Published on January 26th, 2017 | by Brittain Thompson0
Secret Shows and House Hunter: Talking with Ben Ricketts
With how quickly Ben Ricketts became a name everyone in the music community knew, it is easy to forget that he has been here just barely a year. Prior to that he lived in his hometown of Corinth, Mississippi. Ricketts sat down with us for a cup of coffee to discuss his experiences in Oxford and how his career has developed.
“My first show in Oxford was actually when I was 17,” said Ricketts. “It was at the R.C. [Residential College at Ole Miss] back when they had bands there. I was sitting in with Holy Ghost Electric Show and playing a washboard and a tambourine, with my foot. This girl was eating her lunch and turns around to say, ‘Hey can you stop? We’re trying to eat. Also I hope nobody comes to your show.’ Every experience I had after that was positive.”
Ricketts hit the ground running in Oxford playing two to three times a month. One of his most memorable shows was at The Blind Pig. It consisted of synthesizer performances from Sean O’Hara’s Nadir Bliss and Capel Howorth’s Scapes, with Ricketts headlining.
“That was a fun show, it was one of Landon [Boyte]’s last show that he booked,” said Ricketts. “I remember the owner came up afterwards and was like, ‘this is awesome we gotta do more stuff in this vein.’ A lot of people came out and I never heard back from them.”
It wasn’t soon after that The Blind Pig began focusing on operating exclusively as a bar and restaurant. Prior to The Shelter’s opening this meant that if you were new and wanted a show you had to try Ajax or luck into a slot at Proud Larrys’
“Every show I’ve done at Proud Larrys’ has fallen into my lap,” said Ricketts. “I’ve never reached out and heard back on my own. It’s just a really popular venue, people are always coming through and trying to book there.”
While venues are drying up and new bands do feel the impact, Ricketts still considers Oxford a great home base for an artist to develop.
“It isn’t weird adapting, I grew up in a town without music and this has been a really good home base. There’s always something going on. There’s film festivals, artists, even though there aren’t as many venues there are still musicians making really cool and interesting things in town.”
As somewhat of a response to Oxford’s venue deficiency, house shows are beginning to rise again in popularity. Second Home, as it is being called, has earned itself a reputation among musicians and fans.
“They’re a little slow on booking, they’re only doing about a show a month,” said Ricketts. “It’s a guy named Peyton Dixon. He was mainly doing Metal and Hardcore shows. He hosted one of Pinebox’s firsts as well.”
Ricketts had a chance to play at Second Home after The Wall’s closure left he and Drew Danburry without a venue for their tour stop in Oxford.
“I really want to see a house show scene get started in Oxford,” said Ricketts. “You’ve got places like Hattiesburg or Cleveland that has just one venue that does really well, but because of that they have thriving house show scenes.”
While there are house parties throughout the year, nothing so far has stuck as the house show venue. This problem is partly due to the difficulty in finding a property that can support a party’s worth of people that also won’t disturb neighbors to the point of calling authorities.
“You’ve got Second Home but everything else are just one off shows. Highland Square lasted longer than I thought it would, it was a really nice town house. They did the Title Fight show then Pinebox did a show there that I know got shut down. The cops came right before the last act then somebody pulled a cabinet down.”
Crowd control is seemingly the largest hurdle in maintaining house venues. Ricketts suggestion to that is to shrink the crowd.
“When you open your house to the public, things like that can happen,” said Ricketts. “But you can do stuff like this place out in Water Valley that can hold maybe 15 or 20 at most. The shows are small, but they’re really cool.”
With Oxford leaning more and more towards smaller housing, musicians will have to get creative with where they can play. Ricketts has been toying with a solution to the lack of starter venues.
“I’ve been toying with the idea of doing like a secret show at a different location every time,” said Ricketts. “Something like two days before the show you designate a few people to text 10 people that they know would be interested in it. Each time you have different people get the word out. That’s been on my massive to do list for a while now.”
Going forward Ricketts plans to work more in building up Oxford’s house show circuit. His next album release will be hosted at an intimate acoustic showing in Water Valley for, at most, 20 people.