From an indie rock band hailing from California to a funk group from New Orleans and several acts with north Mississippi roots, Oxford will be full of musical talent this weekend. Read on to find out what to expect on the Double Decker stage this Friday and Saturday.
Liz Brasher (6 p.m. Friday)
by Lexi Purvis
Soul singer and guitarist Liz Brasher will take the stage at 6 p.m. on Friday at the Double Decker Arts Festival as part of Thacker Mountain Radio’s performance.
A North Carolina native, Brasher grew up surrounded by country, Southern soul and rock music. Brasher was exposed to various sounds throughout her childhood, which helped shaped the artist she is today. She learned hymns and Spanish church songs from her mother, while her father played a lot of Motown, Elton John and Michael Jackson, all contributing to her eclectic sound and style of music.
Brasher was signed by Fat Possum Records and made the move to Memphis last year to record her debut LP.
“Although I knew about the music from Memphis, being on the actual land was a different feeling,” Brasher said. “I wanted to be at the source of where American music came from, where the music I’m influenced by came out of, and to see for myself why music here sounded unlike the rest of the nation and why I was most drawn to it.”
Brasher’s “garage soul” music has taken her not only to her adopted home of Memphis, but all over the country. She will embark on her first national tour at the end of the month.
Brasher will perform her original music at Double Decker this weekend, and her new EP will be released April 27 on all platforms, including iTunes and Spotify.
The Delta Saints (8 p.m. Friday)
by Devna Bose
The Delta Saints will take the stage Friday night at 8 p.m. to feature their easy-going, ever-changing style.
The Nashville natives are no strangers to Oxford, having played a few times before at local venues.
“[We] are super stoked to be getting back,” lead vocalist and guitarist Ben Ringel said. “For as long as we’ve been touring, Oxford has always had a steady scene for touring bands. It’s always been a really fun town for us, and we always are excited when we see it pop up on our tours.”
Boasting a psychedelic blues sound, the band will fit in well with the Double Decker lineup. Their vibe, however, is always changing.
“I call our music rock and roll,” Ringel said. “We started in more of a roots, blues sound but have slowly been changing things up over the past few years. Our last record was a rock record, and we’re excited about where things are continuing to go.”
The Delta Saints cite seeing live music as a significant part of their musical journey and want to impart that same passion to the audience.
“Our main goal has always been to put on an good show and help usher in the party,” Ringel said. “Seeing live music has always been a really impactful and important thing to each of (us) throughout our lives, and we hope that our shows give that to the people who show up every night.”
Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band (10:15 a.m. Saturday)
by Hannah Reed and Liam Nieman
Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band will bring their folk-blues sound to the stage this Saturday morning at 10:15 a.m.
Sharde Thomas began playing the fife when she was young. Inspired by her grandfather, Othar Turner, she performed her first concert at an annual picnic Othar held in his backyard.
Othar, a successful fife player, started The Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. After he passed away in 2003, Sharde followed in his footsteps and took over the band.
The band is one of the last groups to play fife and drum blues, a style of the genre specific to the hill country of North Mississippi. Their songs feature Thomas’ cane fife and powerful vocals, backed by the hypnotic drumming and occasional shouting of the Rising Stars, a sonic combination that transports listeners to the backwoods picnics where Thomas first formed her sound.
The group has found success performing at events including the Chicago Blues Festival, Cognac Blues Passions, Blues Rules Crissier in Switzerland and previous Double Decker festivals.
Along with performing on the road, the Rising Stars released two CDs in 2003, “Goin’ Over the Hill” and “Mississippi to Mali.” Later, in 2010, they released “Hill Country Hoodoo” and “What Do I Do?” before their most recent album “The Interlude.”
The Como Mamas (11:30 a.m. Saturday)
by Italiana Anderson
For those who grew up going to church on those rural Mississippi Sunday mornings, it is common to get “the Word” from the pastor while the graceful voices of a choir fill the chapel with a holy energy.
A group of three women known as the Como Mamas, who are named after the town from which they hail, offers those early-Sunday-morning vibes at all times with their “take us to church” harmonies.
