Celebrating Unity And An Effort To Save A Dying Town

002 Gus's Fried Chicken003 Gus's Fried Chicken004 Unity Festival005 The Lo End006 Family Ties Arcade007 Unity Festival008 Unity Festival009 The Lower End010 Unity Festival011 Unity Festival012 Unity Festival013 Unity Festival014 Hittin The Quan015 Unity Festival016 Unity Festival017 Unity Festival018 Unity Festival019 Unity Festival020 Unity Festival021 Unity Festival022 No Dope Smoking023 Unity Festival024 The Log Cabin025 Unity Festival026 The Old Black Hut027 Unity Festival028 Unity Festival029 Unity Festival030 Unity Festival031 Unity Festival032 Unity Festival033 Unity Festival034 Unity Festival035 The Log Cabin036 Unity Festival037 The Green Apple038 Unity Festival039 Unity Festival040 Unity Festival042 Unity Festival043 Unity Festival044 Unity Festival045 Unity Festival046 Unity Festival047 Unity Festival048 The Mayor of Mason049 The Mayor's Speech050 Unity Festival051 Unity Festival052 Unity Festival053 The Lower End054 A Gospel Group055 Unity Festival056 Hoopin'057 Festivalgoers058 The Lower End059 Hoopin'060 The Lower End061 The Lower End062 The Lower End063 Unity Festival064 The Log Cabin065 Hoopin'066 Unity Festival067 The Green Apple068 The Log Cabin069 Unity Festival070 Unity Festival071 Unity Festival072 Unity Festival073 Unity Festival074 A Church Choir075 Another Church Choir076 Unity Festival077 Where Sportsman's Lounge Was078 The Lower End079 The Lower End080 Unity Festival081 The Lo End082 The Lower End083 The Green Apple084 The Log Cabin085 The Lower End086 Unity Festival087 Unity Festival088 Unity Festival089 Festivalgoers090 Unity Festival091 Bozo's Hot Pit Bar-B-Q1852 Unity Festival1854 Unity Festival1856 The Lower End1859 The Wobble1861 The Lower End
On a weekday afternoon, I had driven up to Mason, Tennessee after work to eat at Bozo’s Bar-B-Que, and had noticed signs around the little town announcing a “Unity Fall Fest” on September 19.
I remembered years ago in the early 1990’s driving out to Mason with a couple of friends and having a lot of fun at a large festival in the town’s square along the railroad tracks and Front Street, a neighborhood of cafes traditionally called “The Lower End.” That day, there were several hundred people out, live bands, singers and rap artists, and we had had a ball. But the times had not been kind to Mason. Although Mason was somewhat famous for Bozo’s Bar-B-Que and Gus’s World-Famous Fried Chicken, it was more famous for its rural version of Beale Street along Front Street. Tipton County was technically a dry county, so the clubs along the street were euphemistically called “cafes”, but they ran wide open day and night. Although the town was still in those days controlled by whites, they allowed the Black night life to operate without limits. Prior to the 1970’s, it was probably seen as a social safety valve, preventing the kind of racial schism that had wracked Fayette County, only a few miles to the south. And it was also lucrative. Most towns either didn’t allow such clubs at all, or had closing hours, so Black people came to Mason from Covington, Jackson, Memphis, Brownsville, Somerville, Dyersburg, sometimes even as far away as Cairo, Illinois. One true “club” (as opposed to a cafe) was across the tracks on Main Street, named for a famous Chicago blues club, the Tay-May. It booked acts of national importance, such as Al Green, Little Milton and Johnnie Taylor, and local folklore had it that Rufus Thomas first demonstrated the funky chicken there. But by the 1990’s, the music in the cafes had switched from soul and blues to rap and hip-hop, and the level of crime and discomfort to local residents from the Lower End had grown significantly. The city decided to change their ordinances to require the cafes to close at 2 AM, as clubs did in almost every other city and town in America. The results were immediate, and devastating to Mason. Tay-May burned in a spectacular fire and was never rebuilt. One by one, as cafes closed, the city condemned the buildings and had them demolished. Soon only three or so remained. A hoped-for Federal prison provided some jobs, but was not the salvation that Mason residents had hoped for. Soon, many of their retail stores were closing as well. Mason was dying.
The decision to call the new festival a “Unity” festival was also interesting to me. Despite its unusual culture and folklore for such a small town, Mason hadn’t been all that unified through my teenage years. Spiritually more attuned to adjacent Fayette County than Tipton, where it was located, Mason was an overwhelmingly Black community ruled by whites, and while it had not had the protracted discord that Fayette County had, things were still not great. Mason had never had a high school for white children, but it had had a Black high school, Gailor, which closed in 1965. In 1970 or so, the Black Fields Elementary School and white Mason Elementary School had been merged at the Mason campus. Fields was abandoned. In 1979, the principal of the school, Nevill Seay, allegedly kicked a Black parent. When WHBQ’s news crew came out from Memphis to the campus, he kicked a reporter with the cameras rolling. Dr. Isaac Richmond of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) appeared in Mason, and soon the elementary school was being boycotted. A few weeks later, so were many businesses in Mason, including the mayor’s grocery store, although strangely, many of the targeted businesses soon bought ads in Richmond’s newspaper, the Clarksville Voice. Dr. Richmond considered himself an educator, and soon announced the formation of a Black private school, the Mason Community School. Meeting in a former funeral home near Club Tay-May, it attempted to educate the students who were boycotting the elementary school, and it did so while flying the red, black and green flag of Black liberation. The school lasted a couple of years, and then it closed, as did Mason Elementary School, and the Tipton County Schools started busing everyone to Covington schools instead. In addition, old-time residents could speak of other divisive legacies. Although laws said differently, most Black people would not go into Bozo’s to order food or sit down, as they remembered when they were required to order food to go and not permitted to eat inside. And the old-timers shuddered as they crossed a bridge on the Gainesville Road west of town, where they knew a mob had lynched a man back in 1937. By some accounts, the members of the mob had been the leading men of the town of Mason. Perhaps the lack of unity was part of the reason Mason was dying.
September 19 proved to be a bright, blue, sunny and warm day, perfect for an outdoor festival, and so I drove up to Mason and started my day with lunch at the original Gus’s Fried Chicken. Then heading down Front Street, I saw where the downtown area had been roped off, and some tents, tables and children’s bounce houses had been set up. But sadly, the attendance was rather sparse, compared to what I recalled of the festival in the 90’s, and a check of the tents and vendors revealed that the majority of them were sponsored by churches, and only a handful by businesses, and of the ones that were sponsored by businesses, most were from towns other than Mason, where there were now few businesses. One tent, for example, was run by Suga’s Diner, a restaurant about eight miles or so up Highway 70 in the Haywood County town of Stanton. Although music was supposed to be part of the Mason festival, there was mainly just a DJ,and a few local church choirs. No bands or musicians appeared at all. The newly-elected Mayor of Mason was a woman, and she spoke briefly, speaking of the town’s challenges, and reminding her hearers that “with God nothing is impossible.” Kids were doing dances called the “whip and Nae-Nae” and “hitting the quad” out in the square, while the younger kids were bouncing in the bounce house, and their elders were going in and out of the two remaining cafes, the Log Cabin and the Green Apple. I had thought that the festival might provide me with an opportunity to finally see the inside of the cafes, but this proved to be disappointing. I did briefly walk into the Log Cabin, but it was easy to see that I had interrupted the everyday routine of the place. The privacy felt palpable there, and I certainly would not violate it by taking pictures. After that, I chose not to enter the Green Apple. Yet outside, a few people asked me to take their picture. Some of them seemed to think I was working for the Covington Leader and thought my pictures would be in the paper. I had to explain to them that I was a blogger, not a reporter, but they wanted their picture taken anyway. Toward the early evening, kids began competing in a basketball shooting contest, and gospel choirs began singing a cappella on the one microphone near the DJ’s tent. The blues musician Big Don Valentine had posted on Facebook that he would be performing in Mason on Saturday and I had naively assumed that he meant at the Fall Festival. But people were now taking down the tents and the festival was winding down. Wherever Valentine was going on stage at 7 PM, it wasn’t at the Festival. So I left and headed over to Bozo’s Bar-B-Que for a dinner. While the Festival was rather sparsely attended, it had brought a lot of people together, both white and Black. And there had been no fighting or arguing to mar the day. Even the police were cordial. So in that sense, the Fall Unity Fest in Mason had been a success.

