Bright Lights, Big Music | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Bright Lights, Big Music

There is just something about watching a band on the Uptown stage of Jubilee! Jam with the sun hitting the Old Capitol right ahead of you and people sitting on the sidewalks, with daddies pushing strollers while mommies eat a chicken on a stick. There is a feeling of hope for a "real downtown" and discussions about "how cool it would be if downtown was always like this."

"Downtown is a critical element to this, says Peyton Prospere, current president of the Jubilee! Jam board of directors. He says that it would not be the same festival anywhere else. If it were set in a field on the outskirts of town, the entire dynamic of the weekend would change. He and the rest of the Jam staff agree that it is the perfect chance to showcase how clean, safe and beautiful downtown Jackson is.

Jam movers and shakers are assembled on the Thursday evening a week prior to the 17th annual Jubilee! Jam in anticipation; they are the production crew. "Let's go through each stage and talk about needs and requirements," Malcolm White (my boss in my other life and the producer of Jubilee! Jam) says as he stands in the middle of the Oyster Bar in Hal & Mal's. Dressed in a white t-shirt and khaki shorts, he addresses the 20 people in the room—the people who will ensure the festival goes off (with or) without a hitch. The same faces, give or take a couple, have been responsible for almost every recent festival and event in the metro area: St. Paddy's Day, Gov. Musgrove's inaugural ball and parade, The Elvis Presley Festival, Kid's Zone (until two years ago), Zoo Blues, Gumbo Festival and this year's Circus Days.

At one table sits Deke Andrews (Main Stage), Curtis Thigpen (Congress Street stage and Bottleneck Blues Bar) and Chuck Bryan ("I work for Malcolm"). They whisper to each other periodically, while Malcolm discusses the logistics of putting on a festival this size. Phrases like "advance the show"; "bringing their own backline" and "taking over stage left" are tossed around. At the next table over sits Elton "Mr. Turkey Leg" Moore, Jimmy "Ice Jockey" Rosen and Nat Duncan, who manages the Congress Street stage. Elton is asked if there will be sodas backstage for the bands. The gathered group agrees that they can just put ice and bottled water at all the stages. They're trying to cut spending any way they can this year.

It has been a struggle to keep afloat for much of the festival's history. Started in 1986 by the Arts Alliance as a way to benefit local arts groups, Jubilee! Jam has always been a community event, staffed mainly by volunteers in the early years. Rumor has it that it began as a conversation at a baseball game at Smith Wills between John Maxey and David Inglebertson. "At a certain point it became a drag on the Arts Alliance [monetarily]," Peyton says. In 1995 the festival came out from under the umbrella of the Arts Alliance to become its own independent organization. The Jackson Arts and Music Foundation was founded to run the festival.

When asked what they hoped for the future of Jam, the people in the room collectively repeat "a future for Jam," almost, but not quite, jokingly. And these people love this festival and all that it stands for. They love Jackson, they love downtown, and they love music. "It's a community festival that reflects the community," Malcolm says. Peyton says that having the gospel music in St. Andrew's Episcopal Church is a great metaphor for the entire weekend. "They throw open the doors, and the gospel pours out," he says.

The newest edition to the weekend is what is being called "Mississippi Sunday." That day, every stage will feature all Mississippi acts celebrating the talent and diversity of music in our state. This diversity is reflected throughout the board, the production crew and the entire staff. "We just wanted to celebrate Mississippi's incredible contribution to the world of music," Malcolm says. (Definitely check out the Uptown's stage lineup of Anson Funderburgh w/Sam Myers, David Banner and the Kudzu Kings). "I would fall out dizzy in the street if I had to decide who to see on Sunday," he says, to everyone's agreement.

No, Jubilee! Jam is not Jazz Fest. It's not Memphis in May. But, it is completely ours. It is our yearly chance to mingle with our neighbors from the other side of town and possibly catch an up-and-coming superstar. You can dance in the middle of Capitol Street; any other time you might get arrested. And, at this festival, there is truly something for every musical taste. If you don't like the headlining acts, check out some of the smaller stages. Or just come out because it's something extremely cool to do in your hometown.

Jubilee! Jam: Choose Your Pleasure

The Choices: Marc Broussard (R&B-Pop), Smile Empty Soul (alt.-rock), Seether (alt.-metal), Saliva (alt.-metal), Ingram Hill (pop-rock), The Waifs (Australian indie folk), Pryor & the Tombstones, Suzy Elkins & Casey Phillips (Southern Rock), Charlie Mars (rock), Bob Dylan & His Band, Caitlin Cary (, The Dramatics, Nickel Creek (folk-rock bluegrass), Steve Forbert (folk), The Vernon Brothers (bluegrass), Cary Hudson (

The annual Jubilee! Jam tradition of the Friday night main stage rock-out continues this year with three chart-topping heavy rockers on the 93.9 FM alt-metal scene. Saliva began their tour months ago with a sell-out show at Hal & Mal's and a pledge to the enthralled and raging crowd that they would be back. They make good on that promise by finishing off day one of this year's Jam. Fans of Slayer, Pantera and Monster Magnet know all the words to hits like "Superstar," "Click Click Boom" and "Your Disease."

