Three local venues support live music through the dog days of summer
or Live local music through the dog days of summer
By Davis Coen
Things tend to slow down in Oxford during summer months, but one might say it’s a favorable transition and a unique time for the local music scene.
In some cases, it’s thanks to the allure of outdoor venues … and others, the intimacy of subtracting a bulk of the University of population from the equation.
Three Oxford downtown venues – all boasting stages, designed lighting, and audio backline – will slightly dial it back but continue a steady flow of live music offerings through the dog days of summer. In all three cases these venues will be providing staunch support to the local music community and its fans.
Proud Larry’s has been a mainstay on the Square for decades and has grown to become a local landmark. Although a modest 300 capacity venue, it’s become widely known for booking countless national acts for sold-out shows. These have included Modest Mouse, Elvis Costello, Jason Isbell, Warren Zevon, Sturgill Simpson, and The Black Keys. Also, forefront blues acts of past and present, and the best from every nook of the alternative scene.
Although football will always reign as Oxford’s foremost attraction, Proud Larry’s, since opening its doors in 1993, has lent a hand in pushing musical entertainment to be not far behind, along with culinary, literary and historical attractions.
The Green at Harrison’s, and Rafter’s on the Square are newcomers, but much like Larry’s continue to remain very relevant after the springtime student exodus, and according to owners and management, intend to press on through the duration of the dog days.
Midsummer’s a good time for a music series
Local rock bands Wannu? and The Pearl Divide are among those that Larry’s owner Scott Caradine has slated to appear at his venue on a regular basis during summer months, the latter kicking off with a June residency, with a handful of Wednesday evening dates starting around 9 p.m. “They’ve got a good little thing going,” he said, of The Pearl Divide, a four-piece band from Jackson consisting of Ole Miss students.
“We’re trying to do weekday shows and new artists that people aren’t familiar with yet, in a free situation,” said Lafayette, Louisiana-native Caradine, of his popular establishment located at 211 South Lamar Blvd.
He expressed great enthusiasm for one of the first shows the venue hosted after Memorial Day, Nashville singer/songwriter George Shingleton. “He is killer,” said Caradine. He’s a country artist with a real team behind him, that has some good stuff going on, and seems to be growing,” he said. “Nobody knows who he is here yet, but it might be one of those guys who in a year or two, you might say ‘I saw that guy on a Thursday night for free at Larry’s.’”
The renowned venue, and beloved family restaurant and bar, has gained a reputation also for booking these weekly residencies for earlier evening hours on weekdays, closer to what may be considered happy hour, sometimes a mix of a seasoned bar crowd and all-ages dinner goers.
Some notable early evening acts have included Jimbo Mathus, George McConnell, The Kenny Brown Band, Tate Moore, The Bill Perry Trio, and Davis Coen.
“It gives people something to get out of the house for, when it’s easy to sit inside with the AC. That’s a hard time to get off the couch for myself,” he joked. “I think it’s a good opportunity for people to get out and just see quality music live”
Caradine reflected on the slow uphill scale of the last two summers and said just about a year ago it seemed like people were finally showing excitement to get out and see music again, “because they were starved for it,” he said. And entering into June, he noticed folks getting even more comfortable with going back out for shows.
“We’ve got a good mix of both local artists and up and coming bands … that all have a buzz going on somewhere. It’s just a matter of trying to help them develop, and at the same time bring some new music to town,” said Caradine.
The summer lineup so far has been highlighted by synth-pop duo And the Echo, and The Country Westerns, who are signed to Fat Possum Records.
An outdoor delight directly off the Square
A gift to local live music lovers since March 2021 has been The Green at Harrison’s, the new interactive backyard of Harrison’s 1810 bar and grill, just a stone’s throw from neighboring Proud Larry’s.
Known primarily as a college bar, Harrison’s has expanded its appeal with its revamped spacious, relaxing outdoor setting, equipped with comfortable cabanas a bevy of flatscreen TVs, cornhole boards and waterproof pool tables, with often a backdrop of breathtaking early evening skies.
The venue also features a sizable and prominent stage setup, fully equipped to accommodate national touring acts, pending some repetitive and ongoing struggles with a few irritable neighbors and an ordinance that limits sound outdoors for commercial businesses.
Notable acts gracing the stage have included Grammy-nominated rapper, singer and multi-instrumentalist Afroman, and rock bands The Stolen Faces, Southern Groove Redemption, The Orange Constant, 2 Beans, Riverside Voodoo, and The Vegabonds.
General Manager Hayes Dent has been with Harrison’s since the doors first opened in September 2018, after Griffin Tanner purchased what was formerly Frank & Marlee’s, and in that time his roles have ranged from being a door guy to now spearheading the coordination of some of the best summer music the city has offered in years.
Distinctly, The Green was one of several local venues to host the ninth annual Oxford Blues Festival late last September. The June music calendar boasted some quality acts with exceptional draws, such as Traveler, the Band, Garsh, and Highland Sunday.
The venue still hosts some of the most exciting local and regional acts, in what is dubbed the Summer Concert Series, with a stripped-down, usually acoustic act starting around 4 or 5 p.m., followed by groups or band combos around 8 p.m.
“The set-up of The Green, it is almost as good as you can get for a live music venue,” said Dent. “We’ve just had a non-stop battle with our sound ordinance, that’s caused the music to be dampened down.”
The Green at Harrison’s currently has a petition with over 1,500 signatures and continues to gain a positive reputation as a premiere live music destination. “We do not believe that the people that don’t want this to happen outweigh the people that do,” said Dent.
Sunday pickin’ and grinnin’ served with a side of gospel
Rafter’s on the Square, which inhabits the upstairs of what was the historical and storied Henry Hotel, has also been a key player, and in the forefront for live music venues since the business was opened by the Chadwick family, and will continue to be so through the balmiest of mid-South months.
Members of local favorite Rocket 88, and Joe Austin & The Tallahatchies will swap out Sundays, and pick out precisely the acoustic sounds that both your ears and doctor ordered, to ease on through a burden-free afternoon, on through summer’s dog days.
The musical pairing of couple Jamie and Rosamond Posey, along with seasoned accompanists Eric Carlton (keyboards) and Nathan Robbins (bass, guitar, vocals), is enough to make a Bloody Mary or Mimosa seem like medicine to your mouth during a carefree brunch time.
Along with tried & true originals, the group pumps out energetic favorites from John Prine, Dylan, and The Stones, along with uplifting spiritual staples such as “Let the Church Roll On,” “Up Above My Head,” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Like Rocket 88’s bassist Nate Robbins, Joe Austin hails from nearby Pontotoc, and much like the Poseys has musical roots steeped in gospel music.
“We hope that it inspires all age groups, and attracts all kinds of people,” said front of house manager Caroline Parker, who affectionately calls the summer music mood on the “soulful” side, perhaps compared to other times of year.
Parker also works at the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, based at the Powerhouse on University Avenue and likes to see the community all tie together, as she splits her hours in the service industry.
She began at Rafter’s in May 2020, “smack dab in the pandemic,” said Parker. The spacious venue was able to proceed cautiously with their Sunday brunches, and she regards live music as what held folks together during harsh times.
“It’s continuing now to bring and hold people together, but in different ways,” she said, “and uplift everyone as a community. For Oxford, I think it’s huge to have live music on the Square on Sundays. We’re one of the only places that does it consistently.”