Live Music on Life Support: Proud Larry’s Owner Reflects on Importance of Live Music as Pandemic Persists.

Photo by Xander Norris.

OXFORD, Ms. — It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in early November on the Square. College students and locals converse as they meander along the intersecting streets that branch out from the trunk of Oxford’s historic courthouse; friends meet for lunch and revel in old memories. At times it feels like a sense of normalcy has returned to the Square. However, that feeling quickly fades as you pass under a large milky white tent and look back to see the light bounce off the steel sidewalk barriers of South Lamar Boulevard, fortifications that now guard the entrances of institutions like Proud Larry’s: a small-town pizza joint, bar, and music venue that has been in business since 1993. During its time on the Square, Proud Larry’s has hosted live performances by renowned artists like John Mayer, The Black Keys, Elvis Costello, and Warren Zevon. However, the business of making memories through melodies was paused when the pandemic lockdown forced Proud Larry’s to close in March.

“The music industry was really banging when things came to a screeching halt,” Said Scott Caradine, owner of Proud Larry’s. “It was busy; we were selling more tickets here for shows than we had ever sold.”

Typically, Proud Larry’s hosts around 200 live shows a year and averages $100,000 — $200,000 a month in revenue generated from those performances. But, after being shut down for three months and going through a fall without a proper college football season, Proud Larry’s has taken a 25% hit in live music revenue; a blow that Caradine said could take years to recover from.

“I think from a business perspective we are very fortunate at Proud Larry’s that we are a full-service restaurant,” Caradine said. “We typically, over our 27-year existence, have done about 65% food business and 35% bar business, just you know: beer, liquor, and wine; we’re able to break even, we’re able to keep our head above water right now, it’s tough, but we’re doing it… but we missed the live music side of things.”

Scott Caradine, Owner of Proud Larry’s. Photo by Xander Norris.

Since re-opening in June, Proud Larry’s hasn’t had live music for about nine months. But, that all changed on Nov. 6 when Proud Larry’s staged a 40-table reduced capacity concert featuring Will Griffith — known musically as The Great Dying — a local folk-rock singer-songwriter and bartender at Proud Larry’s. The Great Dying has a rotating roster of Oxford artists, but the act usually involves Griffith on vocals and guitar accompanied by Craig Pratt on guitar or Kell Kellum on slide guitar. Born in the Mississippi Delta, Griffith describes his music as “dark country” because it’s an amalgamation of punk rock and country.

After having his tour canceled by COVID-19 earlier this year, Griffith said the experience of playing in front of a live audience again was the ultimate high for him.

“I haven’t played in front of a crowd in about 244 days, and I was just stoned,” Griffith said. “I was so high on the feeling of performing again; excuse my language, but everybody there was so horny for live music, people that were there were music fans and fans of The Great Dying, so it just could not have been a better situation.”

“Catching Hell” Performed by The Great Dying. Video Courtesy of The Local Voice.

Caradine said The Great Dying’s concert was such a success in terms of people adhering to Proud Larry’s COVID-19 guidelines during the show. As long as fans play by the rules, Caradine thinks he now has a good template to follow for future shows at Proud Larry’s.

“Since that worked out, we said okay this model will work,” Caradine said. “It’s not the same as packing kids or people, in general, in here for a concert, but it’s an outlet for live music, for the fan experience, for the artists experience and for the business model that we can do business this way, our bar can sell some drinks, and it’s not the same as it was before… but, it’s a start.”

Caradine has spoken with some friends who are still hesitant about attending live performances at venues, but for the most part, he said a lot of people he’s talked to are really excited to have live performances back, even if it’s in the form of an hour and a half, limited capacity in-door show with masks when standing.

Proud Larry’s Stage. Photo by Xander Norris.

“A lot of people are really itching to go see live music,” Caradine said. “They want to go in a safe space and see live music; they want to go outside and see it, where they can space out from people and get the experience.”

However, Oxford’s bigger concert venues like The Lyric are not taking any chances right now with limited capacity performances.

“Certainly, limited capacity would be a big help in a lot of respects,” Said Lindsay Dillion-Maginnis, general manager of The Lyric. “But it’s also the hardest to enforce because if you cut the capacity of The Lyric down to half, you’re still going to have half of those people who are going to want to be as close as possible to the band; so for all the solutions that we have, we seem to have a new set of problems that will arise.”

Live music is a huge part of The Lyric’s business; according to Dillion-Maginnis it’s included in 99% of the venue’s events. In a typical year, The Lyric hosts anywhere from 50–75 ticketed shows — not including other events like sorority formals and weddings that also feature live music — but this year has been far from typical for the venue.

Dillion-Maginnis said after having a record-breaking year in 2019, The Lyric has pushed all of its ticketed shows to next summer. Since its last show on Feb. 29, The Lyric has done a handful of contracted events, but Dillion-Maginnis said for all intents and purposes the venue is closed right now.

“We’ve been around now for 12 years and the business is solid, but it can’t sustain this forever,” Dillion-Maginnis said.

The Lyric is not alone; according to a 2020 survey of independent concert venue owners conducted by the National Independent Venue Association(NIVA), 90% of independent music venues could close forever if they don’t receive significant financial aid soon. NIVA is a non-profit group that supports over 2,000 independent live venue owners and promoters in all 50 states.

Formed back in April when the pandemic shut down live music, NIVA’s mission is to use its resources to sustain the country’s “ecosystem” of independent venues and promoters; this includes advocating for the passage of the Save our Stages Act (SSA), which is part of the $2.2 trillion Heroes Act, a relief package passed by the House of Representatives in October. If the Senate and the President approve the Heroes Act, it will provide over $10 billion in funding for independent venues in the form of loans and non-repayable grants.

“If real support comes, we can have the strongest independent ecosystem that we’ve ever had coming out of this,” Said Stephen Chilton, vice president of NIVA and owner of The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, Az. “If we can get aid, we’re going to see a great thriving community after this, but if we can’t get aid it’s going to be devastating; we are going to lose venues by the thousands.”

Video Courtesy of NIVA.

The stimulus bill’s funding will help cover six months’ worth of payroll and operating expenses, which is a big deal for an industry, that according to trade publication Pollstar, could lose as much as $8.9 billion in revenue this year. But, as Variety Magazine points out, that figure “doesn’t include the losses of income by musicians, technicians, dancers, and others in its sprawling supply chain.”

