A Celebration of Mississippi’s Musical Heritage and Songwriters in the Round: Walt Aldridge, Steve Dean, Don Poythress

A Celebration of Mississippi’s Musical Heritage was presented by the Jimmie Rodgers Foundation and the Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts in partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority Tourism Division on August 20 and 21 at the MSU Riley Arts Center in Meridian, MS. Marty Stuart’s traveling Sparkle and Twang exhibit was also on display and will be there until September 18, 2010.

Friday

The event began Friday night with the Songwriters In the Round concert by Meridian native Don Poythress, Steve Dean from Little Rock, Arkansas (now in Nashville) and Walt Aldridge from the musically famous Muscle Shoals, Alabama. All three are amazing songwriters, as well as very talented musicians. They played many of their hit songs, but here are a few of my favorites. Don Poythress’ “You Remain” recorded in 2002 by Willie Nelson and Cheryl Crow (what poetry! I absolutely love this), “Wash Away,” and the soon to be released cowboy/Christian song “That’s Where Jesus Is.” Of course,  “A Little More Country than That,” Easton Corbin, brought the house down. Steve Dean’s songs included “Southern Star,” Alabama, “Round About Way,” George Strait, and a song even children know, “Watching You,” Rodney Atkins. For more of Steve’s songs, visit his myspace page. Walt Aldridge contributed greatly to the concert with an awesome collection of his hit songs including “I Loved her First,” (which made me cry), Heartland, “Holding Her and Loving You,” Earl Thomas Conley, “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde,” Travis Tritt, and “There’s No Gettin’ Over Me,” Ronnie Milsaps. Walt also interjected humor during his songs and stories about songwriting. I loved every minute and every song. What a treat!  

Walt Aldridge and Wynne

Steve Dean, Wynne, Linda

Don Poythress and Wynne

Saturday

Saturday’s Symposium featured discussions with a panel composed of  Barry Mazor, author of  Meeting Jimmie Rodgers, Scott Barretta, host of Highway 61 Blues Show on Mississippi Public Radio who also teaches at Ole Miss, Elliott Thomas from MDA and Doctor Edgar Smith who is a member of the Blues Commission. There was an explanation of the Mississippi Blues Trail, how they tried to spread it across the state and how they couldn’t put a marker for every name because there are so many artists and only so much funding. The Mississippi Country Music Trail has already been launched with the first marker in Meridian for Jimmie Rodgers.  Scott Barretta  interviewed  Chris Ethridge, bass and songwriter legend. Someone stated that there wasn’t anyone in the music business that Chris hadn’t played with, wrote with or personally knew. People are always trying to get him to write a book because he has a lot of stories about them, but he doesn’t want to disrespect their privacy. Chris admitted it really wasn’t him that brought the country sound to The Flying Burrito Brothers; he was always more of a rock fan, but he likes all music.

The highlight of the day, in my opinion, was 81-year-old L.C. Ulmer who actually met Jimmie Rodgers.  L.C. is played blues, country, gospel and square dance. He was also spellbinding with his humorous tales of growing up in Stringer, MS. He had 7 brothers and 7 sisters, and his father “whipped him good” with a razor strap quite often… especially if he lied. But it did him good, he said. He learned to tell the truth and to respect women, and, he says, neither he or any of his siblings wound up in jail. He did have a close call once, though. Some cotton pickers ganged up on him, and everyone told him he had to defend himself. And so he did. The law arrested him, but his white friends that he grew up with came to his defense and he was released. He said there was no black and white in his community, even back then. Just people. He told me that his guitar is a Bible, that there used to be 12 disciples (frets) and then Jesus came along to be number 13 and it went from there. He also called the Bible a “poor box.” While he played, with young Jake Fussell of Oxford sometimes accompanying him on guitar, he had his foot tapping and even got up to dance on one number. The most amazing thing he did, however, was sing and play an entire song with the guitar behind his head. Then he put it back in front and said, in his serious, musical voice, “That’s how I got the ladies when I was in California!” I asked him what was his favorite song to play. He said his daddy told him not to have a favorite because somebody might not like it. Then he said, well you know that song, “Some Glad Morning…” I said, “I’ll Fly Away!” He said, that was my mama’s favorite song. I played it for her every time I’d visit, so I guess I’d say that would be it.

Scott Barretta and Chris Ethridge

Jake Fussell and L.C. Ulmer

L.C. playing with a maraca

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Y’all Comeback Now, Ya Hear?

