High Tide Southern Music Showcase
March 9-10
Bayside Academy, 303 Dryer Ave. (Daphne), www.baysideacademy.org
Tickets: $15 ($10 for students and senior citizens), available at Bayside Academy and its website

Students at Bayside Academy on the Eastern Shore are required to take the usual history, language arts, science and arithmetic courses. This year, however, Bayside is shaking things up with the institution of its “Understanding the Southern Mystique” interdisciplinary class. This course requires students to explore Southern culture in an effort to provide a defining analysis of the region’s rich and diverse personality.

March 9-10, this unique course will delve into Alabama’s rich musical legacy from Mobile to Muscle Shoals, and the public is invited to tag along.

The High Tide Southern Music Showcase is a two-day exploration of Alabama music that begins with an exhibit featuring visions of the Muscle Shoals music scene as captured by photographer Dick Cooper. In addition, students enrolled in the “Southern Mystique” course will also be displaying their art.

The showcase will reach its climax March 10 with a performance by Jimmy Johnson, David Hood and Spooner Oldham, who are members of the legendary Muscle Shoals-based rhythm section, The Swampers. Mobile’s Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie) will also weave his soulful vocals throughout The Swampers’ jams. In a recent news release, “Southern Mystique” team member Josh Montgomery said this event will be equal parts instruction and entertainment.

“The opportunity to host this legendary group of musicians provides our students with a comprehensive learning experience that celebrates the heritage of Alabama,” Montgomery said. “The Swampers are music icons who have played a role in our communal culture. This event allows us to explore their contributions academically while enjoying their rich talent.”

As far as Hall’s involvement, the Azalea City music icon says working and performing with Muscle Shoals artists is nothing new. Fate first brought Hall to Muscle Shoals when his band Wet Willie got ready to lay down tracks for what would become “Wet Willie II.” Capricorn Records’ studio in Macon, Georgia, was undergoing major renovations, Hall said, and with the studio unavailable the band decided to enter Muscle Shoals Sound Studios instead. The band found its quiet, small-town environment was favorable to their creativity.

“We had a great time over there,” Hall said. “One thing that we realized was that you really couldn’t help but focus on your music over there, because there weren’t a lot of distractions. It was also a dry county when we got over there. Other players have talked about that too. You get inspired and put it all into the music. Then, you’d go find a honky-tonk or liquor store.”

Over the years, Hall has maintained his connection to Muscle Shoals. For his 1996 release “Rendezvous with the Blues,” he recruited a number of session artists from Muscle Shoals including Hood. Hall’s friendship with Hood and other Muscle Shoals artists has given him the opportunity to lend his vocals to events that feature “Muscle Shoals music.”

Hall says his trademark soul vocals are used to accentuate the passionate Southern sounds that have come from this Alabama studio hub. These events have allowed Hall to travel the world and perform with Muscle Shoals legends both new and old.

“I went to Italy a couple of years ago and played an R&B/soul festival over there,” Hall. “I went to Lincoln Theater and did a special show and had special guests, including Sam Moore from Sam & Dave and Patterson Hood and a bunch of cool people acting as special guests. I’ve had this relationship with these people, and certain people who put on events like to call me and put me on.”

Hall’s involvement in this program goes beyond just the performance. The vocalist and his sister Donna Hall, a Wet Willie bandmate, will also be working with the students. Together they will be involved with a panel that allows students to get a behind-the-scenes look at Alabama’s music scene in the early ‘70s.

Hall already has experience with similar educational events through his philanthropic work with Nashville’s Ensworth High School, which his son attended. When the school instituted a new music program, Hall joined several other notable parents for a benefit event.

“Some of the other parents like Vince Gill and Amy Grant and Tim McGraw and me pitched in to put on an event that’s a few years running,” Hall said. “We call it ‘Story & Song.’ It’s spoken word and literary works in dramatic segments mixed with music.”

Hall also cites his time in the Davidson High School marching and concert bands as a motivation to work at the high school level. He cites band director Orland Thomas as a “wonderful” inspiration. At that time marching competitions did not exist, Hall says, but adds that Thomas’ mix of hard work and positive motivation helped the band excel at concert competitions.

“I think everybody needs someone like that in their formative years and beyond,” Hall said. “He pushed me, and I learned a lot of music theory in his class.”

After the High Tide Southern Music Showcase is over, Hall says, he hopes the event will be both motivating and educational for all involved. This self-described “Caucasian guy that sings real soulful” wants Bayside students to understand that Wet Willie began as an unknown band from Mobile and went on to be inducted into not only the Alabama Music Hall of Fame but also the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. He also wants students to realize that it does not take a huge metropolis to produce a rich and productive music scene.

“I want them to think about and really take a look at this amazing pool of talent that’s centered around one area in Muscle Shoals,” Hall said. “They all participated in some of the biggest hits in the history of radio and music. To think that it happened in that area and that state. It could happen in another area. We want to inspire with our stories of how we got where we are.”