“There are tons of artists out there that would normally be working and gigging back and forth making money, and that work is just not there,” Said Damein Wash, a local singer, songwriter, arranger, and pianist. “So, anything to put people back to work would be great; not to mention to just save the performance industry because we are needed, absolutely we are… people work all week and to have a nice concert to go to or somewhere they can breathe free and not have to worry about the stress of the mundaneness of everyday life; that’s super important for everyone, not just the musicians.”

“Stride” Performed by Damein Wash. Video Courtesy of Damein Wash.

The loss of independent music venues, concert halls, and theatres is also a major blow to the U.S. economy and to local artists like Griffith and Wash who make their living performing in front of crowds. According to a 2017 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, the value added by arts and culture to the U.S. economy is “five times greater than the value from the agricultural sector.” The study also points out that in 2017 the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account found that arts and culture contributed $877.8 billion, or 4.5%, to the nation’s gross domestic product.

As much as they help fuel the national economy, independent venues like The Lyric and Proud Larry’s are more than just a business. They are also a form of secular community where all walks of life can come together, and that’s important in and of itself.

“It’s all about creating a community with people, and there’s a real integration of the fan, the artist, and the business model that’s helping produce it,” Caradine said. “Whether it’s for-profit or not, it’s really important that those things happen together and if people want to see it continue to grow and slowly get back to a life of doing business with real music with shows on a bigger scale… It just takes everybody’s patience, it also takes everybody’s commitment to doing it safely.”

The Pantry is Full

The Pantry’s sign. Photo by Xander Norris.

The overabundance of food donations creates a problem for The Pantry of Oxford and Lafayette County during the holiday season.

John Kohne, director of food distribution for The Pantry, says that from October to January, The Pantry experiences an exponential increase in canned, dried and frozen food donations, which causes the food bank’s available storage space to decrease dramatically. Even though he admits finding space for all of the product is difficult, Kohne says The Pantry is grateful for all the food donations it receives during the holiday season as it helps feed around 500 food-insecure families in Oxford and Lafayette County, which has a food insecurity rating of 18.9%.

“It’s a good problem to have in that we do have product to put on the shelves, and we can make it work,” Kohne said. “Especially from October through May, we can handle it.”

While there is room for most of The Pantry’s extra dry product in both of their 6-by-12-foot storage units, Kohne says space fills up when local organizations like the Oxford Night Owls Motorcycle Civic Club and the 100 Men of Oxford and Lafayette County Club donate massive amounts of canned and dried goods to The Pantry. Last November and December, Kohne says the Night Owls held two big weekend food rushes and donated about seven thousand cans of food to The Pantry.

“It’s such an immense amount of food, and we have to sort it, get through it, and then get it out, but all that food we have to do something with it, and that’s the challenge,” Kohne said. “Dealing with the heavy, heavy amount of food that we get in October, November, December and January.”

To help with the influx of donations and clients during the holidays, The Pantry partners with 12 churches in Oxford and Lafayette County.

Each month one of those churches brings in at least 12 volunteers to unload all of the product from the trucks and stock the shelves with enough food to serve 125 families a week. Pantry clients are only eligible to receive food if they are at or below the income guidelines set by The Emergency Food Assistance Program, a federal program that aids low-income Americans with emergency food assistance for free.

Carol Wedge, The Pantry’s manager during November, says that last year The Pantry served 102 families on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and 98 families on Thanksgiving Day. Wedge says that the support from Oxford’s churches and other local organizations helps the food bank operate smoothly during the busiest time of the year.

“It really helps the week before Christmas and Thanksgiving, it’s busier,” Wedge said.

Besides the 12 local churches, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) — a nationwide program that enhances retirement for seniors by sending volunteer talent to work at local organizations — also helps out at The Pantry during the holidays.

One of the volunteers for RSVP, Clarissa Jordan, said that even though it was her first time, she enjoyed helping out at The Pantry in November.

“Well, I enjoy helping people, the people who work here are nice and you feel like you’re doing something for other people,” Jordan said. “It’s enjoyable, and it’s a lot of fun.”

The time of year that The Pantry doesn’t need as many volunteers is during the summer months. Kohne says that the lack of donations from May — July forces The Pantry to draw food from the Mid-South Food Bank’s supply or purchase supplemental food from Larson’s Cash Savers.

“In May, June and July people are thinking about vacation, where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do,” Kohne said. “They are not dropping off ten to thirty dollars or cases of food to the food bank.”

Oxford Community Market’s 2019 Harvest Angel Project.

Reduced City Budget Slows Down Development Projects for Oxford’s Pathways Commission.

The City of Oxford’s Pathways Commission held its monthly meeting on Monday, Oct. 26, to converse about current and potential plans for the city and review the commission’s annual report for the Board of Aldermen. 

The commissioners present at the meeting were Don Feitel, Kate Kellum, Meaghin Burke, Roger Kuhnle, Claude Gunter, Michael Worthy, Will Townes, and Robert Baxter, the City Liaison.

The goal of the Pathways Commission is to make Oxford a more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly place by increasing accessibility; this includes creating new pedestrian sidewalks, bike paths, recreational paths, and addressing the town’s traffic issues. The commission meets every fourth Monday of the month at 5:00 p.m.; however, because of the pandemic, they now meet over Zoom instead of at City Hall.

“We are a resource for people who have concerns, and we are also a resource for the city to find problem areas; we are charged with looking at the city through the eyes of a pedestrian or bicyclist, and solving problems, presenting problems and increasing accessibility,” Burke said.

At 5:00 p.m., Feitel, the committee chair, called the meeting to begin. The committee came together and approved the prior month of September’s agenda, which had been approved unanimously.

Because of the pandemic, the City of Oxford’s general operation budget is down around $3.2 million per an article published by Magnolia State Live. As a result of the reduction in funding, there has been a slowdown in building around town, which has impacted the commission’s projects. When the land-use code was revised a couple of years ago, the city included bike lanes and sidewalks in future development projects. But, because of the city’s drastic change in funding between pre-pandemic and now, Feitel said there has been a slowdown in building, which means fewer development projects are happening around Oxford.

