By Davis Coen

Although Water Valley, Mississippi isn’t particularly regarded as a destination place for seeing live music – at least, as much as nearby Oxford – the city now can claim a venue that’s so unique that it resembles nothing else in the entire area.

Voyager’s Rest is located on Main Street in Water Valley, south of the Casey Jones Museum, and is connected to a popular restaurant, Crawdad Hole, which opened its doors in 2011 and is known to regularly draw folks from a radius of a hundred miles around, for its outstanding crawfish, shrimp, crab legs and various accompaniments.

The building was once an abandoned filling station before being converted, although it still somewhat resembles an updated active one – enough where a confused traveler may approach, expecting to fill up their vehicle with petrol from one of the vintage gas pumps visible near the front entrance.

Owner Justin Showah, a lifelong musician and live performer, aside from his passion for food service and the culinary crafts, felt he also wanted to return something to the music community and its staunch local supporters.

“We had this empty garage that used to be for extra (restaurant) seating, but since covid happened it’s been sitting vacant,” said Showah, who originates from Jackson, MS, and partnered with his wife Lu, and her son Baxter Arender on this venture, which is now a couple of years in the making.

“We just felt like music has given us so much throughout our lives, that it was time to give back in some way.”

Similar to Crawdad Hole, Voyager’s Rest is a friendly, fun, no-frills, no-nonsense, straight-to-the-chase, barebones establishment, with comforting decor and a pleasing setting for both younger and older patrons to enjoy the high quality product being served up.

The venue itself, attached to one of the best destinations in north Mississippi for authentic cajun cuisine, can already stand on its own merit. In turn, there’s a timelapse in business hours before the restaurant closes at 9 p.m. and the first set begins, and customers approaching closing hour have ample time to enjoy their food to live music next door.

Although the main menu isn’t available after regular hours, Voyager’s Rest always provides late night eats, along with a selection of cold beer.

The after-hours munchies made available will vary, sometimes depending on the time of year and what might happen to be in season. Showah expects that having big batches of beans & rice on hand and offered free with admission throughout the shows may become a mainstay – with hopes of sharpening the judgment of customers who might indulge in an adult beverage before heading home.

He also anticipates other possible future munchies in rotation to be po’ boys, gumbo, oysters, and other “one-offs” of that nature.
The debut live concert at Voyager’s Rest was on February 25, with local favorites, garage rock-infused Tyler Keith & the Apostles, who recently celebrated the release of an album, “Hell To Pay,” recorded five minutes down the road at Dial Back Sound studio.

Other notable performers have included leaders in hill country blues, Eric Deaton Trio; Guelel Kumba, who hails from Senegal, West Africa, and is also a member of the group Afrissippi; Memphis punk veteran, Alicja Trout; Mississippi songwriter extraordinaire Cary Hudson; country soul and blues duo Davis Coen & Kinney Kimbrough; and pianist/songwriter Tate Moore of the Kudzu Kings.

With regard to the youth involvement at Voyager’s Rest, Roxford University, an Oxford music school which develops kids’ interest and passion through lessons as well as by grouping them together in real rock bands that perform shows at live music venues, holds an end of the semester concert at the venue.

Although the young venue has mainly booked local artists since opening in late-winter, another goal Showah maintains is that it should become something of a “springboard” for out of town acts touring throughout the region.

One example is singer-songwriter/guitarist, David Dondero, who is out of Pensacola, FL but is able to support other Mid-South dates with a show at Voyager’s Rest: including one at Blue Canoe in Tupelo, an appearance on Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, and others in Memphis and Jackson.

“We’ve got good sound, and backline, and good food,” said Showah, “so we’re hoping to take care of everybody.”

With regard to the thought process behind the expansion of his business venture, Showah said, “we had this space and this opportunity, and wanted to somehow show the appreciation back to the people who have given us so much. That being the musicians, and also the audiences.”

The owner acknowledges that increasing attendance will take time, but feels that the high bar which he and his partners set for quality should lead many to expect that the show will be good, regardless of whether or not they’re familiar with the artist.

“Right now we’re booking people that we like to hear, and are hoping that others will like it too,” said Showah, who likens his establishment to departed beloved Oxford venues such as the Hoka, and Two Stick – and also currently popular and very active, Proud Larry’s – in that there is a certain rare combination of quality food and music, along with great service.

Understanding the uphill battle of seeking community support – and also from surrounding communities – Showah remains very optimistic. “Right now we have everything in place, but attendance,” he joked.

“Oxford has (many) things, but I don’t think it has anything exactly like this. “In fact, in all of my playing and traveling I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a place quite like this. So that’s what kind of makes it unique and stand out,” said Showah, of his cozy new venue. “I mean the capacity is 50 people, so if you get 30 people in there, it’s a party.”

Some upcoming acts include Pop Saw, an experimental jazz group out of Jackson, MS with support from the Baxter Arender Quartet (described as ‘avant garden’ jazz) on June 3, and Memphis rock band James and the Ultrasounds on June 23.

Eric Deaton Trio will return on July 14, and also Tyler Keith the following evening, with accompaniment, The Revelations, and support from Jeremy and the Drip Edges, also out of Memphis.