Smile Empty Soul will be promoting the release of their self-titled debut album of heavy alt-rock on May 27. The first single from these California rockers, "Bottom Of A Bottle" is getting regular airplay and topping the request list locally and nationwide. Smile Empty Soul is joining Seether, the moody alt-metal heads from South Africa, for this leg of their tour. The band's U.S. debut album, "Disclaimer," has been proclaimed to be "a cerebral written and compelling illustration of the communal powers of rock and roll; loud in a very literal and very abstract sense." Just remember, the self-endued catharsis of wordy fire-and-brimstone consumption does a body good. Rock On.

Growing up, many of us have heard the lyrics and chords of Bob Dylan and so inspired led us to try our hand at prose and acoustic guitar. Joshua Cunningham and sisters Donna and Vikki Simpson, now The Waifs, grew up in Australia with the same imagery and a Bob Dylan songbook. The first song Donna Simpson learned to play on guitar was "The Times They Are A Changin'," and by the time her sister finished school they had gained a nice following playing Dylan and Cat Stevens covers in the Aussie pubs.

"I think he (Dylan) has just been a favorite artist of most kids when they pick up a guitar and started strumming away," Donna told Pollstar. "It was his songs that you could learn to play easily and sort of relate to." They have been writing eclectic melodic folk pop in the southern hemisphere ever since. Often confessional and intimate, to humorous and catchy, The Waifs have created their Jarrah label and self-produced four albums over the last decade. Their uncompromised integrity and artistic control has landed them on shores around the world with standing ovations and earning them fans at some of the most prestigious North American and UK Folk Festivals. After opening for Billy Bragg early this year they got the call to open for their life long singer/songwriting hero, Bob Dylan. Their current North American Tour includes a teenage dream fulfilled and a long list of stadium and festival dates with Dylan, including Saturday night at Jubilee! Jam.

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Mars is a Laurel, Miss. native and began The Charlie Mars Band in Jackson in 1993. Since then his band has put out three solid albums and moved to Athens, Ga., Charlie Mars has steadily developed into a hook and chorus, straight rock and roll professional on the regional circuit. His catchy Sean Penn-Dave Matthews style of pop rock harmonies and solid guitar work have earned him a reputation as an area favorite.
—Herman Snell

The Choices: Dirty Dozen Brass Band (New Orleans Jam Jazz), Bluz Boys (R & B Blues Bros. Style), Mofro (jam rock-soul), Taylor Grocery Band (southern jam), Fred Knobloch & Jelly Roll Johnson (countyr), Omar & the Howlers (Texas Blues Rock), Mac McAnally (southern classic), Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets w/ Sam Myers (blues), Josh Kelly (southern pop), Kudzu Kings (southern jam rock), Webb Wilder (juke rock).

The Nashville R&B bred, country-and-western stylings of Fred Knobloch begins the set with the soulful juke of a mouth harp blower that is Jelly Roll Johnson. Knobloch has written songs for Ray Charles, Delbert McClinton and Faith Hill, to name a few. Mac McAnally has recorded with Travis Tritt, Amy Grant, and Vince Gill. His solo southern classic style is reminiscent of Jimmy Buffet. Josh Kelley's new album of southern-tinged pop, "For The Ride Home," is due out next month.

The last of the full-grown Nashville-based recording artists that is Webb Wilder is "an enigma, wrapped in riddle" as they say. For those of you living under a rock outside of the southern states for the past 20 years, he is a walking past, present and future of the b-movie, radio show circus, boot stopping juke rock and roll. He's a true showman and a fun ride.

The soul-jam rock-and-rollers of Jacksonville, Fla., known as Mofro describes their live performance goal as a kind of "Jerry Clower goes funk." They laid down tracks for their first album, "Blackwater" on Fog City Records in 2001, whose imprint also appears on other regional jam favorites such as Galactic. Mofro's "Blackwater" was selected as one of's "Top 10 Best Selling R&B/Soul Albums for 2001," bringing their earthy-soul, rock and roll rhythms to the mainstream. They land not far from a southern, rock and roll jam of a Black Crows groove, with a guitar, saxophone solo and Hammond B3 organ-funk vibe. As soon as Bob Dylan ends at the main stage about 10 p.m., your best bet is to head straight to the Congress Street stage for Mofro at 10:30 p.m. to funk the night away.
— Herman Snell

The Choices: Grits (Rap-R&B), Precious Bryant (blues), Cassandra Wilson (blues/soul), Gerald Levert (R&B), Keb' Mo' (R&B/Soul), Dorothy Moore (R&B), Reese & Bigalow (Soul-R&B), Eddie Cotton (blues), Bobby Rush (blues), David Banner (rap), Vasti Jackson & Raphael Semmes (jazz).