“It’s all trickle down, there is less money to necessarily build sidewalks if they are worrying about furloughing employees and things like that, you know as it should be; so one of the things that we have had to do is, whereas normally we might be reviewing multiple projects or talking about other areas of town to build sidewalks… there’s just less options to do that,” Feitel said. “So as a commission we’re trying to think of things to prioritize, thinking of what projects we do and don’t want to push with the Board (of Alderman); because again they don’t necessarily have the funds that they thought they would and so we want to be careful with what we ask for.”

One of the first items that the commission discussed during their meeting was the projected construction of the Bramlett Boulevard Sidewalk Project, a $167,000 project that the commission has tried to get off the ground for several years. Funded by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the city, the project aims to finish the sidewalks along the right side of Bramlett Boulevard from University Avenue to Jefferson Avenue. The project will also increase pedestrian accessibility to Oxford Middle School, the Old Armory Pavilion, and the Oxford Community Market; Feitel said he spoke with John Crawley, Oxford’s Assistant City Engineer, who estimates that the project might start construction as early as December.

One of the main agenda items that the commission addressed during their monthly meeting was their annual report, which they submit to the Board of Aldermen. Every year, all the city’s commissions have to check-in and inform the Board of the business that they are doing. In their report, the commission highlights specific things that they are doing and concerns that they have, such as getting regular maintenance of bike lanes around town, because a lot of debris – such as gravel, branches, glass – gets knocked out of car travel lanes and ends up in bike lanes.

“A lot of areas in our town aren’t necessarily served by sidewalks, so areas that have bike lanes, you often see people running and walking in them,” Feitel said. “So cleaning is always a priority because if we can clean the lanes, they are more inviting, and if they are more inviting, more people use them.”

Besides cleaning up bike lanes, Feitel also mentioned that the committee wants the Board to address particular areas of town where bike lanes are unsafe. Specifically, the commission is concerned about the bike lane on College Hill Road and West Jackson Avenue; the bike lane is located on a sharp curve often encroached on by cars exiting off West Jackson.

The commission also discussed building a potential path in Lakeway Gardens, a neighborhood located off Highway 314. The crux of the project, which is just an idea at this point, is to build a walking or biking path between the neighborhood’s two entrances: Lakeway Drive and Cedar Street; the path will help increase bicycle and pedestrian accessibility. Townes also said he thinks this project is important because it will create another loop in the neighborhood that people can use to walk and bike safely, and he said a path could help prevent another cyclist fatality, like Kevser Ermin, a UM doctoral student, who was tragically hit by a car while biking along Highway 314 in 2011. 

“The first goal is to just make another loop in the neighborhood, and then the second goal, which is maybe more pie in the sky thinking, is if we are going to do that can we do something that also spurs on a future path along Old Sardis Road,” Townes said. “Where it ends up is not at all determined or anything, but I think the first goal is to get from Lamar Park to mTrade Park.”

Sounds That go Bump in the Night: UM Theatre and Film Department to Premiere Spooky Radio Show for Halloween.

Courtesy of the Ole Miss Theatre and Film Department

OXFORD, Ms. – The pandemic has already made 2020 an especially frightening year, but with Halloween right around the corner, the UM Theatre and Film Department is looking to make 2020 just a bit scarier with its new production, “Listening in the Shadows.”

“Listening in the Shadows” is a series of five radio dramas that will release on the Department’s Facebook page and YouTube channel at 7 p.m. on Oct. 30. The radio dramas will also be distributed on the Department’s new podcast, “Stage & Screen,” which will premiere with “Listening in the Shadows.” Program Coordinator Katherine W. Stewart said the purpose of “Stage & Screen” will be to give a behind the scenes look at everything going on in the Department. The podcast will also feature interviews with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and special guests.

Written, directed, and acted by students in the Department, “Listening in the Shadows” will explore creepy and uncanny themes.

“It has just worked out that it fits as a Halloween idea, that’s not officially the direction we took with it, but timing wise it’s going to come out October 30; the uniting principle of all these plays, I gave the playwrights a theme to work around, is The Shadow which in one sense is a tip of the hat to one of the most popular radio dramas of all time “The Shadow”, who was a crime fighting millionaire, he was a precursor to Batman, it was a very popular crime fighting radio show,” Said Dr. Matthew Shifflett, the producer for “Listening in the Shadows” and an assistant professor of Theatre Arts. “But also, it allowed them to explore Jungian themes, like the psychoanalyst Jung, who talked about The Shadow and its role in dreams and fairy tales or to explore the darker side of human nature.”

As a longtime lover of radio, Shifflett said he has always wanted to do a radio show like “Listening in the Shadows,” and with the pandemic making live performance an unsafe option, a radio drama was a great way for the Department to allow students to perform this semester. 

“I suppose there were two or three live wires were sitting there: we wanted to do more radio dramas, we wanted to give the students more voice work, and we wanted to do more original student-written plays within the Department,” Shifflett said. “When this quarantine forced us into a situation where we need to re-think our programming, all those wires just braided together.”

“Listening in the Shadows” began production earlier this month when five student playwrights were given prompts and told they had one weekend to each write their 15-minute radio dramas. The following Monday, those scripts were given to five student directors who cast the parts based on recorded audio monologues sent in by the student actors. After the casts were assembled, Shifflett said the Department handed out microphones, and each of the creative teams got together, at a safe social distance, and recorded their radio dramas using a program called Audacity, a multi-track audio editor and recording program. Currently, the Department is in the process of adding sound effects and foley, the re-production of everyday sounds such as footsteps or squeaky doors, to the radio dramas.

Megan Longton, a senior musical theatre major, said she has directed other productions before, but “Listening in the Shadows” will be her first opportunity to see her vision as a director fully realized.

“It makes me emotional for some reason because it’s very intense and personal to share that with people; because I’ve been working on it for so long, and my actors worked on it for a weekend,” Longton said. “When they had the script and recorded it, they were done in three days, but even though we are on a pretty quick schedule for this show, I’ve been working on it a little longer than they have, so I have a little more of a connection to it and emotional stakes towards people’s reaction to it,” Longton said.