Wobbly, Wobbly, C’Mon: A Tribute to Bounce Music In New Orleans’ 6th Ward

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Monuments, memorials and murals are common to cities. All cities have histories, and important events and people are often honored with statues, parks, buildings or other public markers. But few cities have such things to commemorate a form of music. Yet over the last several months (because it wasn’t there in November), a brick wall behind the Circle Food Store in New Orleans was remade into a colorful and beautiful tribute to bounce music, New Orleans’ most recently created musical genre. Since bounce is a DJ-based music, there is of course a DJ in the mural with turntables, as well as the “Wobbly, Wobbly, C’Mon” chant which is ubiquitous in most bounce music. It’s quite a cool thing to see along North Claiborne Avenue.

GoDJ Phat, GoDJ J-Weezie and GoDJ Dat Boi Present “The Street Supplier” Mixtape (Free Download)

The Go DJ’s are Louisiana’s main DJ coalition, and DJ Phat should be familiar to anyone in the Grambling, Ruston and Monroe areas. Now they have released their first mixtape of the year, The Street Supplier, which features three segments, one mixed by DJ Phat, one by DJ J-Weezie and one by DJ Dat Boi. The mix features plenty of Louisiana artists from the familiar to the obscure, including Lil Cali, Boosie, Kevin Gates, 3 Feet and Juvenile. Download and enjoy!

