“I think I hear a noisy old John Deere
In a field specked with dirty cotton lint
And below the field runs a little shady creek
And there you’ll find the cool green leaves of mint.
Mississippi, you’re on my mind
Mississippi, you’re on my mind
Oh, Mississippi, you’re on my mind.”
– Jesse Winchester
No matter where I am in the world, Mississippi is always on my mind. Last year my friend, co-collaborator, and business partner, Wyatt Waters and I were in Tuscany in the middle of our fourth week leading our third group of 25 Americans though that part of the world. Mississippi was truly on my mind.
One afternoon we were leaving the town of Panzano in the heart of the Chianti Classico region and on our way to the amazing and architecturally stunning Antinori winery just outside of Tavarnelle Val d’Pesa. I was looking out of the window of the small bus that was hauling my group (Waters’ group was in a van with his group following us), surveying the beautiful Tuscan countryside, and slightly homesick, when the thought hit me, “I love Mississippi so much— and there is so much that Waters and I have discovered as we have traversed the state working and touring with our books over the past 20 years— why couldn’t we load up a bunch of people and drive all over the state showing them the rich food, art, culture, and music that has made us homesick on these overseas occasions.
It should be noted that one of the first things Waters and I connected on— the first day we met— were The Beatles. He and I are huge fans, seriously huge. That day in Tuscany, when the thought hit me that we could tour people through parts of Mississippi that we love, my next thought immediately went to The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour.” That album is no one’s favorite Beatles album, but it’s my favorite Beatles album. The Fab Four from Liverpool also made a “Magical Mystery Tour” movie where they loaded a bunch of people on a bus and drove all around England. It’s a terrible movie, but it includes some great videos of a few of the album’s best songs.
We arrived at Antinori Winery and Waters and I turned our guests over to the staff of the winery to start their tour of that amazing place. I was walking with him through the vineyard as he was about to set up to do a painting when I said, “I just had a thought. What if we loaded up a bunch of people on a bus back home and…”
Before I could get the final half of the sentence past my lips, Waters jumped in, “… and led them all across Mississippi like the Beatles did in Magical Mystery Tour!”
“Yes!” I said. “That’s exactly what I was just thinking about.
“That’s what I was just thinking about, too.” Waters replied.
“Well, then we have to do it,” I said. So last fall we loaded 40 people on a bus— some from as far away as Portland, Oregon— and drove them all across the state, showing them all of the places we love, and ate at all of the restaurants we frequent. We installed a bar on the bus and started every morning with Bloody Marys and mimosas and ended every evening with live music. Sometimes we had live music on the bus while we were headed from one location to another. Just as with the tours we lead in Italy it was a deep dive into Mississippi food, art, culture, music, and personalities. We covered the state from the Delta and Hill Country to the Coast.
It was one of the easiest work projects I’ve ever been a part of. Our state is so rich in culture and personality, the story almost tells itself. Waters and I just need to facilitate the introductions. We had filmed season two and season three of our television show, “Palate to Palette,” in Tuscany and Northern Italy respectively. As the planning of the Mississippi tour progressed, we knew that it would make for good tv, so we decided to film season four on the tour. You can view past episodes on the PBS website here.
I typically write this column on a Monday morning. Today, I am a day ahead, as I will be on a bus in the Mississippi countryside tomorrow morning leading another group of enthusiastic travelers through this state that we love. Waters and I have a few surprises in store for them. We’ll hit a few new places this time around. Next week’s column will be a full journal account of our week, with our new friends, in this state that we so love.
Even when I am home, Mississippi is on my mind.