Prologue: Listen Local. Listen Often

It’s no secret that music is an important part of my life. In fact, some of my fondest early memories of growing up in northeast Oklahoma involve standing over my mother’s shoulder while she played the piano.

I couldn’t sing a lick – and still can’t – but that didn’t stop me from belting out the lyrics to Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” or Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.”

My oldest sister, Donna, opened my ears – and eyes – to the marvels of live music in the late 1970s when she took me to see Willie Nelson, my very first concert.

In the 40 years since, I have lost count of all of the folks I have seen perform live. From crooners like Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, and Tom Jones to classic rockers like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and The Eagles to blues legends like B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor, I have had the good fortunate to see most of my musical heroes perform live and in person.

Since moving to the Pine Belt a decade ago, several of those live musical experiences have happened right here in my own backyard thanks to the hard work and dedication of concert promoters like Brad Newton, Ben Shemper, and Brian McLelland just to name a few.

And thanks to the work of Arden Barnett and his crew at Ardenland, those opportunities keep getting better – and more frequent.

As part of the new “City Lights + Music Nights” concert series, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams is coming to town next month to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her 1998 album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Later this summer, Grammy Award winner Bobby Rush will be in town and later, blues guitarist and vocalist Keb Mo.

However, don’t get the impression it’s only national musical acts that are making a splash here in the Pine Belt.

You might be surprised to learn Hattiesburg is widely recognized these days as having the best – and most active – local music scene in the state. There was a time in the not-so-distant past that Oxford or maybe even Jackson could have claimed the same, but those scenes have waned and thanks to the continued work of Cary Hudson (this month’s cover story) and a fresh crop of new bands including Midnight Revel, Royal Horses, the Pine Belt Pickers, Goth Dad, The Floridamen, BrothaJosh and The Quickness and several others, the Hub City has climbed its way to the top of the heap here in the Magnolia State and we couldn’t be more proud.

Locally, the best way to keep encouraging these young acts is to get out and support them with your presence – and tips. We have several great venues that are booking local talent and those venues need crowds to help pay the bills.

And while there are a number of venues who don’t start playing live music until 9 p.m., several have begun to provide earlier offerings for the non night owls.

And as far as musical styles go, there really is something for everyone, even if your preference is classical or show tunes.

With two local universities – both of which have world-class music programs – the opportunities are truly endless.

Support local music. 

It makes our community better.

David Gustafson,
   Editor & Publisher