Saturday, September 11, 2004

River Music Part I

MSNBC finished a twenty-two part look at life and culture along the Mississippi River. The half of the articles cover a wide range of topics that concern the entire river and its future. The other half are stories along the river itself at various stops from the Mississippi’s origins to the sea.

Rendition of proposed new lock.

The debate about the river’s future concerns whether further engineering is possible or desirable. The river has been the major means by which the Midwest has access to global commerce. This is still true on the upper Mississippi. Soybean farmers claim that new locks must be built in order to accommodate larger barges–failure to engineer the river will diminish their ability to compete. Other groups are more concerned with repairing environmental damage that had already been done. Depending on the group, they recommend either restrictions or programs that will restore the ecology. One group, American rivers, takes a compromise position: they recommend that traffic along the river should be administered in order to allow more barges to traverse its length.

Another article looks at the river as a political entity. It notes that the economies of the communities and states are linked together, and they experience the same boom and bust cycles. It argues that the Mississippi is a place of unique political environments, noting Robert Lafollette, Huey Long, and Jesse Ventura.

There is a wonderful article about finding the source inMinnesota: the unique geography makes identifying the correct lake difficult.

You follow it until you find a high-altitude body of water from which it emanates. But tracking down the headwaters of the Mississippi proved a daunting challenge for the early non-native explorers who ventured into the backwoods of Minnesota.

Part of the problem is that there isn’t a lot of elevation change in the headwaters region, according to Connie Cox, a naturalist at the Itasca State Park.

“(The river) starts in a region where there’s a lot of glacial sand hills … and the subtle changes in topography often confused these early explorers,” she said.

Their confusion was compounded by a reluctance to consult with the Indians, many of whom knew where the river originated, she said.

“The explorers were not familiar with the region and a lot of their early maps were very poorly drawn. And oftentimes they did not have good guides or interpreters with them to help show the way,” Cox said.
Other articles deal with Native American communities (Prairie Island Indians), Mormons, the archeology of an ancient city, Vickburg, and many other subjects. There are also numerous interviews.

Of course, the Mississippi has been linked to the birth of American music (especially jazz and blues) and is the site of great music cities. Oddly enough, Davenport gets the spotlight:
Memphis, Chicago and New Orleans are reliably linked to the provenance of the American sound, but you're not likely to hear the name of Davenport, Iowa, when the hothouses of American music are mentioned. What makes the town of 98,359 people such a fertile location for study of American music, though, is mostly a matter of being in the proverbial right place and time.

Davenport is a literal intersection of creative possibilities. “It's a crossroads,” said [Connie] Gibbons, [executive director of River Music Experience Museum, which opened in Davenport in June]. “There’s always been a large group of people here who are consumers of music. Several festivals are popular here.

“As musicians travel across the country, it's been a natural stopping point for musicians to stop and share what they're doing. As such it's a natural site for this museum. The community itself is undergoing a renasissance. There's a major art museum opening within a year. There are a lot of things going on that encompass the business element and the art, and it really represents a true renaissance.”


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