The Double Decker Arts Festival continues to draw stellar musical acts year after year, and 2017 is no exception.
Muddy Magnolias – Friday at 8 p.m.
By Devna Bose
Indie-rock band Muddy Magnolias will be performing at Double Decker, not too far away from its origin city of Nashville, Tennessee.
Songwriters Jessy Wilson and Kallie North formed the duo is 2014, and the band’s distinct sound reflects both Wilson’s Brooklyn roots and North’s Southern background.
North was inspired to write music after her move to the Mississippi Delta region 10 years ago. She became captivated by the landscape and culture, and after being gifted a guitar, she began writing songs.
While touring as a background vocalist for mentor John Legend, Wilson sparked her first co-songwriting session after following Legend to the studio. She then landed her first major cut on his albums and branched out to work with other hip-hop and R&B artists like Keyshia Cole and will.i.am.
The Muddy Magnolias characterizes its sound as a “mix of Southern blues, soul and gospel with a rock ‘n’ roll twist,” but its songs have been often expressed as “city grit meets Delta dirt,” an apt description of the unique duo. The New York Times described its music as “merging soul and country on a shared foundation of gospel and blues,” neither solidly Southern nor Northern, but a harmonization between the two.
The two settled on their name after Wilson and North stumbled upon a Muddy Waters album in a Nashville record store.
They are happy to return to Oxford after a single stint at Proud Larry’s.
“I’ve always loved Double Decker and have been a huge fan of all of the bands that have played over the year. I’ve been coming to Oxford for years as a Rebels fan, but coming to headline this festival is really special for me,” North said.
Thacker Mountain Radio Hour – Friday at 7 p.m.
By Anna Kathryn Hodges
Thacker Mountain Radio is set to keep the party going the first evening of Double Decker at 7 p.m. Friday.
Thacker Mountain Radio’s weekly radio show consists of literary readings paired with musical performances and has been a highlight of life in Oxford for nearly 20 years.
You can catch the show every Thursday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Rebel Radio or on the following Saturday at 7 p.m. on Mississippi Public Broadcast. Instead of just listening to the broadcast, folks can enjoy the show live at the quirky, locally owned bookstore Off Square Books.
The performance is one for the Oxford-Lafayette locals, as well as out-of-towners, and will certainly not disappoint for a night of laughter and sweet Southern comfort.
“We encourage people to bring their lawn chairs and enjoy great music in a laid-back setting – a good ole-fashioned street party,” radio host Jim Dees said.
Jimmy “Duck” Holmes – Friday at 6 p.m.
By Olivia Morgan
69-year-old singer and guitarist Jimmy “Duck” Holmes will pick up his guitar at 6 p.m. on stage at the Double Decker Arts Festival, but his musical journey began when he first started picking on the guitar at age 10.
Holmes is currently the owner and operator of one of the oldest juke joints in Mississippi, the Blue Front Cafe in Bentonia. First opened in 1948, the joint was passed down to him from his parents, Carey and Mary Holmes.
“I remember when I was a kid, I used to have to get in a chair to look across the counter and lean over it to see what people were doing,” Holmes said.
Even though music has been a part of his whole life, he says he never had intentions to be a professional musician or even make recordings.
He also organizes a festival of his own, the Bentonia Blues festival, and formed his own label, Blue Front Records, “dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Bentonia, Delta, Hill Country and other raw honest blues,” according to the artist’s Facebook page.
Holmes has released several CDs since his debut in 2006, including “Back to Bentonia” and “Done Got Tired of Tryin.’” His album “It is What it is” was released as the inaugural record from Blue Front Records in June 2016.
In the past, he has performed in Oxford at Proud Larry’s and for Thacker Mountain Radio Hour.
“One of my greatest rewards is that people appreciate what I do and invite me to come do it for them,” Holmes said. “I really don’t look at crowd sizes. I’m just making sure I do what I do well enough so that people enjoy it.”
Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats – Saturday at 8:45 p.m.
By Hannah Willis
The final performer of the Double Decker Arts Festival is the relatively new, but buzz-worthy, band Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats.
While Rateliff had been performing long before its formation, the band’s first album was only released in 2015.
Its first hit was the fast-paced, catchy “S.O.B.,” which chronicles Rateliff’s sobering up after years of heavy drinking. “S.O.B.” takes a comical look at the hallucinations and sickness Rateliff had to overcome.
This emotional lightheartedness in the face of real obstacles has become standard for The Night Sweats. The band members write music about their lives, especially the dark and messy parts, and then blast them out on stage. The Night Sweats plays incredible music right in front of you, unapologetically, ornately and skillfully.
Students, locals, alumni and that townie who’s too cool for school will all go wild about this band. Its music is so deep, so identifiable with the human condition, that there really is something there for everyone. The members play their instruments like your grandfather’s band. They question the status quo like your mom’s favorite, and they speak the truth to the millennials filming them for Snapchat. The Night Sweats is a must-see show this weekend at Double Decker.
Robert Finley – Saturday at 1 p.m.
