Northern native becomes a Mississippi blues piano man

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Merril Robbins

For some, music is a something coming from the speakers in their car as they drive home from work. To others, it’s felt deep in the bones. For Mark Yacavone, a blues pianist with Mississippi musician Garry Burnside’s band, music is worth packing up and moving more that 1,200 miles away from your family and friends.

In 2009,  Mark and his partner, Bethany Cooper, were living and working in Dover, New Hampshire, when they were both offered jobs in Oxford. They decided to move here because of Mark’s love for Mississippi Delta blues music and Bethany’s love of cultural exploration.

“Moving to Oxford wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it was going to be,” said Yacavone. “It helped that I could play blues piano though. That’s for sure.”

Mark learned to play the piano in college. He trained as a pilot in flight school at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, but ended up getting his degree in computer science instead of flying because of money. His roommate loved Mississippi blues music, and they played basic classroom instruments.

It wasn’t long until local blues musicians started talking about the ‘piano player from up North somewhere.'”

“I remember when I first got here,” said Yacavone. “I was so excited, because the musicians were real blues artists. In Mississippi, blues music was felt deep down in their soul, and I finally felt like the music we were making had a purpose.”

Mark and Bethany became involved in the Oxford community quickly because they wanted to make friends and connect with Mississippi culture. Before long, Mark was offered a job as a blues pianist in the “Yalobushwackers,” the house band for Thacker Mountain Radio.

Yacavone’s bandmate, Wallace Lester, played the drums for Mississippi blues artists for years. Lester played for Garry Burnside’s band and invited Yacavone to play blues piano for a practice set.

Yacavone became Burnside’s regular pianist after that set, and they have played in shows all over the South for the past five years.

Thacker Mountain Radio broadcasts live from Off-Square Books every Thursday at 6 p.m. in the fall and spring. The radio broadcast is broadcast live on 92.1 Rebel Radio.

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