One of the actors in Longton’s radio drama is Lauren Hite, a freshman fine arts major, said that she is excited to be part of “Listening in the Shadows” because it’s different from a lot of other college theatre departments are doing during the pandemic.

“Perhaps we’re not pioneering the idea of doing a radio drama, but I definitely feel like it’s not something that everybody’s jumping to; I feel like a lot of people just jump to Zoom and doing Zoom shows,” Hite said. “So to be able to give a show but also kind of have a new learning experience (for student actors) – I think that’s really fun and really interesting.”

For the production, Longton is directing a radio drama named “When Nobody was Watching,” a murder mystery written by Emma Siler, a junior fine arts major. Siler says she based her script on an actual unsolved murder case that happened in New Orleans, La., in 1964. The case revolved around Dr. Mary Sherman; a renowned orthopedic cancer researcher found dead in her New Orleans apartment after a fire. Police discovered that Sherman suffered several stab wounds, including a fatal stab wound to the heart. They also found that her body was so severely burned that only a charred stump remained of her right arm. 

To this day, the murder remains unsolved, but several conspiracy theories have arisen since her death, such as author Edward Haslam’s theory, in which he claims that Sherman’s death was a government cover-up because she was involved in finding a cure to prevent an outbreak of soft-tissue cancers caused by the polio vaccine.

“What really got me was the fact that this really happened, something about that is more scary and horrifying than a slasher film that you can turn off and walk away from… this is true,” Siler said.

Underrepresented Renditions: One Memphis Pianist’s Mission to Highlight the Work of Historically Neglected Composers.

Pianist Maeve Brophy. Photo Provided by Maeve Brophy.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. –  After eight years of working as a collaborative pianist at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Collaborative Pianist Maeve Brophy felt a calling to come back home to Memphis last year. Since her return home, Brophy is trying to contribute to the Bluff City’s growing arts renaissance through the work that she is doing for her Crosstown Arts residency.

“I just felt drawn to come back to my home town and be part of the artistic scene here; I had a vision to open my own private teaching studio which I have done and I really just wanted to come home and get involved in things here, “Brophy said.

In October 2017, Crosstown Arts, a nonprofit arts organization founded in 2010, moved into its new home: Crosstown Concourse – a 16-acre $210 million mixed-use development complex that is rooted in expanding culture, arts, education, and healthcare in Memphis’ Crosstown neighborhood. A year later, Crosstown Arts launched its artist residency program, a multi-disciplinary residency geared towards visiting and Memphis-based artists who work in visual and performing arts, music, film, writing in all genres, and any other creative discipline.

Each year, Crosstown Arts offers three-month residencies for the spring (Feb. 1 – April 30) and fall (Sept. 15 – Dec. 15). For fall 2020, Brophy was one of the five artists chosen for the program.

“We really are interested in forming diverse cohorts, so we want people from different backgrounds doing different types of things; there has to be a certain level of professionalism in their work,” said Crosstown Arts Residency Manager Mary Jo Karimnia.

Brophy is no stranger to Crosstown Concourse; she has played in the Green Room – Crosstown Art’s performance space, which is fully decked out in green décor – twice and accompanied a silent horror film at Crosstown Theatre last year. The rebirth of the Memphis arts scene and the Concourse, a vibrant “vertical village” that serves as a sprawling conduit of creativity and interaction in a bustling metropolis, were both major draws for Brophy to come back home.

“I saw what was happening in Memphis with the arts scene – Crosstown going up and all the events happening there… Memphis really seemed to have hit a stride economically, and definitely artistically, neighborhoods in Midtown were really thriving, and Downtown has undergone an enormous change in the past 15 years,” Brophy said.

Crosstown Concourse.

Growing up, Brophy received lessons from Russian classical pianist Yakov Kasman, who won a silver medal at the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition. For her higher education, Brophy studied piano performance at the Manhattan School of Music, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, New England Conservatory of Music and Texas Christian University. Brophy is also half of The Brophy Sisters, a duo with her younger sister Linnaea, a violinist.

“I would accompany her on the piano when she was first learning violin; so we have always played as a duo, and we came up with the Brophy Sisters name in 2015 around the time that we started working on our first album which is to date our only album,” Brophy said.

After accepting a new job as a collaborative pianist at Ole Miss, Brophy applied for the composer residency program about a year ago. Though she intended to spend her residency composing and recording her compositions, Brophy’s plans changed after Karimnia sent her pictures of the newly renovated resident music studios, nicknamed Grandma’s House, and Grandpa’s House.

“I thought that would be really beautiful space to make videos and then I thought with the pandemic and everything all music creation is becoming virtual,” Brophy said. “I thought maybe instead of working on composing; I could work on my YouTube channel, which is another project that I had envisioned… I hadn’t particularly envisioned it for Crosstown, but that is what I’m doing now at Crosstown.” 

Brophy currently lives in Bartlett, Tenn., with her daughter and will not be living in Grandma’s House during her residency. Instead, she uses the house as an “extravagantly outfitted” workspace to make videos for her YouTube channel, where she performs renditions of neglected compositions by women and nonbinary composers on her Kawai RX-2 BLAK piano, provided by one of her sponsor’s Lane Music. Brophy said it’s her mission to highlight the work of composers who have been historically neglected because of who they were and the environment they lived in while they were composing.

During her time as a pianist at Fisk University, a private historically black university (HBCU) in Nashville, Brophy said the students she was accompanying were performing music by composers that were unknown to her. After doing some research, Brophy said she found an entire catalog of black composers that she had never learned about in the education she received at predominately white institutions.

“By working at an HBCU, I learned of the existence of major black classical composers, and to me, that was really shocking that I hadn’t learned of these composers in my own education,” Brophy said. “At that point, I decided that I had to spend the rest of my life working to get those names into the standard repertoire and getting them recognized and considered part of the canon of classical music that everybody studies; this applies to women composers as well.”

One of the underrepresented composers that Brophy is featuring on her YouTube channel is Florence Price, an African American classical composer and pianist born in Little Rock, Ark., in 1887. 

Price was the first African American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have one of her compositions played by a major orchestra, her Symphony No. 1 in E minor was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933. During her life, Price wrote a total of four symphonies; after the debut of her first, she was recognized as a very talented composer, but none of her other symphonies were performed by a major orchestra in the 1900s, and to this day, there is still no recorded evidence of a major orchestra performing any of her other symphonies.