Saturday night, Aug. 7 after the MWG Conference in Vicksburg, we had a delicious supper at Duff’s Restaurant. The atmosphere was candlelight-rustic, with interesting artwork to feast our eyes upon while waiting for our wonderful meal. I had the ribeye steak, garlic potatoes and steamed veggies. Pat had pecan encrusted catfish. Others had vegetarian dishes and linguine. But the real surprise treat came before the meal. Duff’s Restaurant showed our facilitators some real Mississippi hospitality with an appetizer tray of smoked salmon and fried pickles. That’s right, FRIED PICKLES! Now I don’t fry much of anything anymore, but I will never turn down fried dill pickles. Our New York facilitators–Regina Brooks, Founder and President of Serendipity and Katie McHugh, Executive Director of Da Capo Lifelong Books, had never heard of fried pickles. We then got into the discussion of fried green things and how it’s not healthy to fry anything anymore when I admitted I did like to fry up some fried green tomatoes, fresh out of my daddy’s garden, topped with cheddar cheese and bacon bits. My sauce of choice is Pepper Ranch dressing.  My New Orleans theatre friends, however, prefer Comeback sauce. What is that? Regina wanted to know. Then, to my surprise, a couple of my fellow Mississippian dinner partners had never heard of the sauce either! For all the Yankees (and Southerners) who don’t know, Comeback sauce is a combination of 1,000 Island dressing and remoulade sauce to be used on french fries, deep fried vegetables (like pickles or tomatoes), chicken, seafood, beef or salads. According to the Clarion Ledger “It is the Queen Mother of all Mississippi condiments.” Recipes may vary, but here is one version: 

Mississippi Comeback Sauce

An Original from the Kitchen of Deep South Dish

1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of regular or Asian sweet chili sauce
1/4 cup of of ketchup
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon of spicy mustard
1 cup of Kraft mayonnaise
8 turns of the pepper grinder
Couple dashes of hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon of Slap Ya Mama or your favorite
     Cajun/Creole seasoning, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
The juice of 1/2 of a lemon

FRIED PICKLES

Cock Of The Walk Fried Pickles, Natchez, MS

Dill pickle slices
Salt
Pepper
1 egg
8 ounces milk
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
5 to 6 drops Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups flour

  • Mix egg, milk, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and 1 tablespoon flour in bowl.
  • Mix salt, pepper (to taste), and 2 cups flour in bowl.
  • Dip pickles in egg wash, then flour, then egg, then flour, then drop in hot oil and fry until golden.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES 

 (A Mississippi Recipe from the Washington Post)

Adapted from “Not Afraid of Flavor” by Ben and Karen Barker

1/2 cup buttermilk (KOD note: No buttermilk in the house? Use same amount of milk or 1 egg beaten with 1/4 cup water)
8-12 slices firm, unripe green tomato, ½ inch thick
1 cup coarse-ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup peanut oil

My Recipe is simply: coat green tomato slices  in a cornmeal, salt, pepper mixture–with or without dredging them first in buttermilk–and fry in hot olive oil just for a couple of minutes to brown each side (some people  fry bacon in the iron skillet, take out the bacon and then fry the tomatoes in that grease). I arrange the tomatoes on a plate, top them with shredded cheddar cheese and bacon bits and stick in the microwave for about 30 seconds or so until cheese melts. Dunk in Pepper Ranch dressing or Comeback sauce!

Katie, Regina, Wynne, Pat, Richelle

Poet Laureates

US Poet Laureate

“I had come to feel that punctuation stapled the poems to the page,” stated W.S. Merwin in his intro to The Second Four Books of Poems.  (Amazon site).(source).

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington appointed W.S. Merwin to the post of 17th US Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Merwin, 82, the son of a Presbyterian minister, studied poetry at Princeton.  He made most of his living with translating and has lived most of the last 30 years in Hawaii in seclusion. He has won numerous literary awards over his sixty year career, including the Pultizer Prize, twice–in 2009 for “The Shadow of Sirius” and in 1971 for “The Carrier of Ladders.” His book, The Lice, showed his concern for endangered species like whales and won the 2005 National Book Award for poetry. Merwin joins the ranks of former laureates: Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, Rita Dove and Richard Wilbur. Here is “A Conversation with W.S. Merwin,”  in the Artful Dodge. 

Mississippi’s Poet Laureate

I was recently surprised to find out that our Mississippi Poet Laureate, Winifred Hammond Farrar, is my best friend’s cousin! She grew up about 10 miles from me and was an English teacher in Meridian Public School sytem for 30 years. Born in 1923, Ms. Farrar was appointed Poet Laureate for the state of MS on July 31, 1978. Her works include: 

  • Behind the Ridge
  • The Seeking Spirit
  • Cry Life
  • Moral intention in the work of William Faulkner: a call for postive action, by Winifred Hamrick Farrar (thesis)

She also read a poem she wrote about Mississippi, called “Treasures” on Good Morning America in Sept. 2007. It was written for Robin Robert’s one year anniversary on GMA.