OXFORD – During the summer months in Oxford, the community gathers on Thursdays at 7 p.m. for the summer concert series. Every Thursday a different band or artist, of all different genres, will perform. The concerts began on June 2, with Ryan Broshear, and end on Sept. 1.
These concerts are hosted by Oxford’s Visitor’s Bureau to bring commerce to uptown businesses. Jessica Greene, director of the OVB, provided some history on the event.
“It started back in 1986 and it was the Chamber of Commerce who really got together and said ‘what can we do to drive our uptown economy?’” Greene said. “We have numerous restaurants and businesses in the uptown district, and during the summer when the students are gone it’s quiet.”
They wanted to bring together the community, and regional visitors, to enjoy all uptown Oxford has to offer. In the beginning the chamber ran the festival, but after 1996 the visitor’s bureau took over.
Greene added, “It became a very big part, a staple if you will, of the Oxford summer culture in our community. People love it.”
According to Greene, people begin calling in early May asking for the lineup schedule, but that schedule does not become available until mid-May.
There is a lot of preparation which goes into the festival. Over 90 bands submitted samples of their music in the winter. They used to send in stacks of CDs, but over time, Greene started requesting YouTube links instead. There is a committee of people who listen to the samples, and they come to the meetings with their list of top 10 bands.
Greene admitted that they look for “diversity of music, diversity of genre, diversity of age even.” They even consider whether or not the bands are local. They consider all of these variables before hiring a band for the festival.
There are perks to being an Oxford local.
Greene added, “We definitely highlight our local bands first, but as a visitor’s bureau we’re always trying to bring in people from the outside of town.”
Half of the bands are local and half come in from the region, but this year there is one exception: Michael Mwenso & the Shakes will come in from New York on July 21. The concert will be a collaboration with the Performing Arts Center.
Smokestack Lightning performed on June 9. The local band consists of Alex Poteet on guitar and vocals, Dan Blomquist on guitar and vocals, John Lattier on bass guitar, and Ed Krehbiel on drums. Krehbiel explained that he and Blomquist had been playing together since grade school, but it wasn’t until much later that the band fully formed.
“We came up with Smokestack because we were playing with kinda a consistent group, ‘cause especially in a small town it’s hard to get guys to stick around,” he said. “We formed something and we were playing kinda regularly at some bars around town.” As for the band name, they actually stole that from a Howlin’ Wolves song. Krehbiel admitted, “It’s just kinda cool. It’s about a train going and watching it at night, so you see sparks coming off it and the tracks.”
It is clear to see why they would want that imagery with their music. They performed like the very sparks coming off the train. They’re mostly a cover band, but they have done some original music. They play a mixture of classic rock and blues. At the festival they played many fan favorites, such as “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band. Another place to see them perform is local restaurant Mac and Joe’s, where they’ve been playing for for years now, and they also occasionally highlight fraternity parties.
Krehbiel admitted they appealed to the committee because they’re all from Oxford. He said, “We’ve been coming up to see people since we were two.”
While this festival has been around for many years, this year in particular is a special celebration.
“It’s the 30th year of summer music in Oxford,” Greene said. While now there are festivals in Hamilton, Fairfield, and many other cities, the Oxford music festival was actually the first of the area music festivals. The Bureau has found pictures of old bands — the earliest picture found was taken in 1988.
As to what makes the 30th anniversary special, Green said, “Truly I think we’re introducing the new generation of Oxford musicians.” Many of the bands playing grew up attending the festival, just like Smokestack Lightning did. The bureau is highlighting both classic and new performers she noted.
Unlike other festivals, this music festival is not reliant on beer sales or tax dollars.
“Sponsors are what make this event entirely possible,” Greene said. “There are no tax dollars tied to this event. It is all sponsor-driven. We do not have beer sales.” She explained that other cities might even pay for this festivals with a recreation budget, but not Oxford. This is what works for Oxford’s community. In order to have a beer garden, the Bureau would have to abide by many rules and policies, but they have a great crowd without a beer garden. Plus, the beer could not come from the local businesses and that would be defeating the entire purpose of the festival.
At its heart, the music festival is a fun environment. With all the sponsors and community members, the music festival becomes a place for families to connect and let loose, according to Greene. Toys for children are passed out, along with free popcorn and water. Kids play in the fountain while the bands play. People are even encouraged to dance.
Noah Wotherspoon, of the Noah Wortherspoon Band who played on June 16, said, “It’s a really incredible place to get to play. I was really impressed that so many people want to come out and support music and be part of an event like that.”
His band is another blues band which played at the festival, but Wotherspoon is a blues veteran. He’s been playing since he was 11 years old, from Ohio to the East Coast and back again. This particular band has been together for a little over 5 years now. It consists of Wotherspoon on guitar and vocals, Rob Thaxon on bass, and Brian Aylor on drums. However, this was their first time playing in Oxford. They often play regionally – at blues fests (such as Cincinnati’s blues fest) and in Kentucky and Indiana. They’ve recently gotten the opportunity to travel more. In fact, soon they’re going to Europe for a gig.
The Wotherspoon band plays mostly original music, but they also play some covers. Don’t expect them to be playing anything mainstream. Wotherspoon said they like to play obscure covers. His personal favorite one to play is “Looking Good” by Magic Sam, which is Chicago Electric Blues. Their foundation is blues music, but there is some diversity to what they play. Wotherspoon admitted, “My song writing over the years, you know I grew up listening to traditional blues like Muddy Waters and everything, but inevitably, I’m really into The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and all kinds of songwriters.” The band tries to stay faithful to the originators of blues, but has naturally evolved with different influences.
In summary, Wotherspoon said of the music fest, “I was just really thrilled that so many people came out and that it didn’t rain. There was just a positive energy and good vibe in the air and we had a blast.”
On June 23, instead of another blues band, Hamilton Fairfield Symphony Orchestra played classical music, conducted by Paul Stanbery. On Thursday, June 30, local Lisa Biales will be playing a combination of blues, roots, and Americana music.