Thursday night, The Weeks of Jackson, Mississippi, who are currently signed under Kings of Leon’s record label, Serpents and Snakes, performed at The Government Street Grocery in Downtown Ocean Springs. Employees of the venue confirmed a great performance, a display of showmanship that I would hope to see that Saturday night when they would play again at the Thirsty Hippo in Hattiesburg. On the Coast, the highlight of the weekend was the annual Mississippi Songwriters Festival which ran from Thursday to Sunday night. In this event, songwriters from all over the south rotate among close to a dozen venues and take turns showcasing original music while regional judges watch from the crowd. I would get my first taste of the festival Friday night. You can see the full lineup for the festival here.
I parked behind the Beer House in Ocean Springs around eight o’clock, with no plans to be anywhere specific. I had several friends coming to meet me later, but I was wandering rogue for the time being. Moonhawk, a local band I had not seen yet, was playing at the Grocery later that night, but, for now, finding the nearest venue for festival musicians was my goal. I had not even left out of the parking lot when I heard an MC introducing a group of musicians. I followed the sounds and came to stand at the east back patio of Salvetti’s, where three men with acoustic guitars were perched on stools in front of a full house of patrons and music lovers alike. I walked around the side of the building to come in from the front entrance. I was given the only remaining table toward the back, a high standing four top. I ordered a drink and waited for the first round of songs to begin.
One of the musicians, I believe it was Sean Gasaway, was ending his first number when I noticed two women standing behind me, peering over the crowd to see the performers. I offered two of my remaining seats. They said they knew two of the songwriters, one being local native Brandon Green of Ocean Springs, a young man who was currently singing his second song. As luck would have it, a group of people at the forefront table were making their exit early in the performances and we managed to move up to be directly in front of the action. An hour later the music had conclude for the rotation at Salvetti’s. This group would go on to Boots and Spurs across the street and a new set of three would come to the restaurant to continue.
“Let us introduce you to some of the musicians,” one of the women said.
I shook hands with Brandon Green who looked to be in his mid to late twenties. I asked him a little about his roots to the coast and what he thought of Nashville, a city I have yet to visit but have been actively seeking more information on in preparation for my future travels. He gave positive testimony to his experiences and thanked us for coming out. Next, I spoke with songwriter veteran, and one of my favorite performers of the night, Greg Crowe. Crowe, a native of the Mississippi Delta, has lived in Nashville for over 25 years, producing, recording, and performing a blend of blues, rock and country music. With mileage like that, it was a clear indicator that the city was worth closer examination for an aspiring musician. I also met with a fellow promoting the 2nd annual Gulf Coast Songwriters Shootout, an organization that boasts being one of the largest of its kind in the area, and is set to feature 50 artists in competition over the course of several days in the fall. This year, the contest will take place at The Hot Spot Music & Grub at the The Wharf in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Leaving Salvetti’s, I took for the Grocery to see what was happening there. I passed the Beer House which was full, but no sign of a familiar face in passing. At the Grocery, I got insider information about some of the details for Moonhawk's performance later that night. From the street corner, I could see a group of people gathering at the entrance to Murky Water’s Blues and BBQ joint. I walked over and examined the scene. Like Salvetti’s, Murky Water’s was also apart of the festivities and three more artists were seated on the small outdoors stage. Just then I was met by my friends Eddie and Kate who joined me just in time to hear the first round of songs. We decided to then head for Boots and Spurs to hear the previous three performers again. The atmosphere was a little more “in-swing” here, as B&S is one of the larger venues on the Government strip, and provided for a different listening experience.
Next, we connected with Lyle Stephens and Julia Reyes, who joined me on our recent trip to Colorado. Julia was putting together an artist hike that weekend in Desoto National Forrest and I set my calendar to be a part of the action. The songwriters festival was done for the night and Lyle and Julia were looking to score some chow, so we decided to make a move for the Juke Joint where we were bound to find another band playing. Departing with Eddie and Kate, I made for the Joint and took a seat at the bar. Party At The Moon Tower was in full swing with a heavy set that showed no mercy to the late hour of one o’clock. We enjoyed the music long enough for food to be consumed and then, seeing it would be 2am before long, called it a night.
Back home, I didn’t find sleep till after five o’clock when my alarm system suddenly went on the fritz. At least, that’s what our friend, returning with my roommate from Ocean Springs also, claimed. In any case, it was only a night of about four hours of sleep for me, but that didn’t stop me from making a champions breakfast of bacon, egg and cheese burritos in the morning. Despite trying to nap several times during the day, I found no rest as darkness began to fall again and I would soon be on the road to Hattiesburg with my cousin to see The Weeks. We originally seemed to have a potential group on our hands to make the journey, but now conditions reflected just the two of us making the journey, which was fine by us. The band was set to play at 10pm. We were on the road by eight. An hour and half and many of “The Simpsons” Ralph impersonations later, we were parked outside the Thirsty Hippo.
We were super un-stoked to discover that the building was running at full capacity and we would be unable to enter to see the show. What the heck! Even after a clever scheme in which we pretended to be applying for jobs (this had no chance) we were told we could wait until others left in order to have a spot inside. All around us, others appeared to be waiting as well. Worse yet, there was no waitress to order a drink with while we sat around. Weighing our options, we decided it would be unlikely that we would get our chance to go in anytime soon. Instead, we chose to head to the Keg and Barrel, a favorite spot of mine and many other USM students who prefer a chiller social scene.
As luck would have it, we ran into some friends at the Keg and had a good time eating and drinking at our table which grew to close to a dozen people. Around midnight, we moved to The End Zone to shoot pool. I was facing off with the group veteran who gave me a pretty easy game by providing me with his insight and tips on his methods of play. In the end, I was given the chance to sink the eight for the win, and flopped with a scratch. I doubt I would have even made it that far if my opponent had really decided to play to his full ability, but I learned a lot in the match and had a good time playing the game of physics. Back home on the coast, it was already three o’clock. I climbed into bed and reached for my phone.
“No guarantee I will be making this hike tomorrow morning. It’s already three and I only got four hours last night. Setting my alarm for 9 o’clock but who knows if I’ll actually get out of bed.”
I woke up on my own that morning, but was surprised to see my phone read 9:40. I had forgotten to set my alarm for the A.M. I called Lyle to find the statues of the group. They were in route to Desoto just then, so I jumped up for a shower, threw some food in a lunch box, grabbed my notebook and guitar and headed out toward Highway 67. The group met up just off of 420 Road near Bethel. The parking area had a large, scenic lake with a trail leading into the woods. Having just come back from excellent hiking spots in Colorado, I figured this would make for a great substitute.
YOLO! (pending the validity of reincarnation)
"A name is just a label for the sum of your actions"