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Lunch tonight was: Carnitas, carnne asada and pollo tacos from the place by the Harley Davidson store. Washed down with a half litre Mexican coke!

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Alex V. Cook is an author, journalist and music critic living Baton Rouge, LA. His work has appeared in The Believer, The Oxford American, DownBeat, Paste Magazine, Hails and Horns and The Wire, and his first collection of essays Darkness, Racket and Twang: Essential Listening from the Fringes of Popular and Unpopular Culture was published by Side Cartel in 2006.

He is the music editor for, editor for Sweet Tooth, and a frequent contributor to 225 Magazine, OffBeat and Country Roads.

He is a founding contributor to the Badasses of Contemporary Composition blog.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

It’s About Zen and Journey’s End

From Country Roads Magazine, September 2006

Good Karma Café, McComb, Mississippi

Right off the main drag in McComb, the cafe is a part coffee house, art gallery, performace space and restaurant.I always look forward to a jaunt up I-55 through Mississippi. The highway surrounded by a bank of majestic trees, uncluttered by billboards, provides the kind of highway Zen I look for in a day trip. At dusk the sky goes purple and pink and deep blue. For this trip, I chose to soundtrack the kaleidoscope of pink sky and green trees with Mississippi John Hurt’s “Avalon Blues”, a collection of the legendary and singular blues talent’s recordings from the ‘twenties. His cicada-like guitar style and subdued voice blend perfectly with the encroaching night as I jet up the forty-five minutes from Hammond to McComb to soak in the ambiance of another singular Mississippi landmark, the Good Karma Café.

The café started when Jeff Cazanov left his life as a screenwriter in Los Angeles and ended up in McComb and met his wife-to-be, Lori, there. They then left the South looking to find the perfect place for them. “Lori and I went on a road trip and we ended up one night in a café in Tucson,” explains Jeff, a natural storyteller. “There was great food, cool art on the wall, and people just hanging out. Lori leaned back in her chair and said ‘I could do this.’” The couple moved back to McComb with a vision and two years ago, opened the restaurant right off Delaware Street, the main drag running through the quiet city.

When I walked in, past the sno-ball stand out front and through the comfy brick patio, I understood their vision. The Good Karma Café is the embodiment of the combination coffee house, art gallery, performance space and restaurant that many friends and I have daydreamed of one day opening. Regulars mill in and out of the small place, some opting to pick a cozy table toward the back to chat; others are embroiled in a chess game in a den off to the right. After my drive, my focus is on the drinks case, with row after row of foreign beers and microbrews and boutique sodas; as well as on their menu, which offers delicious comfort food, upgraded in size and flavor. My giant ham and roast beef sandwich with a homemade honey mustard sauce was so gorgeous, I almost didn’t want to eat it, but it tasted even better than it looked. The menu changes often, offering a variety of blue-plate specials at lunch and special ethnic food nights.

The performer that evening, Austin singer-songwriter Joel Mercado-See was setting up in one corner of the main room. The musicians who come through usually play for tips, free food and drinks, all because it’s the kind of place where people can actually listen to the music. The roster runs the gamut, from touring acoustic musicians like Mercado-See and New York’s Matt Keating, to Louisiana and Mississippi folk and roots-rock like Hattiesburg’s Thomas Jackson and Baton Rouge’s Elsah. One artist that Cazanov is particularly fond of is McComb folk artist Dub Brock, aka Bobby Lounge. Brock has made quite a name for himself under his barrel-house boogie-woogie playing alter ego, garnering rave reviews in Rolling Stone and the New York Times for his elaborate, theatrical set at the 2006 JazzFest. “He is a great friend and supporter of ours,” explains Cazanov. “He painted our bathroom mural, ‘Loretta.’ Last week he dropped in and sang a-capella for a long while.”

What’s great about the setup here is that there are plenty of options: you can get up close and personal with the musicians, who usually get rolling around 8 pm; you can sneak off to one of the side rooms where you don’t have to spend your evening talking over the band; or let the music mix with the night air and congeniality of the regulars. Cazanov says of people who stop by, “They call it an oasis. They always mention that it reminds them of a place in Austin, or a place in Raleigh.”

As the band pack up around ten, and the dinner crowd was still milling around, I get a delicious cup of fresh-brewed coffee (Cazanov brags “We are the only real coffeehouse in town, and the only patio dining as well.”) for the ride home. I don’t want to leave. It really is that quasi-bohemian place that many of us seek out in our journeys. I pop in another Mississippi classic—John Lee Hooker’s The Real Folk Blues—to propel me through the still night. Next time I find myself on that hypnotic stretch of I-55, I’ll be back again.

Alex V. Cook is the Music Editor for

Good Karma Café
822 Delaware Avenue, McComb, MS
(601) 250-1448
Hours: Mon—Sat. 11 am—2 pm, and Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 5pm—9 pm,often later on show nights.


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