there were plenty of out-of-state and international visitors around. The benefit of visiting during relatively quiet times is connecting with the locals, a big part of the charm. And even during slow times, there is live music 7 nights a week in Clarksdale.

A busier time to visit would be during the many festivals in and around Clarksdale: the Juke Joint Festival, the Blues and Gospel Festival, the Tennessee Williams Festival, and many others. The crowds and energy level are no doubt heightened during these events, although I am not sure you would have the opportunity for the same personal experiences.

Aside from that nuance, weather is a major consideration. Unless you are accustomed to the heat and humidity of the south, I suggest visiting in the spring or fall.

How Long to Stay

I recommend staying at least 2 nights in Clarksdale. Add nights depending on your trip itinerary. If you plan to explore the Mississippi Blues Trail, between Tunica, Greenwood, and Greenville, three nights in Clarksdale will suffice. Allow yourself time to slow down and experience the Delta and its people. Give yourself at least a full day, or better yet, two half days, to just hang out around town. Split your time in town with explorations of the Mississippi Blues Trail.

Where to Stay

On my trips to Clarksdale, I have stayed in two excellent, yet very different accommodations – The Shack Up Inn and Travelers Hotel.

Shack Up Inn – 001 Commissary Circle Road, Clarksdale

Located on the former Hopson Plantation, the Shack Up Inn offers a truly unique Mississippi Delta lodging experience. Though they are the first to tell you “The Ritz We Ain’t.” Guests stay in their own sharecropper’s shack. The shacks were relocated from surrounding plantations. Refurbished and modernized, they make the Shack Up Inn a comfortable and memorable place to stay. There’s even a blues club on site which you will see below. The Shack Up Inn is located 3 miles outside of town, so you will need to drive to anything beyond the Inn’s grounds and the adjacent Hopson Commissary.

Exterior photo of the Sunset Shack at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale Mississippi.
Travelers Hotel – 212 3rd Street, Clarksdale

The Travelers Hotel offers a comfortable, eclectic yet contemporary boutique alternative right in town, a short walk to everything. The hotel converted the lobby into a pop-up restaurant on the two weekend nights of my stay. The smells were fantastic, but they did prevent guests from enjoying the lobby (a minor inconvenience if you are not dining with them). I also recommend booking an upstairs room as downstairs rooms can be noisy if people decide to bring their afterparty to the lobby (as happened to me one night). There is no hotel staff onsite, so even check-in is via text message.

Travelers Hotel is part of the Coahoma Collective, one of the non-profit organizations focusing on the revitalization of Clarksdale. The collective also owns the Collective Seed and Supply Company, a cool garden center and general store in town. And, they will soon be launching Red Panther Brewing Co., Clarksdale’s first craft brewery.

If you are coming to Clarksdale for a festival, book your room early as quality accommodations are somewhat limited relative to the number of festival visitors. The last thing you want is to end up at a budget motel chain (or worse yet, in another town) when there are quality accommodations with character available in town. Accommodations in Clarksdale are all very reasonably priced.

Trips ‘n’ Tunes is paid a small commission, at no additional cost to you, for travel booked through affiliate links on this website. Trips ‘n’ Tunes will donate the entire proceeds of commissions earned in 2023 to the non-profit organizations featured on this site. Not all recommendations on this page qualify for a commission.

Things to Do or See in Clarksdale

Take a Walking Tour

Once you decide to visit Clarksdale, download the Visit Clarksdale app. Developed by Visit Clarksdale, the Cahoma County tourist information center, it provides a comprehensive directory of all things Clarksdale – restaurants, bars, shops, accommodations, festivals, and tours.

Visit Clarksdale has also developed a free GPS-enabled Audio Walking Tour of downtown Clarksdale, a great way to familiarize yourself with Clarksdale and its history. The 1.4-mile walk takes about 90 minutes.