Florence Price. Photo by G. NELIDOFF / SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS LIBRARIES

“She struggled her entire life to be taken seriously because she was a woman, and she was black,” Brophy said. 

Not long after the New Yorker published an article in 2018 detailing the discovery of Price’s long-lost manuscripts – found in an abandoned house in St. Anne, Ill. – Publisher G. Schirmer Inc., located Price’s heirs and began publishing her work. A year later, Schirmer found an additional cache of manuscripts and worked with musicologist John Michael Cooper (Southwestern University) to edit some of the scores to be published. Schirmer has now published about 50 of Price’s piano pieces; Brophy says that she has bought about 10 of them for her work.

Price’s “Barcarolle” and “Until We Meet” are two pieces that Brophy bought to feature on her YouTube channel, and as of this moment, Brophy says her recorded performances of those two piano compositions are the only ones in existence on the Internet. In all of her videos, Brophy’s years of classical education and experience are apparent: she sits at the edge of her bench, back straight, arms relaxed in front of her, and when she begins to play, her fingers gracefully dance across the keyboard to produce beautiful melodies.

In addition to posting videos on YouTube and Facebook – her next live stream performance is on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. – Brophy has also promoted her content on Against the Grain, Crosstown Art’s new online platform. Against the Grain features over 100 local artists who record their musical performances from home and post their videos on Crosstown Art’s website for online viewers, who have free unlimited access to all of the website’s videos. 

With the pandemic putting an end to most live performances, Against the Grain gives viewers the option to directly support local artists by buying a virtual ticket, which starts at $5. Musicians are also paid semi-monthly for all of the online revenue that their content generates.

“We are still trying to make sure that musicians know that this is still an ongoing project, actually don’t intend to ever really stop it because once these videos are on here, people can always donate,” Said Crosstown Arts Music Department Manager Jenny Davis.

Brophy said she is happy that Crosstown Arts is continuing to support local arts during these tough times. 

“I think it’s a really wonderful thing that Crosstown did for all of us artists who had gigs canceled in the pandemic, Crosstown is continuing to promote Memphis musicians just like it always has,” Brophy said.

More Than Just Fried Chicken and Biscuits: The SFA’s 23rd Fall Symposium Offers Food for Thought on Future of Southern Cuisine and Culture.

Art by Lauren Beltramo, used with permission of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

OXFORD, Ms. – The Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) has decided to host this year’s annual Fall Symposium virtually.

The Southern Foodways Alliance last Saturday kicked off its 23rd Fall Symposium with the first of four virtual events, featuring broadcast filmed presentations and Q&A’s in which presenters speak to this year’s theme: How Southern food and culture is changing, and what that evolution will look like in the years to come. 

This Saturday’s lineup, titled “Sustenance,” will feature cookbook author and editor of Plate Magazine Chandra Ram, chef Oscar Diaz, and bestselling novelist Silas House.

After studying journalism (Loyola University Chicago), culinary arts (The Culinary Institute of America), and wine, Chandra Ram eventually started writing regularly for Plate and eventually became the editor of the award-winning food magazine for chefs. Over the years, Ram has authored cookbooks, such as The Complete Indian Pot Cookbook, and has won multiple awards for her writing, including a James Beard nomination and an IACP nomination. One of her latest articles for Food & Wine Magazine entitled, “Brown in the South” Dinners Explore Ties Between India and the American South” is the focal point of her Symposium film presentation. Ram said the “Brown in the South” dinners resonated with her because she is half Indian and first-generation American who grew up in Lexington, Ky.

“I still struggled with what that meant to me in terms of my identity and in terms of who I was as a Southerner and who I was as someone who presents themself as looking at least somewhat Indian,” Ram said. “I grew up spending a lot of time in India, and I recognized that this was something that reflected my own questions about identity.”

Brown in the South” is a collaborative dinner series that explores the ties between India and the American South. The dinner series is put together by seven chiefs of Indian and Sri Lankan descent: Vishwesh Bhatt of Snackbar in Oxford, MS; Cheetie Kumar of Garland in Raleigh, NC; Meherwan Irani of Cahi Pani in Asheville, NC; Asha Gomez of The Third Space in Atlanta, GA; and Maneet Chauhan of Chauhan Ale and Masala House in Nashville, TN. These seven chiefs have made the South their home and as a result each of the “Brown in the South” dinners will celebrate and incorporate ingredients such as okra that are used in both cultures.

“If you look at something like Carolina barbecue, for example, it has tangy elements and spiciness to it – it’s this long slow-cooked meat, and then you can look at vindaloo pork from Goa in Southeastern India and see a lot of the same kind of flavors coming through, and it leaves you with the same kind of feeling after you eat it,” Ram said.

After attended several of the Brown in the South dinners, Ram said she is excited to share more about her “really cool experience” in her Symposium film. She also hopes that her film can add to the huge conversation about race and equality in this country.

“It’s a good time for us to address the fact that those of us who are brown in the South – Indians and other South-Asians – should talk about what our experience is in a predominately white culture,” Ram said. “There is racism within the culture, there is racism between brown people from different parts of the world, brown people and black people – so, it’s to say, if we are doing this event that celebrates commonality and celebrates all these things that show us how alike we are, then how can we use this event to not just give us a feel-good moment but actually prompt heart-to-heart discussions that we need to have and really affect change.”

Ram won’t be the only Symposium presenter on Saturday who will speak to how Southern food is becoming more multicultural due to immigration. 2019 James Beard award semifinalist chef Oscar Diaz of The Cortez and Jose and Sons in Raleigh, N.C., will show how he melds his family’s Mexican cooking with Southern cuisine in his BrunsMex stew. During his Symposium film, Diaz will reflect on his dish, a take on Brunswick stew – a tomato-based stew that features beans, vegetables, and meat. 

The third and final presenter of Saturday’s lineup will be Silas House, a novelist, music journalist, and columnist. House is the nationally bestselling author of six novels, including 2018’s “Southernmost,” in which House grapples with the limits of belief, faith succumbing to fear, and the infinite ways to love in a small Tennessee town. House said the inspiration behind his latest novel comes from his desire to write about LGBTQ people and religion in the modern South.

