Juke Joints & Dive Bars

Venerable venues of the South 

The Hi Tone

Story by Freddy Hodges | Photos by Brian Anderson

 

Between its former location on Poplar Avenue and the swanky new Crosstown Memphis digs, the Hi Tone name carries a lot of weight in the Bluff City. After 20 years of shows that include hot acts like Yelawolf, Lucero and Carrie Rodriguez, the renowned Memphis venue, which once housed the dojo of Elvis Presley’s martial arts sensei, Kang Rhee, moved to its current Crosstown Shoppes location.

“What I loved about the Hi- Tone was the intimacy the venue brought,” says Phil Beasley, former Memphis Songwriters Association president. Beasley was there when Billy Joe Shaver played.  He was standing near the door that, to frequenters of the Poplar Hi-Tone, will always be more closely associated to a wall with a handle, when Billy Joe tried to sneak out during a drum solo. Beasley brought it to Shaver’s attention that it was locked, and as Shaver looked at the main entrance, and the sea of people he’d have to roll through to get to it, he decided it better to stay. “I ended up getting to take a picture with him, shake his hand, and just hang out for a bit with a guitar shaman,” Beasley says. 

 

Lahna Deering of roots-rock group Deering and Down has played at both locations and says of the Cleveland location since its 2013 inception, “It’s bare-bones at the moment, but they’re making music. It’s kind of cool that it is the way it is.” At the time, it was little more than a cement room with a soundboard and porta-john foyer pillars. But rock n’ roll persisted.  “The old building was pretty cool, and I know it has a lot of history, but we still have a place to play music, and that’s the bottom line.”

 

 

Ground Zero

Story by Casey Hilder | Photos above courtesy of Clarksdale CVB & Brian Anderson

 

From its historic location at 0 Blues Alley to its iconic owners in Clarksdale Mayor Bill Luckett and Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, Ground Zero Blues Club packs a ton of Southern history in its relatively short 14 years of operation. 

“We got our start because -- when Morgan Freeman and I used to hang out in the nineties – we started to see all these foreign tourists out this way looking for a good blues show,” Luckett says. “So we thought, ‘Why not open a blues club?’ We needed  it for historical preservation, and the area could use it for employment.”

The club initially drew its naysayers, skeptical that a “modern” blues club could invoke the same feeling as the old-timey juke joints of the region. However, local apprehensions would go away after the club, its popularity boosted in part by endorsements by Freeman, drew blues fanatics and tourists from all over the world to see acts like Mark Massey, Daddy Mack and The 901 Blues Band. “I think we’ve proven the critics wrong – the whole world is coming here now,” Luckett says. “Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, French, German – you see a lot of different people coming through this small town of 18,000.”

In addition to a lunch menu that boasts Southern staples like fried catfish, slow-cooked pork and all manner of greens, Ground Zero offers eight apartment flats to rent for tourists looking for the authentic juke joint experience. “You can get all you want of the music and go to bed listening to it,” Luckett says. 

In addition to a year-round, near constant rotation of blues musicians, Ground Zero serves as a regional hub of sorts during celebrations like the upcoming inaugural Sister City Festival and ongoing events by the Bridging the Blues organization, as well as the annual New Year’s Eve Bash, which Freeman himself usually attends.

 

 

The Lyric

Story by Tonya Thompson| Photos by Brian Anderson

 

It’s not every music venue that can boast going from the Faulkners’ livery stable to the third stop of The Flaming Lips world record success for most shows played during a 24-hour period. Yet, The Lyric Theatre holds that exact claim to fame, and as the largest music venue in Oxford, Mississippi, it is known for bringing several acclaimed national and international acts to the North Mississippi region.      

“The Flaming Lips travelled from Memphis to New Orleans playing eight shows,” says Lindsay Dillon-Maginnis, the venue’s general manager. “It was a lot of work. The venue was completely sold out and everyone was thrilled! It was broadcast live the entire time.”  Along with The Flaming Lips, music acts like Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, MGMT, and Modest Mouse have also performed at the venue, which is located near the courthouse square at 1006 Van Buren Avenue in Oxford. 

 

“The Lyric [has also] premiered a lot of Faulkner films,” says Dillon-Maginnis, who notes that the venue has underwent several major changes since it was first constructed. The original structure was built during the later part of the 19th century, and was first used as the livery stable for William Faulkner’s family. The 1920s saw the stable repurposed into the theatre that would be Oxford’s first movie house, and local tales have been told of how in 1949, William Faulkner saw the world premiere of MGM’s Intruder in the Dust in the same building that once housed his family’s horses. 

 

Falling into disrepair after its post-20s heyday, The Lyric was used for office space and a health center during the 1980s.  On July 3, 2008, The Lyric was reopened and quickly became one of the best-known music venues of the MidSouth.  With capacity for 500 people seated and over 1,000 for concerts, the theatre has been returned to its former glory with a multimillion-dollar renovation. Also available to rent for private events, the bi-level venue offers several bars, state-of-the-art sound and lighting equipment, multiple green rooms, and a beautiful lobby that combines Oxford’s past and present on unique display. 

 

 

 

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