As we gazed skyward at the last full moon of the decade, our hallowed history shone down upon downtown Hattiesburg and all its surrounding environs. Entering downtown where Bay transforms into Main Street, you first walk past the lush surroundings of Town Square Park via a newly-added footbridge over Gordon's Creek that descends upon a stage that stands ready for performers year round.
Before it moved to its current spacious location on 309 McLeod, the Thirsty Hippo was behind the red door you see at 211 1/2 Main Street. Down the hall and into the venue, the bar (like the Hippo now) welcomed a world-class slate of performers including Daniel Lanois (2006), Fleet Foxes (2008) as well as Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.The Shoe Shop's sign for "Jesus & Tomatoes" has since become a city legend. Before it started appearing on colorful T-shirts, a street festival on Main would always be the best occasion to roll out the furniture inside and watch T-Bone Pruitt or This Orange Four.
Walk a little further and leap over the train tracks and you can almost hear the faint memories of ArtWalk audiences gasping at Darrell Havard's dexterous two-handed touch on his Chapman Stick. Up the block to Front Street, hang a right on a good night and you could get a seat on the balcony of Brownstone's perhaps to hear the strains of early Eaglepaloozas with Dashboard Confessional, Mya and Robert Randolph. Or, walk a little further to the elegant Wine Bar whose courtyard always welcomed the best up-and-coming singer/songwriters.
Ease down the hill and stare upward at the America Building. Once known as the Carter Building, there were great shows on the roof and the top floor in the 80s and early 90s. Later, bands would follow the circuitous path to the Galley in the basement to play before welcoming late-night revelers who could party there after hours. Pass the Front Street Tonsorial Parlor and the first floor's centerpiece was an antiquated red velvet couch (that even gave a local band their moniker) as well as the art space for the even more colorful improvisational/Free Jazz collective BluHous crew.
Hop across to Benny's Boom Boom Room where the best in Jam (Revivalists, Tim Reynolds) and Funk bands (George Porter Jr.) played for eager Hattiesburg crowds in their more nascent days. The Boom Boom was always percolating, even at six in the morning in Summer 2012 when they welcomed the Flaming Lips on their way to break a Guinness World Record. After the event ended, passersby were even treated to traffic direction by none other than Jackson Browne.
From this central location, you could always find someone to meet or something to do. Down Mobile toward the Newman-Buschman district, the VFW hall welcomed any number of dance bands and soul and blues artists, and always gave the funkiest parties. Up Mobile toward the glowing signs of Sacks Outdoors, you could find yourself at the historic Bottling Company building. They would uncork two floors of labyrinthian bar space and on most weekend nights, a singer-songwriter while you enjoyed dinner (myself included) and then a full band to rock the house.
Often that trek simply was not enough. You followed your crew. Or you met up for drinks on the terrace at 206 or you ducked into a gallery or eight on a starry ArtWalk night. If you were lucky (we truly are), you wound back around Forrest toward the beacon of those flashing lights outside of the Saenger. You got there just in time as the show was ending and the assembled horde was exiting onto the street. Suddenly, you ran into someone you had not seen in a long while. As you were talking and comparing notes on the night's festivities and planning where to go next, FLASH! a photographer from Signature Magazine would appear to preserve this candid moment on these pages forever.
Mik Davis is the record store manager at T- BONE's Records and Cafe and a GED instructor.