Days Fifteen-Sixteen: Memphis, TN & Oxford, MS
We drove from Louisville past Memphis and on to Oxford, Mississippi on Easter Sunday. It was a seven hour drive that felt like twelve. We were hungover, and exhausted, but overall happy. We filled our cups figuratively and literally at GonzoFest and definitely felt like we had shot ourselves into the second hemisphere of our journey. It may have felt like we we were shot from a cannon, but we were definitely rounding a corner and headed back South.
We were mostly focused on Oxford due to our interest in Southern Foodways Alliance, based out of the University of Mississippi. Jeff, an old bartender/musician friend of mine who had hosted my first visit to Ole Miss many years ago, met us for dinner at a cool Italian-inspired joint with a wood-fired oven.
We met Melissa Hall of Southern Foodways Alliance for breakfast the next morning at Big Bad Breakfast, a bustling, well-known spot. She was a fount of information and history. She and her collaborators at SFA look at food through an educational and historical perspective. I was intrigued and inspired. In the midst of our own self-funded documentary project, I was also humbled by their professionalism and talent. I like that they’re looking for real, honest stories and wanting to capture the essence of their history, while avoiding being preservationists.
Melissa Hall, Southern Foodways Alliance
After moving to Oxford, Melissa volunteered for one of the early Southern Foodways Allicance Symposiums. Her affection and appreciation for Southern culture was a perfect fit, and her commitment and contribution soon grew within the organization. She is currently SFA Director, and is involved in planning their annual Symposium, and community story telling work, which is several years out.
Photo Gallery - Melissa Hall
We left Oxford and drove a half hour South to Water Valley, Mississippi to talk with Joe York, an independent filmmaker who got his start working with John T. Edge at the SFA. He continues to make films for them as well as several other intriguing documentary-based projects.
Water Valley is a quaint small town, that didn’t seem to notice our arrival, yet we got the feeling that somewhere, there might be a drawl-laden conversation wondering if anybody knew those Yankee boys that rolled into town. We hung out with Joe in his somewhat sprawling, yet eclectic office; one part of a building he’s renovating on Water Valley’s short, main drag. His building and office evoked this old-school southern charm. High ceilings and old wood combined into an overall feel that made us want to drink sweet tea and jaw for a spell. Joe is a natural, gifted observer and storyteller, who put us at ease and made us want to hear more. He has a remarkable instinct to hear people’s stories while staying invisible, something he says is inspired by good Southern barbers.
After lunch at the Grocer - and a thwarted attempt to meet Joe’s favorite quilter, we headed north to Memphis.
We would be in Memphis for mere hours, which didn’t seem to do it justice, but that was one of our growing themes. There are incredible people to meet and things to do in every city we visit, and our purpose and drive keeps us moving - so we were getting some practice at letting ourselves off the hook. We indulged in some traditional Memphis Cue, and turned in early so we could make our pre-dawn train to New Orleans.
TCN 17: Joe York - Filmmaker - Southern Foodways Alliance
Joe’s first assignment as a film maker for Southern Foodways Alliance sounds like it was pretty much a dare from founder John T. Edge. Armed with not much more than a camera, a background in anthropology and a genuinely curious storyteller’s heart, Joe made Saving Seeds, which started an SFA tradition. He’s since made dozens of films, sharing the traditions and character of the region with honesty and grace.
Kyle and I dropped in on Joe on Day 16 in Water Valley, Mississippi.
Joe York, Southern Foodways Alliance
Katie generously shared the Berry Center’s mission of “Putting Wendell’s words to work.” We could see and feel generations of work from the Berry family, including Wendell’s father and brother. Volumes and volumes of Wendell’s books, poems and essays fill the walls, along with art inspired by his words.