Blues lovers can skip Friday at Jubilee! Jam, but will be hopping around like mad on Saturday trying to catch all the fine and varied acts: acoustic blueswoman Precious Bryant, then either bluesy pop singer Keb' Mo' or bluesy soul singer Dorothy Moore (or some of each), then bluesy jazzwoman Cassandra Wilson. After that you can check to see if Bob Dylan still shows any blues influence, or catch some of Charlie Mars' driving rock. Then close out the evening with local high-energy guitarslinger Eddie Cotton. On Sunday there is still more bluesy fare: Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets with Sam Myers, more Texas blues-rock with Omar and the Howlers, and Bobby Rush's soul-blues extravaganza.

Besides its high quality and variety, the line-up also is notable for its local roots. Moore, Wilson, Myers and Rush all are national artists who either were born in Jackson or live here now (or both, in Moore's case).

If there is one must-see in the list, it would be Bryant. This Georgia solo singer-guitarist will put out the purest, deepest, yet dancingest blues of the festival. She hails from the Chattahoochee Valley of west Georgia, and is a fiery performer with a knack for connecting with the crowd. She has performed at churches, clubs, house parties and festivals for decades, but finally released her first album last year at age 60. A Bryant show might include a Jimmy Reed number, Memphis Minnie's "Black Rat Swing," Muddy Waters' "Long Distance Call," pop numbers like "Fever" and "Don't You Mess Up a Good Thing," and her own theme, "Precious Staggerin' Blues."

Another compelling act is Wilson. This 47-year-old Jackson native fell in love with Miles Davis' music as a child. Following that influence, she became a jazz singer, living briefly in New Orleans before moving to New York. She has been successful in that field, selling a lot of recordings and being praised by critics. But about 10 years ago, blues crept into Wilson's repertoire. Not the kind of blues that jazz musicians usually play, either. We're talking Robert Johnson. Wilson covered two of that Delta bluesman's songs on her 1993 "Blue Light 'Til Dawn," which proved to be a commercial smash. Last year's "Belly of the Sun" took the blues thing further. Wilson came back to Mississippi to record it, and included duets with the late Boogaloo Ames, Jesse Robinson, Vasti Jackson, Jewell Bass, Patrice Moncell and Richard Johnston. While this sounds great on paper, some of the CD cuts are too restrained, with Wilson not quite leaving her training behind to cross into deep blues territory. Performing here live, she'll be challenged to really lay it down!

And Jackson's great Voice, the wonderful Dorothy Moore, also will be worth a listen. Although sometimes dubbed a blues singer, Moore is gospel-trained, and her huge '70s hits–"Misty Blue" and "Funny How Time Slips Away"–were soulful covers of country-western songs. At 56, she continues to defy categories. Her first two releases on her new record label are a Christmas album and a single in which she talks about and then sings the national anthem. Whatever Moore sings at Jubilee! Jam, it will come straight from her heart and sink deep into yours.
— Steve Cheseborough

The Choices: Calandra Davis, Chosen, Melodic Truth, Greater Mt. Calvary, Southern Sons, Jackson Sisters, Harvey Watkins of the Canton Spirituals, The Myles Family, Expressions of Faith, Dew Drop Singers, Cathedral AME Zion, Slim and The Supreme Angels.

This year's Jubilee! Jam will have a dazzling offering of gospel artists ranging from today's national leaders in traditional gospel music to some of Mississippi's young new artists. "This year's Jam features a power packed line-up that will certainly satisfy the appetites of all gospel music lovers," said Jesse Thompson, gospel producer of the Jubilee! Jam.

Hosted once again in the charming sanctuary of St. Andrews Episcopal Church, artists will include the famed Harvey Watkins Jr. of the Canton Spirituals, as well as The Southern Sons, Slim and the Supreme Angels, and the down-home sounds of the Jackson Sisters of North Carolina.

Local artists will also share the stage, featuring the sounds of The Myles Family from Kosciusko, The Dew Drop Singers of Soso and Calandra Davis of Jackson. "I'm just excited and grateful for the opportunity to share my gift in song," said gospel soloist Davis, who will open this year's gospel stage. "Come and see what Jackson has to offer, because it's your time to be blessed."

Davis was the grand-prize winner at the Mississippi Gospel Artist Showcase. Other winners included The Myles Family, Chosen of Jackson and soloist Cynthia Murrell of Canton.

The gospel stage will be hosted by WOAD 1300 AM, and WZRX Radio. Music will get underway both days at 3:30 p.m.
— Stacia V. Hunter

Previous Comments


Name spelling correction : should read " Rumor has it that it began as a conversation at a baseball game at Smith Wills between John Maxey and David Ingebretsen. " I've been friends with his daughter since 1985. After that David was the executive director of Mississippiís ACLU until a few years ago. He's a great guy.

Herman Snell

Thanks for the correction, Herman! We apologize for the error.



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