By Ke’ena Belk
Robert Finley, a Louisiana singer and musician, is ready rock the stage of Double Decker on Saturday. According to Finley’s website, he has a combination of talents within his sound, songs, energy and style. He “mixes a Memphis to Texas electric Southern grit with Nashville-clever songs.”
Finley comes from a musically oriented family. His mother and father sang in a quartet, and Finley grew up singing in his church choir, where music became a major part of his life. At the age of 17, Finley joined the army, where he was placed on military occupation specialty after an injury. He became an entertainer and performed with renowned musicians like Marvin Gaye and Issac Hayes.
“I try to deal with real life, things that happen in daily life or the things that people don’t want to talk about,” Finley said. “People should feel as though they have read a book and that music should always tell something. My goal is to sing about things that people can relate to.”
Finley is now fulfilling his childhood dream. He has gained 52 years of musical wisdom as he continues to travel from city to city, performing on and off the road. He plans to showcase various songs from his new album, “Age Don’t Mean a Thing.” Finley said “Snake in the Grass,” “Is it Possible to Love Two People” and “It’s Too Late” are a few songs that are crowd favorites.
“Music is a universal language, and the blues is something everybody gets,” Finley said.
Finley hopes to give people an opportunity to experience some good music and better vibes through his performance this weekend at Double Decker.
Dr. John and the Nite Trippers – Saturday at 7 p.m.
By Slade Rand and Lexi Purvis
Some people say Dr. John is a product of the New Orleans music scene. More people would tell you it’s the other way around.
The 76-year-old New Orleans native was born Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack. His stage name of “Dr.” actually became official in 2013, when Tulane University awarded him an honorary doctorate in fine arts.
Dr. John was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011, and his sixth Grammy award came in 2013. His album “Locked Down” (released under The Black Keys’ Nonesuch label) won him his second award for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
This national acclaim and a Top 20 hit with 1973’s “Right Place Wrong Time” haven’t led Dr. John astray from his cypress knee-like roots. In 2014, the Dr. set his sights back on the sound he helped raise from the bayou and recorded an album-sized tribute to Louis Armstrong.
His influence has left a deep mark on American culture. The Dr. was a part of The Band’s legendary final concert, filmed by Martin Scorcese for “The Last Waltz,” and a Tennessee music festival borrowed its name from the Night Tripper’s 1974 album, “Desitively Bonnaroo.”
Dr. John’s throne in the blues scene sits next to those belonging to the Funky METERS, Eric Clapton and the late great Allen Toussaint. He’s written songs and recorded tracks with the industry’s best and played festivals in each corner of the world. Now, he’s making his way to Oxford for his first Double Decker performance.
Some of Dr. John’s most recent work was creating music for the soundtrack of the hit Disney movie “The Jungle Book.” The movie’s popular song “The Bare Necessities” was released by Dr. John and the Nite Trippers in spring 2016.
Double Decker is sure to be a hit Saturday night with a legend like Dr. John turning the Square into a hazy funk fest all music lovers will enjoy.
Luther Dickinson – Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
By Slade Rand
Luther Dickinson’s father raised him on the north Mississippi blues. Now, with a career of his own, Luther has left his mark on the muddy, front-porch grown style of rock ‘n’ roll.
Jim Dickinson’s influence shines through on Luther’s most recent record, double-album “Blues and Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook) Vol. I & II.” The 2016 release features fresh recordings of 21 songs from different points in Luther’s childhood and songwriting career.
“That whole record is about being as stripped-down as possible,” Luther said. “A third of it is guitar and voice, you know, so definitely it’s all about the songs and lyrics.”
“Blues and Ballads’” power comes from Luther’s relationship with each of the songs he picked. The album paints a picture of a north Mississippi hill country childhood surrounded by reverends of the blues.
“I grew up hanging out in Oxford; that’s definitely home away from home,” Luther said. “The culture, the arts, the writing, the food, the music and you know.”
Luther said recording this new album taught him a lesson in using the oral tradition of folk music to hold true to the repertoire and its history while also expressing his own feeling.
“If you follow the Mississippi River all the way up, you get to the home of Bob Dylan,” he said. “It’s like the main vein of America.”
James McMurtry – Saturday at 4 p.m.
By Jyesha Johnson
Renowned singer-songwriter James McMurtry will be taking the stage on the Square at 4 p.m.
McMurtry is known for his lyrical ability that evokes an array of emotions from his listeners, along with his skilled guitar work. McMurtry’s music can be categorized as folk rock, alternative country and Americana, all at the same time.
Bob Harris of BBC 2 Radio described him as “the most vital lyricist in America today.”
His musical career spans over 25 years. He began as a teenager, writing bits and pieces of songs. He eventually started performing at writers nights and open mics.
McMurtry’s debut album, “Too Long in the Wasteland,” released in 1989, would be the first of many.
He gained much praise for “We Can’t Make It Here,” a song that touched on politics involving George W. Bush and the Iraq War. The song won him Album and Song of the Year 2006 at the Americana Music Awards.
McMurtry writes songs depicting the daily struggles of ordinary people such as “South Dakota,” “Copper Canteen” and “Carlisle’s Haul.”
