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Friday, March 28, 2008 

Vidalia, LA/Natchez, MS. 75 miles. Green lot. Warm, muggy, overcast with a chance of rain. The Mississippi runs alongside today’s lot on the Vidalia riverfront. This is a two day stand. The Mississippi runs through the heart of America, and heart of American Circus History from Wisconsin and Iowa to New Orleans. Before the trains and the railway shows the riverboat shows along the Ohio and the Mississippi made the clown Dan Rice the most famous entertainer in the pre-Civil War United States; made cities like Pittsburgh, and Louisville, and St. Louis, Cairo, Illinois, and Vicksburg great show towns. Natchez with it’s rough waterfront was just plain infamous..

The Mississippi is a natural boundary separating the high grass territory of the west from the older eastern lands. Shows born along the river were in a sense, western shows much as shows born in New England were decidedly eastern. By the 1890’s the Ringling Bros, from Iowa and Wisconsin owned the western country as surely as James Bailey’s Barnum show owned the eastern seaboard.

But the show business isn’t just about circus and here in the Delta amidst the cotton fields another subversive art form was born. In the juke joints at the crossroads along dusty roads the great bluesmen invented a musical form that would travel up and down the river lending its genetics to the jazz birthed in the sporting houses of Storeyville, in New Orleans, and reinventing itself in the Blues clubs of St Louis, Kansas City, and Chicago. Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, B.B. King the legends of the Blues and the music they made famous influenced the first Rock n Roll sounds of Chuck Berry, the country sounds of Jimmie Rogers, the hillbilly music of a kid named Elvis Aaron Presley, and the best working of the Rolling Stones. . No Delta Bluesman was more famous than Robert Johnson, the man legend says made a deal with the devil himself before picking up the guitar. Johnson recorded few songs and in his short life rarely ventured far outside the Delta, but he remains the ultimate icon of American Blues. If the riverbanks are circus country, the back roads are blues country. Both tenacious forms of show biz.

City Parks Dept is sponsoring the circus today and tomorrow. Shows today at 5:00 and 7:30, tomorrow at 2:00 and 5:30.

About me

  • I'm B.E.Trumble
  • From Everywhere, United States
  • Ben Trumble works in circus, carnival, and media relations
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