For this year’s Symposium, House will share a pre-recorded video entitled, A Crowded Table, during which he will reflect on his childhood memories, a time when he “loved to dance and refused to squirrel hunt.” House said he hopes the message behind his event will inspire others to sit down and share a meal with anyone regardless of their differences of opinion, unless that difference of opinion is harmful to others.

“I just want to encourage people to be more empathetic,” House said. “I think if anything can lead us to be that way, maybe it’s thinking about eating together because, in a way, it’s the most human experience… we all have to do it.”

With so many events going virtual in 2020, Mary Beth Lasseter, associate director of the SFA, said she hopes this year’s Fall Symposium will bring something unique to the table.

“We hope that we are going to deliver something that is a little different because we have these professionally produced films instead of just talking heads all day, but people will let us know if we deliver after we survey them after the event,” Lasseter said.

The SFA’s next Symposium event, “Exemplars,” is on October 17 from 9 a.m. to noon. For more information on future Symposium events or the SFA, visit southernfoodways.org or contact Lasseter at marybeth@southernfoodways.org.

COVID-19 Alters Homecoming Activities for Oxford High School

Photo by HottyToddy.com

OXFORD, Ms. – Oxford High School will play its homecoming football game Friday, Oct. 2, against Lewisburg High School. But, because of the ongoing pandemic and the 150 active cases of COVID-19 in Lafayette County – little else about this week’s homecoming, held through Friday, will be typical for the Chargers.

On Monday, OHS had its annual Homecoming parade. In years past, the parade would take place around the Square and begin with performances from OHS’s band, cheer team, and dance team. Then, friends and family would watch as the high school’s clubs, student council members, sports teams, and homecoming court members passed by on decorated floats, convertibles, and double-decker buses. 

This year, the high school held its homecoming parade on campus. Gone were the floats and double-decker buses of yesteryear; instead, police officers directed traffic as cars drove by the front of the high school to honk and wave at the parade, which featured the cheer and dance teams and the homecoming maids, who were standing six feet apart with their escorts.

“It’s a really big event, but because of Corona, we’ve had to figure out ways that we can safely still do the parade because we have made it a tradition and it’s a big deal,” said senior Caroline McCready, the president of OHS’s student council.

At OHS, homecoming court is comprised of four freshmen, sophomore and junior maids, and then six senior maids. While there is no homecoming dance this year, McCready says OHS will still have a homecoming queen. As per tradition, the high school voted for their 2020 homecoming queen on Wednesday. During Friday’s football game, one of the senior maids will be crowned queen. 

“I’m really honored to be part of homecoming court; it means a lot just to know that my classmates like me enough to vote for me to be on homecoming court,” said senior homecoming maid Carissa Strum. “But also, I’ve never done anything like it… so I’m excited, it will be a new experience, and I don’t know many people on the homecoming court, so I get to meet a lot of new people too.”

In addition to the parade and football game, the only other homecoming event not canceled was the high school’s spirit week, which entails students coming to school dressed in an outfit that coincides with each day’s theme. McCready says this year’s spirit week will feature holiday-centric themes. 

“We came up with the theme of holidays for homecoming week; Monday through Friday, we have different themes like Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and Home for the Holidays, which is like Christmas pajamas,” McCready said. “We are just finding ways to get the whole school involved even though we aren’t allowed to do much, but we are still trying to do stuff as much as possible.”

While the high school did not cancel the parade, spirit week, and football; McCready says that OHS scrapped homecoming traditions like powderpuffpep rallies, and the homecoming carnival because school administrators decided that the virus could easily spread during these close contact events. 

In their most recent COVID-19 case report, which is updated every Monday, the Oxford School District reported that the schools in its district had zero cases. Since in-person classes resumed on Aug. 24, the OSD has had a total of 21 cases, according to HottyToddy.com. McCready says she believes the Oxford School District’s procedures and guidelines have helped limit the spread of COVID-19 at her high school.

“They have done such a great job preventing the spread of it, a lot of students have actually had it over the summer or tested positive for antibodies; also, teachers and students are all required to wear masks and stay six feet apart,” McCready said. “As soon as there’s a student in the class who tests positive, you’re notified as soon as possible through email and then if there is someone sitting near you, within six feet, that tests positive then you are sent home for two weeks; they are really preventing the spread of it and shutting down anything before it starts to get any worse.”

Most of OHS’s COVID-19 policies and guidelines come from the OSD’s Return-to-Learn plan, created by a committee that the school district formed back in April. According to The Oxford Eagle, the committee included local officials, school officials, nurses, and others who formulated a return to school plan based on considerations made by the Mississippi Department of Education and the Mississippi State Department of Health. Superintendent Brian Harvey says he thinks that wearing masks and social distancing as much as possible on school buses and in classrooms has helped Oxford schools reduce the number of positive cases.

“I think that our protocols and the work that our administrative team, our support staff, and our teachers – because they are the ones who are doing it in the classrooms – have put in has been one of the reasons that we’ve had the lack of positive cases and quarantines to the extent that we’ve had,” Harvey said. “Now, we have still had some positive cases and quarantines, but I think we were all expecting so much worse.”

Trying to Make Dough: How Local Oxford Pizzerias are Adapting to the Pandemic.

Fergndan’s Supreme Pizza

OXFORD, Ms. – The demand for pizza delivery has skyrocketed this year. Major franchises like Domino’s Pizza, Inc. have prospered in 2020 – same-store sales increased by 16% during their fiscal second-quarter, according to CNBC.com – because their business model is optimized for delivery and takeout. However, unlike Domino’s, some local pizzerias have adapted their dine-in centric business models to survive during the pandemic.

Since spring break, Square Pizza, located on Van Buren Avenue, has experienced an 85% drop in sales, according to owner Tate Moore. Since it opened in 2007, Square Pizza has traditionally operated from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; however, Moore says he has recently changed his store hours to 4 – 10 p.m. because business has been so slow.

“That business basically stopped from spring break on, to adapt to what’s happened now, I have put some booths in my restaurant hoping that I become more of a dinner place, but that has been a slow go,” Moore said.

