This year’s closure of Morning Bell Records was a terrible blow to Jackson, Mississippi’s music scene, so the news that a new record shop had opened in Jackson was welcome. But Offbeat Arts, the new venture from adventurous Jacktown DJ Young Venom is not exactly a record store in the ordinary sense, and what it is might at first seem confusing. It is (all at the same time) an art gallery, a record shop, a clothing store, a book store and a performance space. When I visited for the first time the weekend of the Core DJ’s Retreat, it was hosting a video shoot for local hip-hop artist Jaxx City. Its vinyl selection isn’t huge, but leans toward the funky, hip and less familiar side of the spectrum, and as might be expected, there’s a decent selection of local artists and releases (but not much in the way of CD’s, so be forewarned). There are also books about hip-hop and Black culture, comic books, local Jackson clothing gear, and beautiful local art. Occasionally, on weekends, Offbeat becomes a performance space for various DJ-based genres of music, which is appropriate, as the shop sits in the middle of Jackson’s burgeoning Midtown Arts District. When visiting, it’s probably a good idea to call ahead, as some days Offbeat is open by appointment only, and the opening hours seem to vary and be a little sporadic. That being said, Offbeat is as cool as store as I’ve seen anywhere in the South.
The Caribbean atmosphere of New Orleans has been pointed out many times, from the fact that the city celebrates Carnival, to the African-derived cultural practices of the Black Indian tribes and brass bands. But yet another point of Caribbean-Louisiana fusion is the unexpected prevalence of reggae music and culture in New Orleans. Young Black men often sport dreadlocks, reggae shops are found in many inner-city neighborhoods, reggae music is popular, and there is even a First Church of Rastafari in the 9th Ward. This shop on North Claiborne seems fairly typical, and wouldn’t look out of place in Montego Bay or Ocho Rios.
After lunch, the Cutting Edge NOLA Music Business Conference held a rap and hip-hop summit at Cafe Istanbul in the St. Roch neighborhood sponsored by Shive Magazine. There were several preliminary presentations, including speeches by the owner of Shive Magazine, and by local rap CEO and activist Sess 4-5 of Nuthin But Fire Records, followed by a number of rap performances, including one by St. Louis-based hip-hop group the A-Team.
As I headed back toward the CBD, I drove through the Central City area, and with the weather blazing hot, when I saw a snow-cone sign on Washington Avenue, I took a detour onto the side street and found a snowball stand called The Red Rooster. While New Orleans people are familiar with snowballs, I need to point out that New Orleans-style snowballs are quite different from the snow cones that are sold elsewhere across the country. Not only are the flavors different, but so is the ice, which at the better snowball stands is shaved. This particular stand also serves food, and has a shrimp po-boy on the menu that I will have to try on a future visit. The street where the stand is located looked familiar to me, and might have been the location where I visited Eddie’s 3-Way Records back in the 1980’s. I recall that it was on a side street off of Washington Avenue, that it was a block from a housing project (likely the Magnolia Projects), and that there was a snowball stand nearby that served po-boys. Further down in Central City, I came to a number of inspirational murals, which are common in New Orleans. One listed the Zulu Nation Laws of Success, as well as a number of famous men and women and was attributed to the Central City Art Project. Another one stated “Be The Change You Seek.” One of the things I love about New Orleans is the prevalence of public art, official and unofficial, even in the roughest neighborhoods.
Since the last time I had been in New Orleans, the great Louisiana Music Factory record store had moved from their longtime location on Decatur Street to new digs on the ground level of the building where Offbeat Magazine is headquartered at the foot of Frenchmen Street. While the new location is smaller (there’s no upstairs), there’s still plenty of selection. I can usually expect to spend about $100 in this store, and this trip was no exception. While vinyl and CD’s are the main attractions, don’t overlook the amazing book department, which is for the most part restricted to books about music or books about New Orleans (I’m especially partial to books that are about both). There’s also a fairly decent selection of DVD’s (mostly about Louisiana), some T-shirts, and an assortment of concert poster replicas. Don’t miss it.
Although I was in St. Louis for a Recording Academy event, the event wasn’t until the evening, so I had the better part of the day to go around to local book stores and record stores, and St. Louis is really a dream come true to anyone who collects books or records. As the day progressed, I made my way around to Left Bank Books, the Book House, STL Books, Vintage Vinyl and Euclid Records, the last of which was only a couple of doors down from where our event was being held.
To be a moderately-sized city, Lafayette has a fairly large number of music stores, including two independent record shops owned by the same owner. The E & S Music & Video Store is owned by the same owner as House Rockers, and specializes in rap and R & B music. Unfortunately, when I swung by there on Friday morning, they hadn’t opened yet.
E & S Music & Video
214 E Willow
Lafayette, LA 70501
Lafayette’s Northgate Mall is a dying mall, if not a dead mall, which is somewhat peculiar, as it is much closer to I-10 and I-49 than is the Acadiana Mall on Johnson Street which has fared so much better. But aside from a couple of hip-hop clothing shops and a barber shop, the one thing that keeps people going to Northgate Mall is Lafayette’s venerable House Rockers Record Shop, a neighborhood institution where people come for zydeco, soul, blues, gospel and local hip-hop. At a time when so many record stores are closing, House Rockers seems to be thriving, even in a mall that isn’t.
House Rockers Record Shop
1800 NE Evangeline Thruway
Lafayette, LA 70501
It is possible to find free parking during SXSW if you don’t mind a fair amount of walking, so I parked over on the Eastside, north of 11th Street, and walked down the hill beside the Texas State Cemetery. When I got to 7th Street, I was in the mood for a latte, so I stopped at Vintage Heart Coffee before continuing my walk further down to East 6th Street. There, beside La Perla Bar, I noticed that the Rolling Record Store from Jack White’s Third Man Records had set up on the food trailer lot where the Sailor Jerry’s showcase was going on. I hung out there for a minute, and then walked further down to the Eastern, where a hip-hop showcase was supposed to be taking place.
After I left Travis Heights, I drove over to East Austin and parked my car across the street from the Carver Community Center. As I was walking down the hill, I came first to Trailer Space Records, the cool vinyl and used CD shop that is also a music venue. During SXSW, it can get too crowded to come inside, but I was able to do some browsing before I continued walking down past the cemetery to the Hotel Vegas. While there, i checked the SXSW schedule on my phone and saw that the 1970’s funk/soul band Kool & Together was playing at the 512 Rooftop on Sixth Street, so I decided to walk over that way and see if I could catch their show.