“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.

Robert St. John

Robert St. John

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 — was 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 though 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 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 led 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 needed to facilitate the introductions. 

We had filmed Season 2 and Season 3 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 4 on the tour www.pbs.org/show/palate-palette/

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 (Monday) 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.

Onward.

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