Square Pizza has also signed up with Bite Squad, a third-party delivery service. Moore says he hopes this delivery partnership will help. If his numbers continue to fall, Moore says he and many other businesses on the Square won’t be able to sustain their expensive rents. 

“Everybody pays these crazy rents because we make so much money in the fall and spring, and if you’re not going to make money in the fall and spring… well, then what do you do?” Moore said.

Like Square Pizza, Lost Pizza Company, located off of College Hill Road, has also changed its entire business model to weather the COVID-19 storm. The small chain was founded by Brooks Roberts and Preston Lott, who opened their first franchise location in Tupelo, Ms., in 2011. Lost Pizza Co. now has 17 locations across Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida.

General Manager Elizabeth Stripling says that Lost Pizza Co. used to be a fast-casual counter service restaurant, but all of that changed because of the pandemic.

“Now we are full service, so I have had to hire a bunch of servers; we did it at first because we get so busy that we couldn’t have people standing so close to each other in front of the counter, we thought if we do table service at least, they are separated into six feet apart tables,” Stripling said.

In addition to becoming a full-service restaurant, Stripling says Lost Pizza Co. has also closed its upstairs bar to reduce the virus’s spread. Though there is no bar seating, the restaurant still brings drinks to the customer’s tables.

“I’m pretty sure that some people hate the fact that we had to do that and full service because they are just bar people, but I guess that is just out of the question right now,” Stripling said.

Because most of her staff is comprised of university students, Stripling says if Ole Miss closes again, she could lose more than half of her employees.

While local chains like Lost Pizza Co. have hired more staff to accommodate the increase in customers, mom and pop restaurants like Fergndan’s Wood Fired Pizza Café recognize that hiring additional employees in the age of COVID-19 could be extra risky.

“From an operational standpoint we are having to do what we do, but with less people, because we have to recognize that everybody that stands behind this counter or that counter has a circle of friends, that has a circle of friends, and you don’t know who is going to be bringing in what,” Said John Ferguson, owner of Fergndan’s Wood Fired Pizza Cafe. “So, as a family business with my wife, myself, and our three kids, we can pretty much better control our environment.”

Fergndan started in October 2016 as a food truck-only business; two years later, it expanded to a brick and mortar restaurant located on Highway 30 East. With everything that has transpired in the restaurant industry in 2020, Ferguson says he is happy his food truck background influenced his restaurant’s construction.

“The good news for us is that we started as a food truck, so we were already used to being flexible; when we built the restaurant, we built it with flexibility in mind,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson says this built-in flexibility made it easier to change aspects of his business model that didn’t conform to Phase 2 of the city’s “Serving Oxford Safely” recovery plan, which adopts all regulations and findings outlined in Gov. Tate Reeves’ Executive Orders: 1518151615111508. One of the guidelines listed in the plan prohibits self-service drink stations in restaurants. To comply with this guideline, Ferguson moved his point of sale table – which was built with wheels to be moved for catering purposes – in front of the restaurant’s beverage station so guests couldn’t self-serve anymore.

“We have had to adapt and be cautious with what our next steps are going to be, and just kind of let the market dictate, regardless of what the governor says – people are still going to be people,” Ferguson said.

As the pandemic continues to impact the food and restaurant industry, Ferguson says all he can do is make his daily adjustments and keep moving forward.

“There is no luxury that gives you the ability to just stop and wait to see what is going to happen; this train is moving, and if you don’t adjust accordingly, then you are either going to derail it or you are going to overrun your tracks… either way, it’s not going to be good,” Ferguson said. “So, you just adjust to the conditions that day, and you wake up in a new world the next.” 

Art Imitating Life: UM Theatre and Film Department to Produce Play Using Masks, Webcams, and Green Screens.

A set of Larval masks. Photo by Strangeface Masks.

OXFORD, Ms. – The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping the UM Theatre and Film Department from performing shows in front of live audiences this semester, but that is not stopping the department from producing and staging plays virtually. COVID may have closed the curtains on the department’s productions last semester, but this fall… the show must go on(line).

One of the virtual shows currently in production is “Near/Far,” a play that will be recorded live and then released on the department’s website to watch for free on Nov. 6. “Near/Far” will explore themes of isolation, loneliness, loss, and grief, as well as themes of inspiration, connection, and hope. These pandemic-related themes are seen through the lens of The Larval Mask, a large and abstract mask inspired by the carnival masks of Basel in Switzerland.

In “Near/Far”, student actors will use their Larval masks to create creatures who are simple and curious in nature.

“So we were brainstorming about ways we could safely continue to make theater specifically, and I made the suggestion to do a particular kind of mask work and create a play based on the experience of living through the time of a global pandemic and quarantine,” said Lauren Bone Noble, director of “Near/Far” and associate professor of movement for the actor.

Zoom will play an integral role in “Near/Far”. According to Noble, the play’s cast is using the video conferencing platform for rehearsals, and when it’s show time, students will record their performances from home using Zoom. Along with their masks and costumes, members of the cast will also receive a webcam, green screen and lights; they will also be given guidance on how to properly setup those items in their home.

“We wanted to be able… to keep going forward despite what the situation on campus or in our community might be,” Noble said. “We didn’t want to have to stop because of any sort of further quarantining.”

However, Noble says there are disadvantages to rehearsing and performing virtually.

“Well, there is no replacement for the shared energy of people gathered in one place, you cannot replace that in a rehearsal hall, and you cannot replace that in a performance,” Noble said. “It’s a terrible loss.”

Cody Stockstill, Assistant Professor of Scenic Design, says he and his two scenic design students, who are the primary designers of the show, worked with Noble over the summer to create the scenic design of “Near/Far”, which will feature a virtual Zoom-like environment of individual squares. According to Noble, the play’s left behind world was initially inspired by images of the Titanic at the bottom of the North Atlantic.

Stockstill says his student designers are still finding the best way to create the show’s virtual environment using Zoom and green screen technology.

“What we are doing is we are testing out right now how accurate it is (the green screen virtual backgrounds) via Zoom, and we are finding out that it’s extremely accurate believe it or not with Zoom’s algorithm for their backgrounds,” Stockstill said.

While his student designers create and render three-dimensional models and animations for the show’s virtual environments, Stockstill says he is currently learning more about Zoom’s virtual background technology and troubleshooting for possible technical problems that could happen during the show’s live performance.

