Oxford is a couple of hours north of Jackson. It’s a nice drive, the last quarter of which is a two lane highway that winds through the countryside. Home of Ole Miss, Oxford is a college town that boasts some great looking architecture throughout the city, the focal point being the square in the center of town. It’s easy to see why the area left such an impression on a young William Faulkner during his formative, and later in his adult years years (Oxford is fictionalized as Jefferson in many of his works). It has retained much of its small southern town charm despite its evident growth in the last 50 years. Anyone who knows me knows of my penchant for all things historical (also developed during my formative years), and perhaps that is one reason why I love coming to Oxford. It’s a pleasant reminder that new can coexist with old.
It shouldn’t be that hard, really, for more towns to stand as Oxford stands. I have a feeling that the strip malls and mini marts of America will crumble long before the regal buildings of our bygone years begin to slip past the point of no return. Perhaps that is for the best. If my grandchildren look at a strip mall in the same regard with which I enjoy an area like the square in Oxford, I will have, by that point, undoubtedly spun in my grave enough times to have reached China. Like a lot of things modern, the structures of today can not hold a candle to the style and class of Federal architecture.
Parrish Baker’s Pub, where we would be playing later that night, sits just off of the square. It’s one of several college bars in the downtown area, all within easy walking distance of the campus. Because of this, I think Oxford is one of the best college towns in America. Most students need only to endure a short walk in order to frolic in the many pleasantries and excesses that make college life such a memorable time. We loaded in our gear and Austin went to meet an old friend in town while I hung out with my friend Billy McBeath (whom Josh Grider claims is my exact doppelganger). Billy, ever the jack of all trades, is currently working at Parrish’s and he had helped us land the gig. We caught up over glasses of bourbon and then wandered across the square to meet up with Austin and his friend Will. This being Championship Saturday, we planned to take in the Big 12 championship game at the Library, a fairly large sports bar that I have played in the past. With Austin’s beloved Longhorns failing to impress us after the first half, we decided a change of venue was in order.
If you’re not a sports fan, you probably don’t realize how your actions can directly affect the play of a team. I’ve relied on this common notion throughout much of my life. Team not doing so well? Change your hat. Still not working? Perhaps you should be wearing a different shirt. You get the drift. On this particular evening, having no way of changing our attire, we opted for the venue change.
The Longhorns managed to win the game, but I’m afraid our superstitious endeavours had little to do with the outcome. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but sit back and watch your team struggle.
The nights show went off without a hitch, with a good crowd filling the bar. We hung around afterwards, trading jokes and barbs… commonplace frivolities within the male species… and decided to spend the day watching more football on Sunday (our day off) with some of the staff of Parrish’s.
Sunday came and went, football arguments abounded, and as Monday morning greeted us, we decided to delay our departure for Atlanta by a few hours so that I could introduce Austin to my favorite meal on the planet: Shrimp and Grits from City Grocery.
City Grocery is on the aforementioned square, and it’s owned by a fellow Hampden-Sydney alumnus named John Currence. John has made an excellent name for himself as a chef and a restauranteur in the south, and it’s easy to see (or should I say taste) why. He runs a classy joint, and serves up some of the best food on the planet. With our bellies full, and the clock ticking, we bid Billy adieu and set out for Atlanta.
We arrived at Bread Coffee House, on the campus of Emory University in Atlanta under cover of darkness (needless to say, it was again difficult for me to shake the “we’re late!!” feeling). We were warmly greeted by the staff upon arrival and played a short but appreciated set for the folks in attendance. Properly caffeinated, we spent the night with some of Austin’s friends just north of the city.
The next day we drove through the drizzling rain (the same storm that had been following us since we left Fort Worth was still dogging our travel) to one of our favorite venues in the country– The Hummingbird Stage and Taproom in Macon, Georgia. Macon is only an hour and a half from Atlanta, so we arrived with plenty of time to kill. I took the opportunity to take Austin to Nu-Way Wieners, an older downtown lunch spot that was clearly built to comfortably seat a population that was, at the time of its construction, probably no taller that 5’8″. The stools at the counter are low enough that I could rest my knees on the ground while sitting down. Being the lanky fellow that I am, slightly smaller accomidations are nothing new to me, so we waited for our lunch undeterred, looking like two giants balanced on thimble-like perches. Our wieners arrived, two apiece, and at a couple of bucks and change, I challenge you to find a better lunch for the money anywhere in Macon.
We headed back to the Hummingbird and got ready for our show.
We had a couple of folks in the audience that had come to see us, and along with the regular built in crowd, we were happy to have some ears to play for. The high ceilings and excellent sound system make the Hummingbird a great place to play. Couple that with the fact that they have Yuengling on tap, and needless to say, I had an excellent night. Even without the added bonus of Yuengling, it’s one of the great music venues in the country and I’m lucky to get the chance to play there whenever I’m in town.
We crashed with our friend Adam (talent buyer for the Hummingbird by night, ultra-talented photographer by day) in his cool downtown apartment a few blocks away, and ended the night listening to some old vinyl while sitting on his second story porch. For the first time since we left, there was some warmth in the air. Our tag-a-long storm system had finally met its match, and the southern breeze that had managed to push the rain out to sea was a welcomed change.
The sun shone down on Macon as we awoke to day 6 of our trip. We were bound for Savannah, Georgia for another day off. I was excited to explore a new city, and as I loaded the car I couldn’t help but think: we’ve got a pretty sweet gig.