Documentary Project Captures Oxford Music
Jimbo Mathus performs at Music in the Hall, a new documentary series that Daniel Morrow is capturing of great musical performances. Photo by Kevin Felker.
Quietly approaching a year of great music captured on film, Daniel Morrow’s Music in the Hall has begun gaining international attention with DVD sales recently reaching New Zealand. But at the heart of the project is the intent of an ongoing documentary project that captures the live music that comes out of and comes through Oxford, MS. I recently sat down with Morrow to discuss the documentaries and of course, the music.
Q: What prompted you to begin Music in the Hall? What is it exactly and when did it begin?
A: A few factors led to it really. Soon after I started the Oxford Music Snob blog, I realized that no Oxford bands had decent online video content to promote their albums or their shows when they hit the road. Paste Magazine used to include these DVDs with each issue that I really loved, but they only did that for about six months or so. They did make me aware though that the bands I love were actually making videos, just not under the old model of “MTV or nothing” as the destination for those videos.
Steve McDavid, who I’ve worked with on other projects for the past few years, has always been in the spirit of advancing the talent that we have in this town. Having been exposed to things like Thacker Mountain Radio and some house concerts locally, it hit me one night exactly what we should do. I said to Steve, “Let’s clear the hall, put down some chairs, have Mayhem String Band play, and film it.” So that’s what we did about a month later on Nov. 6, 2008.
Q: So the intent from the beginning was to film. How did you prepare for this not knowing if it would be a one time show or not?
A: Yes, filming was the primary idea from the start. We paid the university for the use of a couple cameras and Joe York’s services behind the camera. That’s the other element that makes this project possible, the awesome talent and resources we have here in the filmmaking community. When Joe gave me the unedited DVD of his camera from that night, I knew we had something special. The lighting was off and the sound was not great for that first recording (we still haven’t released that one), but the potential was very evident.
For the second show (Jan. 29), we brought in Andrew Ratcliffe of Tweed Recording to record the audio, and we added professional lighting. Andrew put microphones up for recording but not for amplification. The difference in the audio recording from show one to two was like night and day. The quality of the video also improved drastically with the better lighting. Wayne Andrews from YAC started donating the use of their chairs for that show, so we no longer had to worry about that. It’s like the old football analogy that the most improvement you have all season is from week one to week two. We improved the most from show one to show two and haven’t tweaked it much since then. Six shows later, the only other real change we’ve had is that we started amplifying vocals just a bit so that people in the back can hear better. It’s minimal amplification though, and the focus is still very much the recording.
Q: What are some of the highlights from the past shows?
A: Each show has been a learning experience, but it’s been such a fun process. For the second show in January, Mister Baby came in from Charlottesville, VA, for the week. Megan Huddleston and Ferd Moyse just blew us away; I don’t think Ferd left the stage all night, playing fiddle with the first two bands and stand-up bass with Mister Baby to finish the show. He had recorded and toured with Mayhem String Band in the month leading up to it and will be touring with them again this fall. J.T. Lack of Mayhem debuted the MITH Theme Song that night, which he had written that morning. One of my favorite moments that night is between set 1 and 2 but is actually captured on the DVD, as Jamie Posey of Rocket 88 asks Ferd to stick around and play with them on the second set. Ferd had never played with them. He asked Jamie how many songs they were going to do. Jamie said, “four,” and Ferd replied, “I’d play four hundred.” That pretty much embodies the spirit of what Music in the Hall is all about.
There have been a lot of great moments and performances though. I was blown away by the response I got after I emailed Amy LaVere of Memphis who I have loved for a long time, a week after her performance on Conan O’Brian’s show, explaining to her what we were doing and that I didn’t know what or if I could pay her up front. She replied the next morning, “I would love to do the show!” and a month or so later, she came down and played Thacker Mountain Radio, our show, and Proud Larry’s all in a span of about four hours.
I could go on and on about the great shows from Sleeping Bulls, Shannon McNally, George McConnell, Blue Mountain, Tate Moore, Patrick McClary et al. I’m not afraid to tell you though that my favorite moment of all the shows was the last song of the Jimbo Mathus set at show #5 in June. The song was “Sop My Gravy” and he was joined on stage by Rosamond Posey (Rocket 88), GinGin Abraham, and JT Lack (banjo of Mayhem) who had all formed the house band earlier that night. It was funny watching Jimbo herd folks around stage until he got what he wanted, which was to tell everybody to shut up and “let the girls sing it one time,” so Rosamond and Gin Gin belted out the chorus while my jaw dropped to the floor. The first time I heard the audio recording the following week, I literally got goose bumps from head to toe.
Q: What to expect in the future?
A: Booking the shows is tricky, because I have to line up the schedules of Joe, Andrew, and the bands. There’s so much talent in this town that I’d love to just book everyone all at once, but of course that’s not possible. So, basically, I hope to slowly but surely create an archive of this area’s stunning talent, one month/show at a time. One thing I would love to change though is to actually generate some DVD sales. My friends who come and watch us film buy a DVD, and that almost pays for the production of it, but not quite. We split the revenue of DVD sales with the bands for the life of the thing, so I hope to be able to start sending them an occasional check soon for their amazing work.
Q: Tell us more about the DVDs you are producing – how can they be purchased?
A: I’m really proud of the quality of the DVDs. Joe and Andrew are really the other stars of the show. Their work, along with the bands, has been simply amazing. Each DVD is about an hour long and includes three bands. They can be purchased via our web site, www.musicinthehall.com, and locally at Holli’s Sweet Tooth, Austin’s Music, Rebel Music, and Off Square Books for $10 each. Anyone can actually send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org if they’d like to buy more than a couple DVDs, and I can give them a bulk price.
For a sneak peek, check out the video below of Rocket 88 performing at the Music in the Hall.