If you’ve been laid off from an uninspiring corporate job, then you know that it can be a liberating feeling, and I welcomed the change. You have your own time to manage and can get the things done that you would not have had time for otherwise.
What would I do with this new freedom?
Priority #1: escape the cold rain and snow of February in Seattle. I thought of nothing but traveling to see some shows. In mere moments I decided to visit Mississippi and Memphis. The ghosts of Mississippi have been calling for so long that it seemed rude to ignore them any longer.
Returning to Memphis is always a bit of a spiritual thing for me – call me kooky if you like but I love being close to Elvis. I grew up on the north end of the Mississippi River and have always taken an interest in its history.
I first noticed Oxford, Mississippi through Larry Brown’s books. I was further intrigued by Beanland Rising. I felt like I had been there because of the wanderlust created by my research, but I know that seeing is believing and was delighted to make this journey happen.
I would see just how much fun a jobless rhythm fool could have in a week.
I knew Oxford was a small town, and when I drove into the square for the first time, the person I planned to connect with (our beloved Tom Speed) was the first local I spotted.
It was Fat Tuesday and I smiled at the sight of Tom and his shit-eating grin as he cruised by my rental car, briskly shuffling towards Proud Larry’s. I turned the corner and was promptly greeted by legendary beings with cold beers and warm smiles. An instant ease came across- and the good times began.
I can't compare the way that Oxford celebrates Fat Tuesday to New Orleans, as I've never spent the holiday in Louisiana. What I do know is that a few folks had a good idea of how to make the evening festive. Proud Larry’s is a venue with a history that made it worthy of hosting the fun. I was surprised at how small the room was, and at the same time delighted because I came south for just this type of intimate, hometown show experience.
The night started off with a great acoustic set by locals Reid Stone and Patrick McCleary (of DayBreakdown), who were joined by Ben Johnson (Mayhem String Band) and the sweet voice of Gin Gin Abraham. I took in every song with a smile and thought of how this town was blessed with a string player around every corner. It seemed that the locals were spoiled and college kids might easily take such things for granted.
Next up was Shannon McNally, with Eric Deaton and Cary Hudson on guitar. I had been reading about Shannon and was pleased to have the chance to see her play. I have to say that there was plenty of guitar on stage and Shannon’s vocals took a back seat to the noise – yet none of it was overkill. I was just drawn to listen that much closer. Shannon is the real deal, and I anticipate the day I can see her on the west coast.
The Taylor Grocery Band took the final set and made sure to end the evening with a blast of the Big Easy – I love me some Pocky Way! These guys know how to bring fun to the forefront and it was good to see they thought to bring a trombone player to the stage, making the night right.
It was great to finally see TGB in the flesh. I normally only get to listen to this band on CD. I tend to put them on when I want to have that intimate Southern club feeling in my living room. I felt blessed.
Day number one’s highlight: Meeting Kinny Kimbrough. ‘Nuff said.
I made a futile attempt to wake up on Ash Wednesday (A perfectly horrible one in fact). I took the liberty of an afternoon nap and woke, thank goodness, feeling much better. After a divine dinner of catfish and Bloody Mary’s at the Ajax Café, I was back on the good foot and ready to see the North Mississippi Allstars at Proud Larry’s.
This event was on the top of my list when deciding to take the trip. The lure of a special series of shows, billed as “acoustic,” had a very strong appeal. I suspected it would not disappoint my immediate entertainment jones.
I was right.
The Allstars are in a very tight place in their career right now. Having 10 stout years of music behind them is certainly showing on stage. Lately it has been a challenge for me to keep up with what each band member is working on from one month to the next, so having this chance to see a special event in their old stomping grounds was exciting. I anticipated this set and knew I could set it apart from the others I have seen them play.
Having guest Kenny Brown show up was a treat! It’s the respect for history that NMA bring to the field that has me intrigued with what they do, and it’s the incredible musicianship that keeps me coming back for more. I am impressed with their level of dedication towards making music.
Day number two’s highlight: Getting over that ferocious hangover and watching Luther greet Kenny Brown to his stage with the words “well well well”- smiling like the Cheshire cat.
I awoke to yet another gorgeous, sunny 70 degree day and headed to Memphis. I was fortunate enough to be placed on the guest list for the premiere of the movie Black Snake Moan, and was looking very forward to the festivities surrounding it.
I knew in advance that Kenny Brown and Cedric Burnside would be playing the movie's after party. Upon arrival to my friend’s house I dressed myself in my best rock and roll black velvet and we started drinking cosmopolitans.
Seeing this movie in Memphis was such a treat. So much local talent was hired, and to be in the same room with people who worked so hard to make the film was more than enjoyable. Lots of laughter and audience participation made the evening extraordinary.
