Day Trips

Navasota is the home of the Blues Alley, and the Navasota Blues Fest and is the old stomping grounds of legendary songster Mance Lipscomb

Day Trips
Photo by Gerald E. Mcleod

The Navasota Blues Alley takes up nearly every square inch of the old mercantile building in downtown Navasota. As the year-round face of the Navasota Blues Fest, the store functions as a gift shop and museum. It is also an antique shop that sells vinyl records, household goods, coins, and radios from a time when they were considered a piece of living room furniture.

With the exception of music posters hanging on every wall, the store looks like any other small-town antique shop. Store manager Phyllis Duncker enlivens the shopping experience with stories about the new and used merchandise. Her soft Jamaican accent and friendly sense of humor add to the value of any purchase.

Browsing the merchandise is part of the fun of the shopping experience. About half of the shop is taken up by multiple dealers selling houseware items. This isn't just your usual garage-sale fare; Duncker says they make an effort to find unique pieces.

Even casual numismatists will find the beauty in Billy Tucker's large collection of coins. The selection ranges from antique silver dollars to buffalo nickels.

Equally artistic are George Wilder's refurbished vintage radios. The polished wood cabinets of the radios were once the centerpieces of homes. Wilder can often be found in his workshop in the back of the store.

In the room behind Wilder's workshop is a small museum honoring former residents of Navasota. You might be surprised by some of the names. Alvin Ailey, the African-American choreographer, was born in nearby Rogers and lived in Navasota before moving to Los Angeles. Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde, was city marshal from 1908 to 1911.

But music, especially the East Texas cotton field blues, has always been important to Navasota. The blues as defined by area musicians is a blend of European folk songs, Tex-Mex ballads, and African-American work songs. The style is exemplified by the music of Thomas Shaw, Grady Gaines, and pianist Edwin "Buster" Pickens.

Few Texas musicians melded the different genres better than Mance Lipscomb. Born into a musical family near Navasota in 1895, Lipscomb was a tenant farmer most of his life. At the age of 65, he made his first recordings. The songster, as Lipscomb liked to call himself, passed away in 1976. His CDs are available at the Blues Alley.

Begun in 1996, the Navasota Blues Fest is a fundraiser for the Mance Lipscomb Scholarship Fund for Navasota High School seniors. Held in August, the festival attracts a mixture of Texas and Louisiana performers. The shop carries concert merchandise and has information on future events.

The Blues Alley is at 129 E. Washington Ave. in downtown Navasota. The store's hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm; and Sunday, noon to 5pm. For more information, call 936/870-3331 or go to www.navasotabluesfest.org.

962nd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Blues Alley, Navasota Blues Fest, Phyllis Duncker, Alvin Ailey, Frank Hamer, Mance Lipscomb, Thomas Shaw, Grady Gaines, Edwin "Buster" Pickens, Mance Lipscomb Scholarship Fund

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