The state of Oxford’s music scene is a topic The Local Voice has focused on as of late, talking with local musicians about how they see things shaping up. In TLV #270, Jace Hughes hit on the fact that people aren’t coming out to shows like they did in the past. Ben Ricketts discussed the lack of a DIY scene in Oxford in The Local Voice #271. This can largely be due to the closure of Cats Purring’s Dude Ranch and the impact it had as not only a venue but as a hub for local musicians to gather and practice.
Recently, local jazz pianist Bill Perry acknowledged the elephant in the room on social media, asking if the Oxford music scene was dead or alive.That Facebook post has since garnered over 177 comments from musicians, business owners, and music fans alike. The resounding response is: Yes, there is a problem, but we’re not sure how to find a solution.
Some expressed that they felt the scene was dead, had sold its soul, or was on its last leg. Though, this was by and large a minority. Bill Perry’s post quickly became a town hall meeting of sorts for Oxford’s music community.
“Young people don’t go see music,” said photographer Ron Blaylock in response.
While the statement is quite the blanket and opens the door to arguments of “back in my day,” it does make the point that twenty-somethings are the usual suspects to find at a local show. If they aren’t coming out to see bands and rack up a bar tab, where are they?
“Pretty, pretty dead,” replied owner of Ajax Diner, Randy Yates.
As owner of one of the few venues actively booking live, original music, Yates’ statement carries an exceptional weight.
Tate Moore, owner of Square Pizza, offered a free slice to any local musician who came to the shop and played an original song on guitar or piano. As of press time, he has not been taken up on the offer.
“Dead,” replied Moore.
In the interview with Jace Hughes, we discussed the attendance problem bands are facing. Over the last year, crowds have been dwindling in part due to musicians leaving town for greener pastures and taking with them the friends who came to shows and kept the venues full.
Local drummer Dave Matthews is planning a move from Oxford to Nashville in the near future. Though he has been able to consistently play with bands both live and on record, his reason for the move is primarily due to the current state of affairs in the local music scene. He sees a distinct lack of opportunities to make playing music more than a part time gig.
“I’m leaving because this place will never get me as far as a musician,” said Matthews.
This mind-set, while not being ruled out as inaccurate, perpetuates the problem itself. Without a foundation of artists to support not just the work of their peers but also those just starting out in town, attendance will be a continued issue.
As Tupelo’s Blue Canoe owner, Adam Morgan, stated, “I’ve always had this battle with Tupelo in that all the local musicians think I hate [them] because I don’t book the same eight bands everybody else books. I do book local musicians and the ones that end up on stage most often are [those] I seeing supporting the artists I bring thru and the ones out supporting other venues.”
A disconnect between musicians was also mentioned by Hughes as something he directly felt. Local musician and filmmaker Daniel Lee Perea, a.k.a. El Bebop Kid, echoed this feeling, saying, “I think if anything there’s probably less communication and fellowship amongst the artists out there doing their thing.”
A large part of building a community of any type of artists involves a thriving DIY culture, either through a circuit of houses that hosts events or having a designated DIY venue such as the Dude Ranch (previously the Zoogma house) and countless other houses that acted as the nexus of Oxford’s music scene over the years.
Ricketts touched on this in our discussion and reiterated the sentiment saying, “I think it’s slowing and suffering, but not dead. There are still great venues here, and the response to my ‘secret shows’ and living room shows in the works has been surprising. I think it’s a ripe time to see a DIY scene in Oxford grow.”
It’s important to note that among the 177 comments at time of publishing, several of them stated that these problems are not exclusive to Oxford. From small towns all the way up to large cities, the consensus was that this is a widespread problem that has no easy answer.
Benjamin Bradley Jr. commented, saying, “What you just described is also a very close description to what is happening down here in Jackson [Mississippi] . . . It’s dying but I think it has more to do with the attitude of the people here than the venue owners and musicians. If live music is not a priority for patrons then they will not come.”
The important thing to learn from Perry’s post and the conversation it sparked is not that we must find a decisive answer to how to revitalize the landscape of Oxford’s music scene, but to begin the long discussion about how to rebuild the community.
The solution won’t come from any one person, but by creating a conversation among the musicians, venue owners, and fans who keep it all going.
We at The Local Voice take great pride in being a part of the community that supports live music and are committed to continuing this conversation in hopes of restoring the music scene to its former glory. If you would like to weigh in on the matter or believe you have the master solution, send an email to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you and keep the conversation going.