The Como Mamas are a trio worth hearing. Their angelic, heavenly melodies are the kind of sound that will uplift and get listeners through the rough days. Sisters Della Daniels and Angelie Taylor and their cousin Ester Mae Smith remember singing together as children 50 years ago.
A New York field recorder, Michael Reilly of Daptone Records, got his first taste of this Southern experience in 2005 on a visit to Como. He stumbled upon the group singing at their home church, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, and at that moment, he saw a chance to take this group to the next level.
Reilly was so impressed that his trip resulted in the Como Mamas recording the album “Get An Understanding” with Daptone Records in 2013. Their most recent, critically acclaimed album, “Move Upstairs,” came out in May 2017.
Each member brings a different style to the group’s music. While the women have a band backing them, the main instruments are their voices. Smith brings raspy, alto sounds, while the two sisters belt it out with their church-bred harmonies.
The Como Mamas bring soul to gospel music with their inspiring tracks that are meant to capture listeners and reach all kinds of people, especially younger generations. The band performs at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
Don Bryant (1 p.m. Saturday)
by Ethel Mwedziwendira
Don Bryant knows what it’s like to be a versatile artist in the music industry, and he’s experienced the “buzz” that comes with being both behind-the-scenes and front and center. Now he’s back doing what he loves, performing songs from his latest album “Don’t Give Up On Love” this weekend at Double Decker Festival.
Bryant’s roots are in the Memphis church where he and his siblings frequently imitated the sounds of his father’s gospel group, the Four Stars of Harmony. It wasn’t until he started working closely with the former owner of Hi Records music label, Willie Mitchell, that his music career began to take off.
The group he was a part of at the time, the Four Kings, broke up, but he had dreams of persisting in the industry even then.
“I wanted to continue singing, and (Mitchell) said he would give me a chance as a single vocalist, which is how I got started doing my own thing,” Bryant said.
He had ambitions of being a solo artist until he started writing for up-and-coming artists such as Al Green and Ann Peebles. After his songwriting success, he took a hiatus but is now back on the road performing his highly-anticipated, delicate and soul-filled album.
“I feel great being back,” Bryant said. “To bring the sound back to fruition is what I’m happy about. I’m going to give it all I got and put my heart and soul into it.”
Squirrel Nut Zippers (2:30 p.m. Saturday)
by Liam Nieman
Though the band members started in Chapel Hill, the South’s second best college town, the Squirrel Nut Zippers will be playing Double Decker Festival in the region’s best college town – Oxford.
The nine-piece band will take the stage at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and fill the historic Square with the sounds of its eclectic blend of traditional jazz, swing, blues and alternative rock.
Listeners can expect to hear some songs from the band’s new album “Beasts of Burgundy,” which came out on March 23 after the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ 18-year hiatus from the studio. After breaking up in the early 2000s, the band announced a reunion tour in 2007 and played sporadically throughout the following decade.
At the height of its fame, the Squirrel Nut Zippers’ biggest hit “Hell,” from the 1996 album “Hot,” peaked at no. 13 on the Billboard Modern Rock Top 100, making swing music popular for the first time in some 60 years. That same year, the band played at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta and at President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration.
The band’s frontman Jimbo Mathus was born in Oxford and grew up immersed in the music of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. He was close friends with a daughter of the Delta blues musician Charley Patton and helped form one of Mississippi’s first punk rock bands before digging into the throwback music he plays now.
The Squirrel Nut Zippers’ odd name comes from a Southern slang term for moonshine and the headline of a newspaper story about a man drunk off this moonshine who climbed up a tree and refused to come down even after police intervention.
Just as with its name, the band’s musical stylings and lyrics display its acute awareness of Southern history and culture with its musical stylings and lyrics. With influences ranging from early New Orleans jazz to Delta blues, the Squirrel Nut Zippers will bring together the South’s vast musical traditions this weekend.
Tank and the Bangas (4 p.m. Saturday)
by Devna Bose
New Orleans funk group Tank and the Bangas will fill the air on the Square with their signature soulful sound Saturday afternoon.