Visit the Delta Blues Museum

From Memphis to the Mississippi Delta, there are more music museums than anyone could cover on a single trip to the region. The Delta Blues Museum is housed in the Clarksdale depot of the former Yazoo and Mississippi River Valley Railroad, the railroad was often used by bluesmen to travel the Delta.

Exterior photo of the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale Mississippi

The highlight of the museum is the sharecropper’s shack that was once the home of Muddy Waters on the Stovall Plantation. The plantation itself is just a short drive from Clarksdale.

The Delta Blues Museum offers an incredible youth program that was honored at the White House in 2014. Don’t miss this 26-minute PBS documentary on the program and their White House visit. Incidentally, the big 15-year-old kid featured prominently released his debut album four years later. It was nominated for GRAMMY for Best Traditional Blues Album. His second album won a GRAMMY. His name is Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. In 2022, Fender released the Kingfish Telecaster Deluxe model.

You can support the Delta Blues Museum by visiting the museum and/or donating to the museum’s general fund.

Learn About The Riverside Hotel615 Sunflower Avenue, Clarksdale

I cannot imagine many buildings in the entire U.S. rival the historical significance of the Riverside Hotel. In an early incarnation, the building housed the G.T. Thomas Hospital, one of the only hospitals in the region that served African Americans. Blues great Bessie Smith died here following a car accident on old Highway 61. In 1944, Mrs. Z.L. Ratliff converted the hospital into a boarding house that was listed in the “Negro Motorist Green Book” of establishments in the segregated South that served African Americans. A who’s who of music greats stayed or lived here. This 6-minute video produced by Mississippi Public Broadcasting provides more detail.

Sadly, Mr. Frank “Rat” Ratliff, the son of Mrs. Ratliff who is featured in the video, passed away in 2013. The Hotel sustained significant structural damage from a storm in 2020. Mrs. Ratliff’s granddaughters Zee and Sonya are trying to raise funds to reopen the hotel.

The Riverside Hotel was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservations’ Most Endangered Historical Places in 2021. When I spoke with Zee in April of 2022, they were working on establishing a non-profit organization to better attract donations. In the meantime, they have a GoFundMe if you are interested in supporting them. They have made a lot of basic repairs to the building with the funds raised so far.

Exterior photo of the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale Mississippi.
The Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale
Take a Delta Road Trip

Travel the Mississippi Blues Trail with my self-guided Delta Road Trip including location descriptions and a Spotify playlist synced up for the journey. A second Delta Road Trip will be coming later in 2023. Sign up below for updates.

Music Venues in Clarksdale

Red’s Lounge – 398 Sunflower Avenue, Clarksdale

This classic juke joint with a funky interior is a must. The intimate venue puts you on the same plane as the musicians, like they are jamming in your family room, assuming your walls are covered with posters, Christmas and birthday decorations, and lighted music notes.

For years, the building where Red’s is located was home to the LeVene Music Center, a landmark music store where local musicians including Ike Turner once bought their equipment. Outside, a Mississippi Blues Trail marker in front commemorates Big Jack Johnson, who considered Red’s his home base.

Photo of interior of Red's Lounge in Clarksdale Mississippi. Seated electric guitarist and drummer playing.
Frank “Guitar” Rimmer performing at Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale.
Ground Zero – 387 Delta Avenue, Clarksdale

Ground Zero offers a full bar and restaurant along with their large stage. The club is co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman who maintains a second home near Clarksdale.

Photo of Big A & Allstars band playing on the stage at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale Mississippi.
New Roxy – 363 Issaquena Avenue, Clarksdale

Not a regular venue, but this performance space is a must if there is a show when you visit. The New Roxy was formerly a movie theater in Clarksdale’s New World District. Following 30 years of abandonment, much of the roof has been removed, making way for a brick-walled, sloped-floor venue for shows under the stars with a covered stage and bar area. A Mississippi Blues Trail marker outside the New Roxy commemorates Clarksdale native Sam Cooke.

