Published on May 23rd, 2016 | by TLV News0
Seriously Old School: Former Water Valley high school transforms into a concert venue
The term “old school” usually means retro, from an earlier era, and looked upon with high regard. In Water Valley, it means all that and is literally true as well. The Old School Theater is a revitalized 250-seat school auditorium at 817 South Main Street in Water Valley. Located inside the Melonvine Marketplace on the south side of town, the theater will regularly present both national and regional music acts thanks to a new organization, Foster Music & Arts.
Foster Music & Arts is a partnership between Kevin Guyer and Eddie and Mari Foster, three people with a common goal of wanting to bring a world of high quality music to Water Valley, primarily via the theater in the former location of the Other Other Place building supply store.
When that business closed in 2015, Cinnamon Foster, nurse practitioner and owner of the Yalobusha Medical Clinic and daughter of Eddie and Mari, bought the entire complex to renovate it into the Melonvine Marketplace, with plans for a multi-use facility to include a vendor’s mall, function rooms, and more. As her father helped renovate the building, an idea started to form.
Many newer residents of Water Valley, such as Guyer, have only ever known the building as a place always half covered with lumber, shower stalls, PVC pipes, etc. But as all long-time residents knew, the building underneath the sprawling mess had originally been the old Jeff Davis High School, and its auditorium had lain dormant all these years waiting for someone with a little vision to bring it back to life.
So while the Melonvine Marketplace was being renovated, the Old School Theater was being created as well. The stage had long since disappeared, but the skeleton of the room was still intact and a beautiful new stage built in its place.
Guyer, from Maine, moved to Water Valley 14 years ago. When he first arrived, music was scarce. There was Oxford, which was a little too far away, and where most shows started too late at night for non-students. In Water Valley itself, there was only the VFW dance on Saturday nights, but that just wouldn’t do. So, with a long history as a musician and music promotor, Guyer started coming up with what his wife calls “Kevin’s crazy ideas.”
First came Fiddler’s Loft, an acoustic showcase in the loft of a barn at Fiddlin’ Rooster Farms. Guyer and farm owners Doug and Rhonda Webb came up with a plan to host a weekly down-home acoustic music showcase in the spring and fall, featuring two acts each night. To their surprise, Water Valley music lovers started coming out of the woodwork—not only showing up, but ready to support and (in the case of local music fans Eddie and Mari Foster) sponsor the music. The series, featuring both local and touring musicians and songwriters, continued for two years until the location was no longer available.
Then came Loft on Main, a concert series once again sponsored by Eddie and Mari Foster in a beautiful space above the B.T.C. Grocery. These intimate acoustic concerts featured touring musicians from Nashville, Austin, New Orleans, and beyond, such as Jon Dee Graham, Julie Lee, The International Songwriters Collective, Rod Picott, and a host of others. After a successful multi-year run, that space also became unavailable. Now “Kevin’s crazy ideas” needed a new and more permanent home—preferably on the ground floor.
So Foster Music & Arts is born. Based primarily at the Melonvine Marketplace’s theater, Foster Music and Arts’ stated mission of cultivating live music in North Mississippi means producing a variety of shows—from national touring acts capable of filling the 250-seat auditorium to the same kind of smaller singer-songwriter evenings Guyer and the Fosters have put on in the past.
If Guyer and the Fosters’ earlier efforts proved anything, it was that there are people all over North Mississippi hungry for live music in a comfortable venue, at a reasonable time of night, at a moderate volume, and for a reasonable price. It also proved that, on the other end, touring musicians and local musicians alike want to play that sort of venue.
Guyer and the Fosters decided they wanted to kick things off by filling the place with a major show, so they booked one of the biggest acts in North Mississippi and a personal favorite, Paul Thorn. The Tupelo singer/songwriter and bandleader boasts a healthy 49,000 Facebook fans, fills auditoriums around the country, tours widely, and is respected around the world. June 4 is going to be a big night.
All shows will be sponsored in part by the generous support of The Caryl Company and the Melonvine Marketplace as well as additional local supporters.