The youngest son's last minute decision to spend the night with a buddy left us without plans last night. When you have a free night in Jackson, Mississippi (and the energy to get out), the best bet is to check the Ardenland website to see who's playing in town.
Last night, as it turned out, Grayson Capps, Cary Hudson and Lisa Mills were playing at Duling Hall in Fondren, so the evening was set. Show was great. We heard a new Cary Hudson song, Fiddlers' Green; a duet of old songs weaved together with some family stories as Lisa Mills and Grayson Capps did The Crawdad Song (You Get A Line) and Folsom Prison Blues; Cary Hudson's Blue Canoe; Grayson Capps's Psychic Channel Blues; Lisa Mills's Happy Song; some gospel and near-gospel; and more, all embroidered by the guitar licks of Corky Hughes and Cary Hudson. It was a very nice evening, one of those where your felt like you were really a part of something personal and unique. At the end of the first set, a lot of us sang along on I Saw The Light, and as we did, I had a bit of an epiphany about the current state of music in my hometown.
In this city of 200,000 or so we've always had our share of music. I mean, we are in Mississippi, and while Bill Maher may not like us, we do know a thing or two about music. The Subway Lounge comes to mind. Nestled up under what was the Summers Hotel, a landmark of the Civil Rights Era, "The Subway" hosted music late night every weekend for almost 40 years until its demise in 2004. The things that happened there. The blues giants who played there. Oh my. It's gone now, though. Malcolm White has booked a lot of music over the years at Hal & Mal's, a mult-venue restaurant-bar near downtown. Stop by some time and take a look at the photos. Quite a story on those walls. First time I saw Steve Earle, Emmylou, Nickel Creek, James McMurtry and Shelby Lynne, it all happened at Hal & Mal's. Next month, the Alabama Shakes will play the Mal's St. Paddy's Parade, so Malcolm's still got it going.
But Arden Barnett has taken things to the next level over the last couple of years, becoming the force in live music, and especially Americana music, here at the crossroads of I-55 and I-20. In 2012, Barnett brought us over 100 acts, maybe closer to 150, from Alejandro Escovedo to Robert Earl Keen, from Seryn to Paul Thorn, from Asleep at the Wheel to Wilco. The list goes on and on. In 2013, we've already had Leon Russell, Shannon McNally, Drew Holcomb, Claire Holly, Mingo Fishtrap, The Wild Feathers, Fishbone, and more. Before this month is out we'll have Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears and Cody Canada & The Departed at Duling Hall and Mary Chapin Carpenter (with Shawn Colvin) at a local high school performing arts center. Later this spring we've got Shawn Mullins, Chuck Cannon, Greensky Bluegrass, Leftover Salmon, The Meat Puppets and American Aquarium on the way.
Part of what's going on here is the explosion of Americana Music, no doubt. But there are many slips from the tour to the stage, and it takes a middle man to put music in your path unless you live where the music is, in a place like Austin or Nashville (is there any place like either?). Here betwixt and between, we need a facilitator, a promoter, someone who's willing to sign the contract, front the money, call the caterer and remove the brown M&M's. Arden Barnett has taken it on himself to do that, and in so doing, to give us a steady diet of the best music that's out there right now. Using a combination of venues, including Duling Hall, a converted school auditorium, Thalia Mara Hall, a 2400 seat municipal auditorium and the spaces at the aforementioned Hal & Mal's, plus others, Barnett is bringing acts as large as Wilco and shows as personal as the singer-songwriter event of last night to this community. All at reasonable prices, no less.
Barnett is always upbeat. Last night we were talking about the upcoming concert by The Departed. He was as fired up about them as he was about the show we were watching. It's like he's drinking from a fire hose of music and trying to move as much of it to us as he can. I've tried to engage him on the economics of his venture on several occasions, and while he acknowledges that sometimes it doesn't make sense - in particular, I remember a Blind Boys of Alabama show last year that wasn't selling as well as it should have been and thinking how in the hell does he do this? - he just keeps on keeping on.
The show last night was a testament to the power his perseverance and the results he has obtained. Duling Hall was full, the bar was selling drinks at a brisk pace and things were the way they are supposed to be. It looked like the door was just about enough, plus a little. The hard-core music folks in Jackson are figuring out what we've got and trying to support it, and the rest are plugging in, too. We are lucky to have this in our community.
Here's to good music, and the people who make it. And to those who make it happen. Thanks, Arden.