McMurtry released his ninth album, “Complicated Game,” in February 2015.
When McMurtry is not on tour, he can be seen Wednesday nights at The Continental Club in Austin, Texas, where he lives.
He continues to tour year-round with his powerhouse performances and will be bringing that electric talent and energy to Oxford this weekend.
Seratones – Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
By Jonathan Gibson
Louisiana-based rock ‘n’ roll band Seratones will be jamming out on the Square on Saturday with hits from its debut album, “Get Gone.”
Hailing from Shreveport, this band has all the heart and soul of the South, with just a sprinkle of that jazzy swing you might hear on Bourbon Street on a late night.
With songs featuring epic guitar riffs, blues-y swells and a little juke-joint swagger, fans and newcomers alike will feel the electricity of the band’s live performance.
Almost immediately after forming, Seratones was honored with the Louisiana Music Prize in 2013 and has been rolling forward non-stop ever since.
“Get Gone,” recorded at Dial Back Sound studio in Water Valley, was tracked completely live, a testament to the band’s ability to dominate a festival stage.
With A.J Haynes on vocals, Connor Davis on guitar, Adam Davis on bass and Jesse Gabriel on drums, the group members combine their own personal histories with the multiculturalism and blurred genre lines of their hometown.
“Shreveport is always shifting its identity,” Haynes said. “You can do a lot of different things when it seems like every band is its own genre.”
The four musicians are “highly skilled in the art of rocking your socks off, bringing the house down and blowing your mind.”
The show starts at 2:30 Saturday afternoon.
Amelia and the Peruvian Farm Girls – Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
By Jacqueline Knirnschild
Amelia and the Peruvian Farm Girls is a family band that gained popularity in Nashville for its bluegrass, country and pop sound. Lead singer Amelia Eisenhauer has been playing in bands since she was 9 years old and placed in the top 24 on American Idol in 2016.
Eisenhauer’s career began in an all-girls bluegrass band called the Pinkin’ Chicks. She played with it for two years while her younger brother Andy was learning to play the banjo. When she was 11, the family group first began.
“We started out playing bluegrass but then quickly grew into country and then more pop, acoustic pop, blues and classic music,” Eisenhauer said. “We had no idea family bands were so well-received in Nashville.”
Four years ago, a mutual friend of the family introduced it to Bryan Ward of Water Valley, who became the group’s bass player and helped come up with its name.
“We all thought it would be a lot of fun to have a funky band name,” Eisenhauer said. “It’s really rather ironic, considering my mom is the only other girl in the band.”
Eisenhauer said its music is really multi-generational and spreads across multiple genres. Since the style can vary so much, it’s been referred to as “uber-eclectic” she said.
“It’s really hard to put a label on it,” Eisenhauer said. “One thing is for sure, though: Your ears will never get bored.”
She said her inspiration comes mostly from contemporary acoustic pop, blues and jazz, whereas her brother loves bluegrass and singing classical songs by artists like Frank Sinatra.
“We get inspired by so many different styles of music that everyone brings to the table,” Eisenhauer said.
Bass player Bryan Ward brings a Mississippi Delta blues, Southern gospel flavor to its music, and her mom tends to have a country feel and “plays a very happy ukulele.”
The group is excited to be playing at Double Decker.
“We have heard so much about this festival, and we are so proud to be a part of it,” Eisenhauer said. “We hope everyone has a good time, loves our music, and hopefully it doesn’t rain.”
The Mississippians Jazz Ensemble – Saturday at 10:15 a.m.
By Jacqueline Schlick
The Mississippians Jazz Ensemble has lent the town of Oxford its soul and big band sound since the late 1890s, making it one of the oldest jazz bands in the country. This 18-piece ensemble is comprised of both graduate and undergraduate students and is led by director Michael Worthy.
“You can look at the photographs of this group in the annuals from 1897 through the swing era, and you might as well be looking at pictures in a jazz history text in that they illustrate how the music and instrumentation of the jazz ensemble evolved,” Worthy said.
The ensemble has toured around the country and performed last year in the Notre Dame Jazz Festival and at the 2012 national convention of the Jazz Education Network in Louisville, Kentucky. The student musicians become part of a rich and dynamic history that brings them together as they go throughout their season.
“It is so easy to have a great time playing jazz, and to be able to share that with other members around me has and will continue to be one of the most rewarding moments at the University of Mississippi,” baritone saxophone player Christopher Scott said.
Ole Miss was one of the first universities to allow a jazz band to be affiliated with the school, giving Double Decker and The Mississippians a tight connection. The group performed for the earliest Double Decker festivals and was even the opening act of the first one in 1996.
“Many people in Oxford aren’t aware that real authentic jazz is being played and performed right in their backyards, so I am extremely excited to share that with them,” Scott said.
The set list this year includes pieces such as “Mercy Mercy Mercy” by Josef Zawinul, “Boo-Dah” by Billy Strayhorn and “Feeling Good” by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.
“What’s better than music, art and food?” Worthy said. “Nothing. See you at Double Decker.”