Jan 5, 2020

Soak in the blues at the Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale, Miss.

I’ve experienced my fair share of unusual accommodations in my travels as a commoner.  From a concrete teepee in Cave City, Ky., to a night in a yurt in Colorado, to an Econo Lodge in Carbondale, Ill., on the verge of being condemned (it eventually was), sometimes where you stay is the most memorable part of the journey.  So, when it comes to kicking back in the birthplace of the blues, I don’t think there’s a better way to get in the blues spirit than to book your stay at the Shack Up Inn. 

Located on the site of the former Hopson Plantation a couple of miles outside of Clarksdale, Miss. on U.S. Highway 49, the Shack Up Inn represents a surreal step back in time to the essence of the blues.  What began with a renovated cotton gin and a few shotgun shacks saved from disintegrating on their original sites throughout the Mississippi Delta has now sprawled across the railroad tracks and along the highway. 

For example, the Fullilove shack (not a play on words; it’s actually named after the family who used to live in it) we rented for the night was one of the first to be moved to the site and renovated.   

If you approach northbound from Tutwiler on Highway 49 like we did (driving the same route I recalled from my second-ever blog post), the old Hopson Plantation grounds and various shacks, grain bins and silos that dot the landscape become more and more visible.  Unfortunately, so does the highway that bypasses Clarksdale, but that’s another story.    

Depending on where you turn to park, you may have to cross the railroad tracks to get to the restored cotton gin where the check-in desk and gift shop are located.  

Once you’re checked in, it’s a good idea just to walk the grounds to get your bearings.  Punky immediately fell in love with this old truck.  I just kept admiring the rusted tin roofs, rusted machinery saved from the scrapheap and rusted signs advertising products lost to the past. 

As for our accommodations, it was everything we expected both in authenticity and restoration. In other words, it was perfect. 

Seriously, how cool are those wooden shelves and cabinets?  The kitchen was well stocked with enough plates, bowls and silverware, and although we never need it the microwave was a nice modern touch.   

As with most shotgun shacks, it’s a straight line-of-sight shot into the living room/bedroom area.  The hodgepodge of chairs were comfortably well-worn … just right for the room.  The blues records nailed to the wall were a nice, appropriate decoration.     

The bed was especially springy and dipped, but we couldn’t complain, especially once the overnight storms kicked in and we could hear the rain rhythmically pelting the tin roof as we nodded off to sleep. 

The only room separated by its own walls in the shack was the bathroom.  Yes, it was quite small but serviceable.  Considering the alternative back in the day may have been an outhouse, we were thankful to have it.    

Similarly, the shower was cramped quarters, but it got the job done. 

One of the best parts of the Shack Up Inn is the Juke Joint Chapel and Gin Bar, which is also inside the restored cotton gin building.  The bar has live music most nights and plenty of refreshments to go around.  Punky and I made this our final stop after roaming around Clarksdale earlier in the evening.

Honestly, you really never have to leave the Shack Up Inn if you’re looking for an evening’s entertainment or if you’re overindulged a little earlier in the day.  The bar is a pretty intimate environment, and hanging out there is a great way to get to know your fellow shackers. 

Just be sure to follow the rules.  This is a high-class juke joint after all. 

As for me and Punky, we couldn’t resist ending our night with some carryout we brought back from a shack of another kind in nearby Clarksdale.  The name is lost from the memory banks, but it looked more like a modern tool shed set beside a seriously impressive smoker in a small gravel parking lot about a block from the Crossroads.  As soon as we noticed Abe’s Bar-B-Q was closed, we stopped here.  It was one of the best spontaneous food purchases I’ve ever made.  We devoured every bite as the rain poured outside and blues music played on the TV (a radio channel was all we could get).  We could not have planned it any better.

It’s important to realize that when you stay at the Shack Up Inn, you’re partaking in living history.  A few people in their online reviews have argued that the Shack Up Inn is at least politically incorrect, or at worst racist, claiming it glamorizes some of the worst aspects of the history of the Mississippi Delta.  I never felt that way, though. Anyone who truly appreciates the blues also has an understanding of its origins in slavery and sharecropping. What evolved into the blues was a necessary means of coping with a harsh reality, and I feel like the Shack Up Inn shows great reverence to the music and the generations of musicians who have shaped it.  The beautiful soul of the blues is inescapable here.          

As I mentioned previously, if you’re not a fan of blues music, or if you prefer your accommodations to be more upscale and modern, the Shack Up Inn may not be for you.  But if you’re making a blues pilgrimage to the Mississippi Delta for one of many music festivals and awesome soul food, this is one of the places to stay that you should definitely check out.

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