Taking on Tupelo: A Glance Into Mississippi’s Cradle of Rock ‘n Roll

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by Talbert Toole



Just off the Natchez Trace – nestled in the northeast part of Mississippi – lies the town of Tupelo. To anyone unacquainted with the town itself, its name still produces a familiar ring in your ears. Courtesy of required fourth grade Mississippi history curriculum, we all know it’s the place where Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, was born and raised. Presley purchased his first guitar from the still thriving Tupelo Hardware store in downtown as an eleven-year-old and left a lasting mark on the hearts and history of Tupelo forever. This town is a special place, a hallmark of American history, but Tupelo’s story is still being written.

If you dig a bit deeper, underneath what history books will teach you, you’ll find that this town is a champion for far more than expected in the years after Elvis. Tupelo is a home to countless artistic prodigies, exquisite farm-to-table restaurants and venues with some of the best live music this side of the Mississippi river.


Strolling downtown with a cool breeze in the air, you’ll notice a lack of generic chain stores, fast food restaurants and familiar corporations. Instead, historic buildings buzzing with local businesses line the streets, drawing patrons inside with carefully constructed window displays and mouthwatering smells wafting from each cafe door.

Let Cafe 212, a Tupelo staple with a variety of espresso beverages, coffee and sandwich lunches, draw you through its doors. With its rustic atmosphere, the cafe provides an inviting environment for anyone who’s looking to get some work done, enjoy a tasty lunch or simply treat a friend to a cup of coffee. Before setting out to uncover the hidden treasures of Tupelo, cure your hunger with ‘The Lebowski’, a sandwich with roast beef, red peppers, carmelized onions and swiss cheese — just as perfect as it sounds, but that’s just our opinion, man.

Right around the block from Cafe 212 is a longstanding Tupelo classic. The Stables is tucked in an alleyway, prepared to plate you a home cooked meal good enough to make you feel like you’re sitting in your Granny’s kitchen, only this time with a glass of bourbon to sip. It’s the perfect environment to make the stranger off the street feel just like a local, but if you’re looking for flair that can’t be found anywhere else, head to Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen. KOK sources all of their ingredients locally, plus they change their menu weekly. With an ever changing menu, it’s hard to have favorites at KOK, but there’s a reason the parmesan fries are always a constant in a kitchen full of variables.

It’s no secret that music and food vibrate throughout Tupelo, but local funky joint Blue Canoe not only offers a wide range of food options, but it also provides entertainment for those looking to liven up their night life — a one stop shop, if you will. Acts like Gary Clark Jr., Leon Bridges, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and even The Alabama Shakes have taken the stage at Blue Canoe, a rite of passage for up-and-coming musicians crossing state lines.

We just hustle and strive to be the most creative joint in town, whether it’s our music, menu, nightly specials or the ways we try to reach folks,” owner Adam Morgan said.

From wings to tacos, your tastebuds will thank you no matter what you choose, but if you’re looking to sample a true taste of Tupelo, don’t skip out on the blueberry donut bread pudding.

“We get our doughnuts from Connie’s Fried Chicken. They’re famous around here for their chicken biscuits and gravy and their blueberry doughnuts,” Morgan said. “I love incorporating other businesses into what we do here. It’s a fun way to advertise for them while being creative.”

But creativity is something that seems to travel through the air in this thriving town. Rae Sremmurd, brother duo and Tupelo natives, have blown up the charts with the hit Black Beatles. From creating the viral sensation Mannequin Challenge to having Nicki Minaj make a remix of their hit song, Rae Sremmurd have taken their talent from Tupelo to international air waves, but they still returned home to headline the second annual Sremm Fest this past December with Diplo, Young Ralph and Big. K.R.I.T.

The biggest frustration shared by locals and entrepreneurs in Tupelo is the constant narrative that Tupelo has nothing to do. If you’re looking for entertainment, Tupelo will give you plenty of things to see and do if you just know where to look. Whether its ballroom dance classes at The Dance Studio, feeding free-roaming camels and yaks at The Buffalo Park or visiting the current exhibit at Gumtree Museum of Art, Tupelo consistently provides for its locals and visitors (check out the sidebar if you’re still not convinced).

Whether you’re attending a free show at Down on Main in the summer, biking the trails on the Natchez Trace or visiting one of the largest automobile museums in the country, Tupelo has something for everyone. It might be known as the birthplace for Elvis, but Tupelo’s legacy is far from over.

Photos courtesy of the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau.


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