Founded and fronted by Tarriona “Tank” Ball, the musical group formed in 2011 and released the album “Think Tank” in 2013. Ball’s powerhouse vocals lead Tank and the Bangas’ sound through a variety of genres including rock, folk and gospel.
“[Our sound] goes everywhere, and it’s dynamic and wide ranging because of the people that we have in this band,” drummer and musical director Joshua Johnson said. “We just have fun and collaborate with those dynamics and those ranges and create some very insanely fun music.”
The group gained national attention after winning NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2017, capturing audiences with their “organic” performance. They have been described by Joshua Stein of the Financial Times as representing the “new New Orleans,” playing music that doesn’t “conform to the jazz stereotypes.”
Johnson hopes there “will be a little bit of something for everyone” in the audience.
“I don’t think everyone in the audience is going to know what to expect, and that’s the fun part – taking them on a fun rollercoaster ride,” Johnson said. “We get to tell a story to connect with them. You always want to touch somebody in the audience. That’s kind of the point.”
Whitey Morgan (5:30 p.m. Saturday)
by Ethel Mwedziwendira
Whitey Morgan will bring a grittier kind of country than what the average Mississippi country music listener might expect to the Oxford scene.
The honky tonk artist based in Flint, Michigan, has made a name for himself with his music, much of which the average person can relate to.
His music roots date back as far as three decades ago when his grandfather and mentor immersed him in the scene. He sings with a sense of urgency, straight from the heart, and details the struggle of the everyday person through his lyrics.
“I think my sound is kind of like 70s country music,” Morgan said. “The reckless abandon type, it’s high energy and has a rock ‘n’ roll backbeat to it and three-part harmony.”
He’s played in Oxford “five or six times” over the last few years, but his first performance at a festival will be this weekend at Double Decker.
“I’m hoping that the people are ready for some old school country music,” Morgan said.
Houndmouth (7 p.m. Saturday)
by Hannah Willis
Performing right before the weekend’s headlining band is the indie-blues rock band Houndmouth.
Hailing from the small town of New Albany, Indiana, this all-male trio has been gaining attention across the country over the past several years, with songs that meld multiple genres with ease. Most of the group’s music has a distinct vintage feel to it that still manages to sound new.
Some songs – like their hits “Sedona” and “Darlin’” – are firmly Americana with hints of rock ‘n’ roll. Others are jams that will have even the most prim Oxonians dancing. No matter what songs it plays, Houndmouth’s beautiful choruses and compelling guitar sounds, acoustic or electric, deserve a listen.
Houndmouth is guaranteed to play a great show on the Double Decker stage, and the range in its repertoire will appeal to many, regardless of music interest or age. Houndmouth will play at 7:00 p.m. Saturday, and will be immediately followed by the Cold War Kids.
Cold War Kids (8:30 p.m. Saturday)
by Devna Bose
Longtime indie rockers Cold War Kids remember Oxford as a “lovely college town” and are excited to return to perform as Double Decker’s headlining act.
“We have played in Oxford years ago at Proud Larry’s. We all went to a football game, and it was very fun. The venue was rad,” frontman Nathan Willett said. “It’s nice to go to a city where it’s not typically one of the major what-people-would-expect-to-be music cities.”
Originally hailing from California, the band formed 14 years ago and released its first album in 2006. Veterans of the indie rock music scene, Cold War Kids’ members have set themselves apart with their blues vibes and thoughtful lyrics from the beginning of their musical journey. Joe Tacopino of PopMatters once claimed they were “worth the trip.”
Willett said the group’s influences lie in punk, rock and roll, gospel and soul, all of which are showcased in its recent album “Audience,” which is a collection of live recordings from a show in Athens, Georgia, last September.
“I’m real proud of (the album). For having six records, this is a great document,” Willett said. “That’s kind of the most recent fresh thing that is the best version of what to expect (from our show).”
Mostly, though, the band just wants to have a good time and hopes the audience does, too.
“We love to feed off the energy of the crowd and feed off the energy of each other, and when both of those things are strong, we just have a great time,” Willett said.