Even though the live performance will be edited before it releases, Stockstill says he and his student designers will limit the amount of editing they do because they want the play to feel like a live theatre performance, not a film.

“We are trying to keep that spirit of live theatre alive in the recording process; what we are really trying to do with this is not even add the green screen effects, we are going to record the green screen effects live,” Stockstill said.

The mask work that Noble is incorporating into the play was first popularized by French stage actor and coach Jacques Lecoq, who was best known for his teaching methods, which involved an emphasis on masks, specifically Larval masks used to amplify the actor’s gestures and movement. Noble says her training in Larval Masks and Lecoq-based movement styles comes from her time spent studying with Giovanni Fusetti and other Lecoq proteges.

“He created this style of mask work where the masks are kind of like characters, we have specific characters, and the person who is wearing that mask will sort of have to create with their body a character around that mask,” Noble said. “So then, we will be telling the story as if these creatures have wandered into a never-ending Zoom meeting.”

While virtual performances create new opportunities for technological innovation, it also creates challenges for performing arts students who are not getting the experience of performing in front of a live audience.

“I think it negatively impacts us by not having those live productions because a lot of people in the program have not gotten to experience their first Ole Miss theatre show,” said Jaslyn Nicole Ballansaw, a senior fine arts major and member of the “Near/Far” cast. “So, it’s just a missed opportunity, but I’m glad the department is coming up with other ways to give those opportunities back to us.”

Even though COVID-19 has taken away the opportunity to perform in front of a live audience, theatres across the countryhave found new ways to tell stories through virtual mediums.

“They don’t want to lose touch with their audience, they want to continue telling the important stories that we tell in this industry,” said Michael Barnett, department chair and professor of lighting design. “We think it’s vital that our students have an opportunity to work within those same mediums.”

UM’s SouthTalks Kicks Off With Virtual Q&A on Improving Health in the Delta.

Barnard Observatory

OXFORD, Ms. – The Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi began its second annual fall SouthTalks series on Sept. 9 at noon with a live Q&A event featuring four community health experts who discussed how the medical and public health community play a role that is traditionally thought of as economic development and the importance of tailoring programs and policies to meet the unique needs of Delta communities.

The event, entitled “Our Body Tells a Story: A Pathway to Resilience and Wholeness,” was presented by Dr. Jennifer Conner, Dr. Brookshield Laurent, Dr. Anne Cafer, and Dr. Meagen Rosenthal. The group’s conversation expanded upon a prerecorded talk, currently available on the center’s website, in which doctors’ Conner and Laurent discuss how place, time, and health influence our bodies and how those three factors can create a pathway of holistic healing for individuals and communities.  

Laurent is the founding executive director for the DPHI and the founding chairwomen for the department of Clinical Medicine at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYIT-COM) at Arkansas State University, Jonesboro. Conner serves as deputy director of the DPHI and is an associate professor at the NYIT-COM. 

Both Dr. Cafer and Dr. Rosenthal are UM professors and co-directors of the university’s Community First Research Center for Wellbeing and Creative Achievement (CREW). 

Cafer says CREW is an outgrowth of the Community Wellbeing – Flagship Constellations, an initiative created by Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter that includes participants from every school on campus.

“Crew set out to help communities build their own research capacities so that when they come to a university, and we hope it’s the University of Mississippi, they have their research needs identified,” Cafer said.

During the Q&A, Conner and Laurent of the Delta Population Health Institute (DPHI) explained how they consider different socioeconomic factors when building cultures of health in Delta communities.

“As a public health practioner, we often use the Social-Ecological Model realizing that, again, there are individual behaviors, but those individual behaviors are influenced by peers and social networks,” Conner said. “And that is all influenced by our organizational structures like schools, worksites, hospitals, and clinics; that is impacted more broadly by policy.” 

Conner also said that education must ‘talk to’ economic development because schools and hospitals help recruit new businesses. Additionally, Conner stated that economic growth is important for downtown redevelopment projects in towns and cities. In the Q&A, Conner explained how she killed two birds with one stone by adding edible landscaping to a downtown beautification project.

“We can make it pretty and beautiful for the downtown area and increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables and encourage other growing behaviors as well,” Conner said.

Since its establishment last year, the DPHI has worked to achieve greater health equality and community resilience in the Mississippi River Delta by creating a culture of health through research, education, policy engagement, and community engagement. The DPHI also values holistic thinking and follows the four tenants of osteopathic medicine to advance community and personal health. 

However, sometimes local resistance to the DPHI’s holistic solutions occurs. In the Q&A, Laurent mentioned that problems often arise when community stakeholders feel left out of the conversation or are not entirely on board with the Institute’s terms for improving health in their community. 

“I find that a lot of the time when we are bringing and convening multiple stakeholders to the table to discuss these very complex issues, we have to define the terms, and that will be different for each community,” Laurent said. “And so if we are not on the same page about what the terms are, what we are agreeing our expectations are, and what we agree our benchmarks and success marks are; then we will continue to have this resistance, the word that the questioner was asking for.”

During the Fall semester, SouthTalks explores different aspects of southern culture through panel discussions, performances, film screenings, and lectures. However, because of the pandemic, this year’s lineup of events will be presented virtually for free on the Center for the Study of Southern Culture’s YouTube channel, but registration is required. 

Afton Thomas, associate director of programs at the University of Mississippi’s center, said that she is proud she decided to host SouthTalks virtually back in April.

“I didn’t know where we were going to be, but I didn’t want to invite people here and then have to scramble for some plan b,” Thomas said.

While Thomas admits that nothing beats an in-person event, she says presenting SouthTalks virtually has its positives.

“The silver lining is that we can get national attention, our events have always been free and open to the public, but that has been limited to if you’re in Oxford, Mississippi on campus at noon, on a Wednesday,” Thomas said.

SouthTalks’s next event, “Why Dystopia Now? Exploring the Place, Value and Necessity of Speculative and Dystopian Themes in Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s ‘We Cast a Shadow,'” is on Sept. 16 at noon. For more information on future SouthTalks events or the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, visit  https://southernstudies.olemiss.edu/ or contact Thomas at amthoma4@olemiss.edu or 662-915-3363.