Expanding the music scene: Brookstock XVIII helps feed Brookhaven’s local music scene
The western wall is the color of wisteria, and stapled over with posters of dead rockstars, yellowed newspaper articles and set lists from last year’s live shows. Craft art hangs from the ceiling and a row of velvet busts, wearing handmade jewelry, stand guard below. Melted wax, all the colors of a galaxy, decorates the LP table, where Duane Allman and Ronnie Van Zant are still alive, safely wrapped in plastic sleeves.
Across the room, on the small stage at Recess 101 in downtown Brookhaven, 17-year-old Sophie Smith picks the first chords out of her sunburst Gibson and begins to perform for the crowd at singer-songwriter night, the opening concert for Brookstock XVIII. Most of them are old enough to be her grandparents, and she knows little of their music, nothing of Crosby or Mitchell or Russell.
But then she begins to sing, and from the girl’s mouth comes the voice of a woman, and lyrics about love and loss and uncertainty that blow away the decades between them. She finishes, and they cheer, these old rockers who come back to Brookhaven every summer to remember the 1960s.
“It’s pretty cool to play as part of Brookstock,” Smith said. “It’s an honor. Last year was my first year to get involved in the music scene in Brookhaven, and we have a lot of talented people here.”
It was Smith’s fourth time to take the stage at Recess 101, but her first appearance at Brookstock, which began in 2000 at a reunion of the Brookhaven High School Class of 1968 when event founder Don Jacobs and the late blues musician Virgil Brawley reformed their old high school band.
Brookstock will resume tonight, with the main rock show at the Brookhaven Building on Beltline Drive beginning at 6:30 p.m. Admission to the catered show is $10, and visitors should bring their own libations.
Brookstock remains the city’s biggest gathering of local musicians, but it’s no longer the only one. The passage of the city’s liquor laws five years ago has given rise to music-minded venues — Magnolia Blues, Georgia Blue, the Brookhaven Country Club — that host musicians a couple of nights per week. Recess 101 was hosting music and art groups before that.
The chamber of commerce now hosts a summer concert series, musicians play in Trinity Park on Thursdays and bands are common at downtown festivals throughout the season. Brookhaven Music and Sound Company teaches lessons all week and many of the city’s younger artists — like Smith — are trained there.
Thanks to booze and Brookstock, the city’s local music scene is alive and growing.
“The promotion they’ve done has been fantastic,” said Greg Smith, a music instructor who works with Sophie Smith and several other young musicians. “The singer-songwriter event has expanded the scene — it’s a different crowd, brings more diversity and allows more musicians to participate.”
Local musician Shaw Furlow has played with Brookstock since 2011, and works on his own to promote local musicians. He said the old rock show has provided constancy to the expansion of the city’s live music scene.
“When we were growing up, were influenced by a small group of good guitar players, and we were able to influence the next group, and so on. Brookstock has been able to perpetuate the growth of the music scene here in Brookhaven,” he said. “The good news is, it’s working.”
Brookhaven’s Ricky Brown is an original Brookstocker — he’s performed in every show but one, due to illness. He said quality musicians have always lurked around Brookhaven, but before the liquor laws, Brookstock was the only place to hear them.
“With the introduction of alcohol, we’ve got sort a club atmosphere and we’ve been able to bring it along further,” he said. “We never had a place to play, but now Brookhaven has become a bit of a Mecca, and it’s great to see it coming on.”
Recess 101 was hosting musicians back in 2009, carving out a creative space in harder times, when beer was legal only when accompanied by food. Owner Teresa Moyer kept it up and the crowds eventually packed the house for weekend specials — recently, she’s hosted Black Oak Arkansas’ Andy Tanas and Billy Ray Reynolds, who played guitar for Waylon Jennings and wrote songs for the best country outlaws.
Thursday night, Recess 101 was full again for Brookstock, and Moyer took time between slinging Yuenglings and Newcastles to reflect on her part in the local music scene.
“Now, the kids are getting involved. They come here to play, and I’m glad to see that,” she said. “I feel like we have all the musicians a place to play, and it makes me really happy to see them be able to play all over Brookhaven now.”
The local music scene is good enough to earn the respect of Brookstock performer Tommy McClymont, a Scottish-born rocker from Germany who first met Jacobs 40 years ago when both were chasing women from Frankfurt. He took two weeks to come to Mississippi and play in Brookstock.
“I was aware there was a local music scene here, but it’s one great band after another,” he said. “But, when you come to Mississippi, that’s what you expect to see.”