It’s been an interesting year for Mobile’s music scene. From venues to festivals, Azalea City music fans witnessed an usual number of landmark musical events in 2015. Some were tragic, and some were glorious. No matter the emotional connotations many may associate with these musical happenings, locals should rejoice.
Many would agree Mobile’s music scene has gone through long stagnant periods in the past, but 2015 could possibly be remembered as the year the music scene began to shift. The past year proved the scene is changing in both prolific and subtle ways. When locals review some of the major music stories from 2015, they might observe a variety of sonic foundations being laid for the future. Some might think our music scene has seen such a vital infusion of activity in the past 12 months that Mobile may be on its way to becoming a Gulf Coast musical institution.
The demise of BayFest could be considered one of the biggest music stories of 2015. For two decades, BayFest filled the streets of downtown Mobile with notable bands and their adoring fans. Eventually this local music fest earned the name “Alabama’s Largest Music Festival.” In its 20-year history, BayFest brought such musical acts as Kid Rock, Motley Crüe, R. Kelly, Al Green and Godsmack. The festival also gave local musicians a chance to perform in front of large crowds. With performers ranging from Randy Houser to George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, BayFest 2015 promised to be just as grand as ever.
Two weeks before BayFest’s scheduled start, however, festival President/CEO Bobby Bostwick announced the festival would cease operations immediately. Bostwick cited “a decline in support and interest” as a major factor leading to the decision. Of course, a wave of shock and outcry swept over the city. The largest cries came from downtown business owners who thrived on the influx of cash BayFest brought to their doors. In the midst of this chaos, the city of Mobile collaborated with a team of local business owners in an effort to resolve this tragedy, and what a resolution it was.
2015 saw the birth of Ten Sixty Five. This mix of a street party and music festival served as the retort to the death of BayFest. In a matter of days, production companies erected impressive stages in the streets of downtown Mobile. Ten Sixty Five organizers worked tirelessly with music industry figures to gather bands looking to fill last-minute dates. Ten Sixty Five sought to provide Mobile with a free BayFest replacement that would bring out the crowds.
Miraculously, Ten Sixty Five organizers succeeded in their goal. In addition to local favorites such as Ryan Balthrop and Peek, Ten Sixty Five featured epic performances from George Clinton & P-Funk, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Sublime with Rome. This free event won the praises of both the crowds and businesses in LoDa.
After the last band had played, the crowd was left wondering as to the future of Ten Sixty Five. The coming year should answer any questions associated with this festival. With its hip vibe, impressive lay-out and quality entertainment, Ten Sixty Five was a hit with its audience. In the coming year, Mobilians will learn if and/or when this musical event will return, and organizers will learn what price (if any) the public is willing to pay to attend this festival. Could Ten Sixty Five steal BayFest’s reputation as “Alabama’s Largest Music Festival”?
Major League Baseball pitcher and native Mobilian Jake Peavy was one of Ten Sixty Five’s major supporters. His participation in the creation of Ten Sixty Five showed his love for Mobile’s reputation as a music city. Peavy and his brother, Luke, made another move to amplify Mobile’s reputation as a city that embraces music with the opening of their Dauphin Street Sound Studio.
Located in the facilities that formerly housed Jada Recording Studio, this studio boasts “a full-service music production facility with emphasis on the creative experience and home to the coolest vintage instruments in Alabama.” Jake Peavy has also recruited local guitarist Ben Jernigan as both his A&R representative/producer and ambassador to the local music scene. This group hopes the studio will infuse not only the city but also the Gulf Coast with a “musical vitality.” 2016 could see this dream grow to fruition.
The Mobile Civic Center was hot news in 2015. With the exception of the annual cavalcade of Mardi Gras balls, the Civic Center featured the occasional concert or dance recital. Mayor Sandy Stimpson initially announced the venue would close in April 2016, but as Mardi Gras associations began speaking out against the venue’s closure, something strange happened. The Mobile Civic Center made two major concert announcements. The first was that on Wednesday, Feb. 17, Widespread Panic will perform a relatively intimate concert in the Civic Center Theater. Not long after, the Civic Center announced music legend Elton John will be performing on Tuesday, March 15. Will these two great concerts prevent the future demise of the Mobile Civic Center? Time will tell.
After its fair share of legal obstacles, The Merry Widow opened its doors. With its excellent sound system and beautiful interior, this new venue quickly began featuring national acts such as James McMurtry and Pokey LaFarge as well as local favorites. While one may not see this venue’s opening as that important, locals should consider the big picture. 2015 marked the first time in a very long time that three stable venues featuring original local music have existed. Local bands now have a much-needed tiered system of venues. Bands can earn their street credibility in the intimate confines of The Blind Mule. If their following grows beyond The Blind Mule, they can move to the next tier, Alchemy Tavern. If a band flourishes at Alchemy, then The Merry Widow is their next stop. Mobile could serve as a litmus test for bands to see if they have what it takes to not only move beyond the city limits but also maintain a local following large enough to justify playing hometown shows.
In the future, Azalea City denizens might consider 2015 a year that laid musical foundations. As always, various members of the local music scene hold its success or failure in their hands. Local bands should continue to be vigilant in spreading the sounds throughout their hometown and beyond. Our music enthusiasts should continue to support performances that feature local or national musical acts, which means purchasing music and merchandise. And venues should continue to not only bring the biggest names in the music business but also the promising local talent that has what it takes.
With everyone working together, 2016 could be a great year for music in Mobile.