All I can say about this movie is that it’s a must-see for any blues fan. It has a great balance of music, action, humor and drama to keep its viewers on the edge of their seats and fascinated with the characters. If you have ever had a healing experience through song then you will probably enjoy a film like this.
The after party was mad fun. Memphis hospitality is truly something to be revered.
Day number three’s highlight: Seeing Jimbo Mathus all decked out and grinnin’ in his Nudie suit! Chatting it up with Alvin Youngblood Hart at the premiere party and learning about his contributions to the film.
One of the missions I also hoped to accomplish this week was to take some pictures. I needed to shoot some building, general atmosphere, and staff shots of Delta Recording Service in Como, MS. It was another fine day for the hour drive south and the natural light served me well for shooting.
Como has a very charming town square area that is under some renovation. I enjoyed lunch at the Windy City Grille and took a stroll around. It was fun to think about how this town might have served blues greats like Mississippi John Hurt back in the day.
Back in Memphis I joined my friend for drinks at the Beauty Shop. The service and food were exceptional and the conversation that took place about Black Snake Moan was highly engaging.
My friend later took me to check out some local Memphis music. We headed to see the River City Tan Lines and the Limes play at Murphy’s, one of the smokiest bars I have been to in quite sometime. Of course, both bands rocked. We stuck around for two sets and headed to a house gathering to chill out.
Day number four’s highlight: More sunshine and prolonged sleep, and seeing Harlan T. Bobo play guitar with the Limes.
My friend invited me to join her at the Folk Alliance, held at the Memphis Marriot over the weekend. She was volunteering, and I decided at the very last minute to join her when I realized they were in need of the extra staff.
The four-day event was well attended, with some phenomenal talent. For the first time in the event's 19 years, the public was welcome to enjoy the gathering (for one day only). Strolling between the hotel rooms, lobby areas and the adjoining convention center, everyone was able to enjoy live performances by Alliance members. It was really enjoyable to take in spontaneous string sessions around every corner you could turn.
Day number five’s highlight: Seeing Robert Belfour throw some major diva attitude down at his 2:00 am set in the Rollin and Tumblin’ showcase room.
My friend gently awoke me to ask me if I wanted to go and see a University of Memphis Basketball game. I easily and foolishly declined, opting for some more rest. I was truly disappointed later to learn that Pricilla Presley had been part of the half time entertainment. The mascot wore sideburns.
The rest of my evening was spent enjoying The Oscars and sipping champagne cocktails.
Day number six’s highlight: Having Scott Bomar suggest to me, and affirm once again, that I should I find work in the music industry.
My last day in Memphis was spent getting ready for my very early flight the next day. I made my way to see Tom Foster and Luther Dickinson's art show in a gallery on south Main Street. To my disappointment I found the gallery closed.
I like to admire Old Memphis architecture and a stroll around any old town will always give me something interesting to look at. The time was not all wasted.
My last evening in Memphis saw me at the Stax Museum enjoying The Bo Keys play with just about every Stax legend still with us. I was impressed with the show, facility and notion that my last waking hours there were not quietly passing by.
We were soon off to Tsunami for a night cap, and grabbed one more set of music at the Buccaneer, some Sunday night bluegrass.
I grinned all the way back to my pillow.
Day seven’s highlight: Seeing Mustang Sally performed by Mack Rice twice in one night.
(Unplanned) Day 8:
I always sleep light when I need to awake for travel. I have never missed a flight in my life.
Until this trip.
I ended up having to wait 12 hours to get on the next available flights back to Seattle. I didn’t mind too much – after all, I had no job to return to, no deadlined projects to worry about, and one more gorgeous afternoon in Memphis was certainly not going to hurt. I checked my bags and caught a city bus back downtown to kill the day.
First and foremost I sought coffee. I was relieved to find the doors of Peabody Place open at 7:00 am. I seated myself and watched the local news tape a live performance by an Australian guitar player who was passing through town.
After my coffee I decided to investigate photo opportunities of an early morning Beale Street.
At noon hour I walked down south Main St. to try and see that art show again. It turned out to be another fruitless attempt. I was baffled and wonder if the gallery was ever open.
I perched myself at Bluff City Coffee and took in a couple hours of sunshine at an outdoor table while waiting for a friend to come help me kill some time. We watched the river roll, talking about rock and roll, and debated the various talents of someone fondly referred to as Doughboy.
After a slightly miserable airplane ride next to a rather large guy who smelled like a dirty diaper I returned revived yet exhausted to Seattle.
Snow was falling.
My mission of having my spirits lifted down south had been accomplished.
I have concluded that there is nothing like sunshine and rock and roll to inspire. I suppose I should get with the task of joining the viably employed, but it might take me awhile to find that energy.
They do say easy does it.