Otis Logan and the 4 Soul Band at the Kickback at @HiToneMemphis

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My homeboy Otis Logan had told me about an event that Devin Steel of K-97 was sponsoring at the Hi-Tone called the Kickback. The party was to feature several DJ’s, back by Otis on drums, and Otis’ band 4 Soul was supposed to play as well, so I decided to go. The new Hi-Tone on Cleveland seems somewhat smaller than the old Hi-Tone, but it filled up quickly. For most of the evening, Otis was on drums behind several different DJ’s, soloing, adding fills and breakdowns and amplifying the grooves. Briefly, the whole 4 Soul Band played behind the DJ’s as well. The drum and DJ format is new to Memphis, but the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves.


The @BeatminerzRadio Broadcasting Live From The 25th Floor at @A3C


During the A3C Conference, VIP’s, artists and panelists were entitled to chill on the 25th floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where there were brunches, parties, mixers and exhibits, as well as two DJ’s. In the southern room, the Beatminerz Radio was broadcasting live for the majority of the conference.

Mississippi Rap Showcase at Freelon's @FreelonsJxn @OfficialCoreDjs @DJ_DMatic @DollaBlackBDE

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The final event for the Core DJ Retreat in Jackson was a cook-out and Mississippi Rap Showcase on the outdoor patio at Freelon’s, held on Sunday afternoon, September 7. DJ D-Matic was the Dj for the occasion, and a number of Mississippi artists performed, including Jackson rapper Dolla Black from BDE Entertainment. The weather was perfect for the event, and it was a great way to close out the conference.

Good Life Music Group Showcase at the Core DJ Retreat Day 3 @goodlifemg @BiggaRankin00 @BIGGARANKIN @TEAMBIGGARANKIN @TEAMBR @IAmTonyNeal @OfficialCoreDJs

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At the third and final day of the Core DJ Retreat in Jackson, the afternoon showcase was sponsored by Atlanta-based Good Life Music Group, and was hosted by the venerable Jacksonville DJ Bigga Rankin, who has broken many a new artist in his day. After the showcase, there was an informal wrap-up led by Tony Neal, recognizing those who helped put the conference together, before we all headed out to Freelon’s for an afternoon cook-out and a final rap showcase.

The Core DJ's Feeding the Homeless in Jackson's Smith Park (And Getting Their Wobble On, Too) @OfficialCoreDJs @IAmTonyNeal

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While the media turns its huge spotlight on hip-hop whenever something tragic, criminal or salacious happens, they are conspicuously absent when rappers and people in the hip-hop industry do something positive, which happens all the time. On Sunday morning, the third and final day of the Core DJ Retreat in Jackson, Mississippi, conference attendees turned out en masse to feed homeless people in Jackson’s Smith Park, an urban park near the conference hotel that literally sits a block from the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion. It is disconcerting that Jackson has a severe problem with homelessness, but I suppose all cities do these days. At any rate, we brought food, but we also brought our DJ’s, and thus music and dance. Hopefully, we not only nourished bodies but also refreshed spirits as well.

Vinyl Returns to Jackson, Mississippi at OffBeat Arts @OFFBEATjxn

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This year’s closure of Morning Bell Records was a terrible blow to Jackson, Mississippi’s music scene, so the news that a new record shop had opened in Jackson was welcome. But Offbeat Arts, the new venture from adventurous Jacktown DJ Young Venom is not exactly a record store in the ordinary sense, and what it is might at first seem confusing. It is (all at the same time) an art gallery, a record shop, a clothing store, a book store and a performance space. When I visited for the first time the weekend of the Core DJ’s Retreat, it was hosting a video shoot for local hip-hop artist Jaxx City. Its vinyl selection isn’t huge, but leans toward the funky, hip and less familiar side of the spectrum, and as might be expected, there’s a decent selection of local artists and releases (but not much in the way of CD’s, so be forewarned). There are also books about hip-hop and Black culture, comic books, local Jackson clothing gear, and beautiful local art. Occasionally, on weekends, Offbeat becomes a performance space for various DJ-based genres of music, which is appropriate, as the shop sits in the middle of Jackson’s burgeoning Midtown Arts District. When visiting, it’s probably a good idea to call ahead, as some days Offbeat is open by appointment only, and the opening hours seem to vary and be a little sporadic. That being said, Offbeat is as cool as store as I’ve seen anywhere in the South.

Offbeat Arts
151 Wesley Av
Jackson, MS 39202
(601) 376-9404
veryoffbeat@gmail.com
http://offbeatjxn.com/

Panels and Showcases at the Core DJ Retreat in Jackson @OfficialCoreDJs @VirDiKo

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The second day of the Core DJ Retreat was largely dominated by panels and showcases, including a very well-attended radio panel that included Memphis’ legendary radio promoter Lester Pace, formerly of Interscope Records. After the radio panel was a showcase sponsored by VirDiko Music Promotion and hosted by veteran DJ Bigga Rankin from Jacksonville. Among the industry stars I ran into around the hotel were Shreveport/Dallas DJ Hollyhood Bay Bay and the artist Hurricane Chris.