It’s Friday night. You walk up a dirt path to a humble building made of cinder blocks.
There’s a little red awning, some vintage Coca Cola ads, and a hand-painted sign that reads “Blue Front Cafe.” The white paint on the top half of the building may have faded, but the electric blue paint at the bottom is a nod of what’s to come. Even though this place might not look like much, it somehow feels like everything.
It is widely agreed that Mississippi is the birthplace of blues. Their historical roots are so deeply entwined that it’s impossible to mention one without the other. Grammy-nominated blues musician, Cedric Burnside, explains, “The blues is our history.”
And as the blues cemented its place in Mississippi history, so did juke joints.
Juke joints are small, makeshift buildings that were used as social clubs in the 40’s. After a long day of work, people in the community would bring their instruments—many homemade—to share stories and play up on stage together. Opened in 1948 by Mary and Carey Holmes, Blue Front Cafe is the oldest surviving piece of this Southern Americana.
Blue Front started out as spot for neighbors to share buffalo fish (they’re very big fish), and drinks, dance to live music, and even grab a haircut. Today, Blue Front is owned by Mary and Carey’s son, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, and continues to be one of Mississippi’s most popular blues venues. Duck himself is a living legend: as the last surviving performer of the Bentonia style of blues—a style that relies heavily on minor chords—he’s made sure that Blue Front earned its spot on the Mississippi Blues Trail and continues to stay relevant.
Pulling up a chair and ordering a root beer float at Brent’s Drugs is another uniquely Jackson experience that feels untouched by time. Brent’s Drugs opened its doors in October 1946 as part of the first shopping center in Mississippi and—while he connection between soda fountains and drugstores may not be apparent today—the two share a history. When bartenders lost their jobs during Prohibition, they put soda fountains in apothecaries and worked as “soda jerks,” mixing drinks as guests waited for prescriptions. While Brent’s might have stopped filling prescriptions, they kept the original soda fountain and preserved most of the interior and original furniture.
Sipping milkshares and enjoying old-fashioned diner favorites at Brent's Drugs
For a taste of how the local art scene is growing, stop by Offbeat, a kind of record-store-meets-art-gallery. Inside the space, amongst the shelves of records, designer toys, and graphic novels, is an art gallery that features the work of local artists. As Cedric looks at a mural created by some of Jackson’s up-and-coming young artists, he’s clearly taken aback by the sheer talent. “There’s a lot of the culture in Jackson.”
Equipped with an appreciation for the past and an interest in fostering new creative energy, it’s obvious that Offbeat are purveyors of the modern Jacksonite lifestyle.
A DJ performing at Offbeat, which blends the local music and art scenes
The City with a Living Memory
It’s true: the people of Jackson like to take their time in the kitchen and on the roads. They have polite conversations, rife with Southern charm. You can count on pecan pies and handwritten sentiments from neighbors when you’re sick, and the air really is as thick and sweet as molasses.
Unlike so many places obsessed with the future, Jackson is a city with a living memory. Its residents are proud, and they choose to spend their lives there. And it remains one of the only places in America where you can get a first-hand lesson in its history from almost any person you stop on the street.
There’s a sense of pride and a deliberateness in Jackson, which may be the reason no one is in a rush. Sitting on a porch, guitar in hand, Burnside reflects, “I’m proud of Mississippi. The real blues wouldn’t exist without it. The love and energy that comes through the earth is rich and beautiful in stories of music. I’ll be here fiddling with my guitar forever.”