Wooten waves to the crowd during a show. Photo by Benton Dodd.Benton Dodd
Oxford is one of the art centers in Northern Mississippi, and it is particularly well known for it’s live music scene. People often forget that behind the voice of every lead singer that plays on the Square is an actual person with a life full of experiences that led them there.
The best way to appreciate what makes the soundtrack of Oxford so impressive is to talk to somebody directly involved in it. Nashville native Jackson Wooten has been involved with music his entire life.
“I’ve always loved making songs, even when my guitar was taller than I was,” he said.
He now travels around West Tennessee and Northern Mississippi performing in bars, fraternities, and pretty much anywhere he can get some gas money to help keep making his dream a reality.
Wooten ate at The Graduate in Oxford before heading to one of his favorite songwriting spots on the outskirts of the city by his uncle’s house. Although he appreciates the hectic nature of the bustling Oxford Square, he said he prefers to be in more remote locations to really connect with his music.
“Performing for a big crowd is a great experience, but a completely different beast,” he said. “Shows are often much less about the music and much more about the experience.”
If it were up to him, Wooten said he would sit around all day writing music by himself, but that “for bills to be payed, shows have to be played.”
After talking about some of his favorite concerts, Wooten discussed the larger music scene in Oxford. He said he admires the local government in Oxford and their constant support of the local music scene.
“It would be very easy for them to write off concerts as civic annoyances, but Oxford seems to have turned to them as a way to sell their city to the outside area,” he said.
Things like the Double Decker Arts Festival have gained more traction with each passing year. The 2018 Fest, which will be this April 27-28, will see standout acts, such as Cold War Kids, Houndmouth, and The Delta Saints grace Oxford with their presence.
Wooten said if he’s learned anything from traveling throughout the Southeast playing shows, it’s that many Southern towns would do well to take notes about how Oxford supports the arts.
“A city can’t grow if it has no culture,” he said. “Otherwise, it will just fade away.”
Wooten said he appreciates the variety of venues found in Oxford.
“The Lyric is one of the more memorable music venues I’ve seen outside of a big city,” he said. “I’d love to sell it out one day.”
The Lyric boasts a strong upcoming spring lineup with acts, such as Moon Taxi, Big K.R.I.T., and Dr. Dog poised to pack the former Faulkner family stable.
But beyond venues on the Square, Oxford has seen acts such as Wiz Khalifa, Lil Yachty, and Roscoe Dash perform on the Ole Miss campus the past year. The diversity among artists coming to Oxford every year speaks volumes about the direction in which the city is heading, despite having a local population of less than 25,000.
Jackson Mayhall is the bassist from the jazz ensemble, The Broomestix. The Nashville-based band is set to play a couple shows in the Oxford area this spring. Mayhall also said he was impressed by the variety of music found in Oxford.
“Before I was asked to perform there, I had assumed that Oxford would either have no special affinity to music at all or just be filled by dime-a-dozen country cover-bands, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Mayhall said.
Smooth jazz isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think “Ole Miss,” but The Broomestix have found an audience here.
Mayhall said events, such as the Oxford Film Festival and Double Decker, have raised Oxford’s profile in the arts community and will continue to as it grows.
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Mayhall touched on a fascinating point. Oxford has experienced greater than 60 percent growth in population between 2000 and 2010, and it is estimated that Oxford has grown 25 percent since that point.
If growth like this can be sustained, Oxford will continue to attract more bands as its relevance grows. It isn’t unreasonable to think that Oxford can expect growth similar to Athens, Georgia, a fellow Southern college town which experienced huge growth in the 90s and is home to massive bands such as R.E.M., The B-52’s, and The Indigo Girls.
The increasing relevance of the Oxford music scene cannot be denied when a jazz band from over four hours away looks to come here for work, and a freelance artist free to go literally anywhere chooses to spend time here. Perhaps the next Michael Stipe is sitting in an Ole Miss EDHE class this very moment.