John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 9, 2010

John Howell Sr.

Mosquitoville — looking forward to another visit

I spent minutes since last Friday night trying to come up with the right name for Jim Mathus’ Mosquitoville.

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A musicial, yes, but more a musical overview of Mississippi Delta history beginning with a broad focus that narrowed down to the Carrier Lumber Company’s rail line from Sardis west, off the bluffs into the bottom and ending around Lake Carrier.

And that’s way too cumbersome.

Mosquitoville moved; the staged thumped to the beat of musicians’ feet marking time as the Mosquitoville Players and the Fence Post Trio transitioned through tunes of Sid Hemphill, Jimmie Rodgers, Stephen Foster, and to the production’s signature “Carrier Line” memorializing the Sardis and Delta Railroad owned by Carrier Lumber Company. The two Mosquitoville productions last Friday night at the Panola Playhouse will hopefully launch the musical into other theaters and other venues. During his introduction, Sardis Mayor Rusty Dye, who helped to sponsor the performance there, spoke about exposing Playhouse audiences to diverse entertainment. Dye said that he hopes Mosquitoville can be staged again this summer on the front porch of Sardis’s Heflin House Museum.

I was pleasantly surprised during Friday night’s latter performance to see Scott Barretta taking the seat next to mine. Barretta hosts Highway 61 Radio each Saturday night on Mississippi Public Radio. He’s the former editor of the Living Blues magazine and is the principal researcher for the Mississippi Blues Trail Marker program. In that capacity, Barretta has become familiar to Panola County residents during his visits last year to Como when Blues Trail markers were placed in honor of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Otha Turner.

“Jimbo is one of the most charismatic performers I know,” Barretta said following the performance. Charismatic was a good description.

His charisma was evident on stage as he cued his fellow musicians and vocalists and carried the story through narration and song. The Mosquitoville Players soon got to me with all their scratching and shooing away mosquitoes, and I soon found myself absent-mindedly scratching along with them.

The Sardis and Delta line stretched west from Sardis and into the Delta. Then it ran south to its terminus at Red Gum, just northwest of where Crowder is located today. Mosquitoville provided both a requiem and a celebration for the railroad and the society it spawned.

“Mosquitoville — Mississippi Song and Story.” I plan to see it again when the opportunity presents itself.