Exterior photo of the New Roxy Theatre in Clarksdale Mississippi.
Shack Up Inn – 001 Commissary Circle Road, Clarksdale

With décor that makes the American Pickers envious (owner Bill Talbott has rebuffed their interest in him appearing on their show), the Shack Up Inn features local and touring acts on its elevated stage, framed by some of Talbott’s collectible art.

Photo of the stage at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale Mississippi with Lucious Spiller performing,
Bad Apple Blues Club – 349 Issaquena Avenue, Clarksdale

The new kid on the block, Sean “Bad” Apple had made a living playing the blues clubs of Beale Street in Memphis and gigging around the Delta. The Pennsylvania native bought the old Club 2000, next door to the New Roxy, opening Bad Apple Blues Club in 2020. Are you a music fan who wants to learn more about the blues? Well, Sean’s low-key show with help from occasional guest performers is a good way to get up to speed. Shows are from 3-6 pm most Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Photo of performance at the Sean Bad Apple Blues Club in Clarksdale Mississippi.
Hopson Commissary – 001 Commissary Circle Road, Clarksdale

The historic Hopson Commissary, adjacent to the Shack Up Inn typically has live music on Monday nights.

Where to Eat and Hear Music

Hooker Grocer & Eatery – 316 John Lee Hooker Lane, Clarksdale

Not only is Hooker’s one of the most popular restaurants for locals and tourists alike, they, like many places in Clarksdale, offer tasty live music on the side. Opened in 2018, Hooker’s also boasts a diverse menu and outdoor seating.

Levon’s Bar & Grill – 232 Sunflower Avenue, Clarksdale

Levon’s is another restaurant popular place with the locals. Opened by Australian transplant Naomi King, Levon’s features a menu of creative Southern cooking and live music.

Bluesberry Café – 235 Yazoo Avenue, Clarksdale

If you are looking for some loud, live music with your breakfast, Bluesberry is the place. The food and coffee are tasty and the atmosphere is pure Clarksdale. Local bluesman Watermelon Slim cooked our breakfast and then jumped on stage to play a few tunes during the featured musician’s break.

Music-Related Shops in Clarksdale

Don’t miss these shops as the proprietors are as big a draw as their merchandise.

Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art – 252 Delta Avenue, Clarksdale

Roger Stolle moved to Clarksdale from Ohio in 2002 and opened Cat Head. Roger quickly made his mark on the town. He founded the Juke Joint Festival and has long promoted the town and its businesses on his website. Cat Head offers a carefully curated collection of blues CDs and vinyl along with folk art, books, and stylish Cat Head apparel that you can also find on his website. 

Before visiting the Delta, check out Roger’s travel reality show – Moonshine and Mojo Hands. Roger and his co-host Jeff Konkel (founder of Broke & Hungry Records, an independent country blues record label) did a fantastic job of showcasing memorable characters from throughout the Delta region on this 10-episode web series. You won’t find anyone more deeply versed in the delta blues or the current scene than Roger.

Photo of owner Roger Stolle behind the counter at Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art in Clarksdale Mississippi

Randy “19th Street Red” Cohen, is a fun and fascinating bluesman who has lived and played the blues in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Bay Area, and New Orleans before finally settling in Clarksdale where he recently purchased a home. He prefers to play outdoors during the daytime, so you can catch him most Saturdays busking in front of Cat Head. Recently, Randy started an after-hours club, Redtop’s Club 305, where he serves up hot beans and blues beginning at midnight on weekends.

Photo of Randy "19th Street Red" Cohen busking in front of Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art in Clarksdale Mississippi.

Deak’s Mississippi Saxophone and Blues Emporium – 13 3rd Street, Clarksdale

Owner Deak Harp knew at a young age that he wanted a life in the blues. He followed James Cotton around, eventually landing a job with him.  He opened his shop in Clarksdale over 10 years ago, selling musical instruments and equipment as well as the custom-made harmonicas which he makes on-site. As the sign indicates, Deak also offers harmonica lessons, live music, and cold beer. You can’t find that combination just anywhere, but you can book your Deak experience here.

