One of the interesting things about Oxford, Mississippi is the extent of their live music scene for being such a small town. Of course the University of Mississippi is there, but there’s almost more live music in Oxford than in Memphis sometimes, and that can make for some interesting dilemmas, such as the one March 28, where Duwayne Burnside and the Rev. John Wilkins were at the Powerhouse, and Eric Deaton, one of the late R.L. Burnside’s disciples, was at The Blind Pig on Lamar. Although I chose to go to the Powerhouse initially, around 10 PM or so I decided to head over to the Blind Pig and catch the end of Eric Deaton’s set. As it turned out, Duwayne Burnside’s brother Garry was over there, and sat in with Eric Deaton’s trio on several songs. Not long after that, Duwayne Burnside and a lot of other people came over from the Powerhouse as that event had ended, and it ended up being a great ending to an amazing night of Hill Country blues in Oxford. And the rain had finally ended too.
While registering for the Southern Entertainment Awards at Resorts Casino in Tunica, I looked on my phone and saw where a concert of Hill Country blues was taking place at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center in Oxford. The weather had gotten really bad, with high winds, thunder and lightning, but I decided to drive over that way from Tunica, stopping for dinner at the Oyster Bar in Como. The concert had already started when I got to Oxford, and Sharde Thomas was on stage with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. I learned that the event was being held for the attendees of the Southern Literary Festival, which was being held on the Ole Miss campus nearby. After the fife and drum band, Hill Country blues legend Duwayne Burnside came on stage with his band, including David Kimbrough Jr on drums, and played a selection of traditional and modern blues songs, getting the most applause for his reading of his father’s “See My Jumper Hanging Out On The Line.” (The strange title of that song had always mystified me, until I read recently that rural women who were cheating on their husbands used to hang a man’s jumpsuit on their clothesline as a signal to their boyfriends that the coast was clear and they could come over). Duwayne Burnside was followed by the Rev. John Wilkins, whose style of gospel is largely based on the music of Hill Country blues, despite the religious tone of the lyrics. Although I had seen all the performers elsewhere in the past, it was an exciting and enjoyable performance.
On a Thursday evening after work, I drove down to Oxford, Mississippi to eat dinner and shop at my favorite bookstore, Square Books, and then I noticed that a new frozen yogurt place had opened directly on the square called YaYa’s Frozen Yogurt. I decided to try it before heading back to Memphis, and I found it was really good.
Oxford-based alt-country band Blue Mountain has broken up before and then reunited, so their fans are hopeful that the band’s end is not forever, but their performance at this year’s North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic was said to be their last ever. At least it was a good one, with people crowding close to the stage to see and hear them for what is likely the last time.
Vicksburg native George McConnell first gained notice as a member of Oxford area bands like Beanland and Kudzu Kings. Eventually, he became a member of Widespread Panic for a period of time before putting together his current band the Nonchalants. Although blues and soul heavily influence his current work, the Nonchalants were by far the most rock-oriented act of this year’s Hill Country Picnic.
The annual North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic is a large outdoor two-day concert that was started by Mississippi bluesman Kenny Brown and his wife Sarah as a way to preserve the unique Hill Country blues tradition made famous by R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. The event began as a small picnic at their house near Potts Camp, but has grown over the years and moved several times, as it is always in need of bigger quarters. This year, the picnic was held at Betty Davis’ Ponderosa, near the intersection of Highway 7 and Highway 310 south of Waterford, and it featured great music, good food and unique arts and crafts. Unfortunately, the Oxford area had received a series of strong storms on Thursday night, and although they were isolated, they were enough to leave parts of the festival grounds as mud bogs, but the area nearest the stage was laid down with grass, and the muddy areas had been bridged with large wooden pallets, so most people were able to stay clean and dry, except for the ones who got down in the mud intentionally!
Mississippi artist Jimbo Mathus first came to prominence as a member of swing revivalists Squirrel Nut Zippers. As a solo artist, he straddles a number of genres, with the musics of white and Black Mississippians as the main influences, so he often performs a heartbreaking country ballad followed by a driving funk tune or a Southern rock song.
Friday night, Mathus opened up the Horseshoe Blues Tent at the Beale Street Music Festival with his band the Tri-State Coalition, featuring mainly songs from his new Fat Possum release White Buffalo, including “Tennessee Walking Mare” and “In The Garden”, the latter a philosophical look at sin entering the Garden of Eden. After the set, the hard-working Mathus and his band left Memphis for a show in Greenwood, Mississippi on the same night!
The good folks at End of All Music recommended I try the new Lamar Lounge when I told them I was looking for a good hamburger. The lounge is owned by the same owners as the record store, and the food is simply amazing. My hamburger was patted thick, cooked to my preference, mushrooms were chopped especially for it (they were much thicker than the usual), and there was plenty of cheddar cheese and bacon. The Lamar Lounge gives you a choice of baked potatoes or french fries. I opted for the latter, which were fried to a crunchy golden brown and seemed to have been rolled in sea salt. I was thoroughly satisfied, and my waitress told me that the Travel Channel is about to come through next week to highlight the burgers. Although they didn’t have any live music on the Tuesday night I was there, I am told that the Lamar Lounge does feature live music on certain nights, particularly Fridays. And they truly have the best burgers in Oxford.