Exterior photo of Deak's Mississippi Saxophones and Blues Emporium in Clarksdale Mississippi

Bluestown Music – 317 Delta Avenue, Clarksdale

The shop is owned by Clarksdale native Ronnie Drew who is a link to Clarksdale’s musical past. Drew bought his first instrument at LaVene’s Music Center (now Red’s Lounge) back in the 1960s and later went to work there. Besides lots of guitars and equipment, Bluestown is filled the photographs and memorabilia. Everything in the store has a story behind it.

You can easily make a day out of visiting these establishments and talking to the proprietors. Make sure to support these small businesses while in town.

Photo of owner Ronnie Drew and Ron behind the counter of Bluestown Music, a guitar shop in Clarksdale Mississippi.

Hambone Art & Music (Gallery) – 111 East 2nd Street, Clarksdale

Originally from New York, Stan Street and his wife moved to Clarksdale from Florida in 2004. They purchased this once-empty building and transformed it into a gallery for his vibrant art, a small stage, and a bar. Hambone is open daily from 11-5 pm and Tuesday night it’s the place to be in Clarksdale for live music beginning at 8 pm.

Shared Experiences USA – 121 Delta Avenue, Clarksdale

The new headquarters of Shared Experiences USA, in a former car dealership on Delta Avenue, aims to be a hub for the community of Clarksdale. They recently welcomed their first Artist in Residence to live and work onsite for six weeks. Artist and musician Jimbo Mathus worked on his latest film project, The Secret World of Charlie Patton, and was a gracious host to all visitors. The studio is open to the public on Saturdays during residencies.

Shared Experiences also hosts and promotes events and tours in Clarksdale including the Women in Blues Festival in May. Check their website for the latest.

Meraki Roasting Company – 282 Sunflower Avenue, Clarksdale

Okay, Meraki (pronounced: mer ah’ kee) isn’t a music-related shop, but I feel compelled to talk about them anyway. First off, they make a damn good cup of coffee, as good as any that I have had anywhere between New Orleans, Memphis, and Nashville. They also are part of Griot Arts, a non-profit after-school arts and job training program that does great work in the community. Currently headquartered next door to Meraki on Sunflower Avenue, Griot Arts is in the process of redeveloping the Paramount Theatre in Clarksdale.

Local Musicians

As you might expect, there’s a lot of musical talent in this small town. Here are a few regulars to look out for:

Lucious Spiller – Lucious alone has been reason enough to visit Clarksdale. His natural musical mix is broad, steeped in blues and soul, but covering everything from Hendrix to Nirvana if the feeling moves him. Lucious’ stellar band follows his lead wherever it takes them. Check out this low-key set by Lucious recorded on a porch at the Shack Up Inn during the pandemic. Lucious is recovering from a stroke he suffered late in 2022. He has added a second guitarist to his band as he works his way back to peak form.

Anthony “Big A” Sherrod – A Clarksdale native and another product of the Delta Blues Museum music program, Big A is a talented and charismatic blues guitarist. He has toured internationally and makes time to give back by teaching the blues to children at the program he attended. Here’s a little taste of Big A, recorded at a blues festival in Argentina a few years back.

Photo of a mural in Clarksdale Mississippi featuring paintings of Lucious Spiller and Anthony "Big A" Sherrod

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – Christone has a busy touring schedule this year, playing major festivals like Jazz Fest and Bonaroo, then hopping over to Europe for some gigs before returning for dates with Buddy Guy. He will cap off the summer season by playing at Eric Clapton’s festival in Los Angeles. Last year around the holidays, he was back in Clarksdale playing his old haunts. If you would rather see Kingfish at Red’s than Bonaroo, keep an eye on the Clarksdale Concert Calendar when he is not touring.

Where to Next?

Memphis is a convenient launching point for a trip to the Delta. Check out my Memphis Travel Guide for ideas.