Tupelo and music are synonymous. They forever will be.
And, let’s be real, Elvis’ shadow is arguably the largest musical shadow in the entire world. While he’s literally put us on the map and made Tupelo a fairly household name around the country, he’s not the only musician from here to end up with their name in the lights. Modern day acts such as Diplo, Mikky Ekko, and Rae Sremmurd all have heavy Tupelo connections. For a town of Tupelo’s size, it’s produced more than its fair share of globally known acts. Maybe it’s something in the soil. Maybe it’s just Mississippi. Whatever it is, it’s pretty dang cool, and myself and others tell these tales with pride.
With success stories such as those, Tupelo deserves a thriving music scene.
Tupelo’s music scene might not yet rival those of Memphis or Nashville, but we’re getting there and pound for pound, we hold our own. These days, there’s usually plenty of live music bubbling around the town with places like Downunder, Steele’s Dive, and Amsterdam Deli. The days of The Zoo, Fugley’s, The Western Connection, and The Back Porch are long gone-- those were the music joints I remember most from my high school years. Speaking of former iconic Tupelo venues, I also recall catching an epic performance from Victor Wooten at S.O.B. in the late 90’s and many acts on the back patio stage at Jefferson Place. By 2010, the majority of the acts playing around town were largely local ones, and talented ones for sure, but nobody seemed to be pursuing any regional and national acts or focusing on bands performing their original music. I guess that’s about the time when the little light in my head began to burn. There was definitely a niche that needed to be filled. There are aren’t a lot of towns viewed as successful that don’t also have a live music scene in the mix, and I felt Tupelo wanted and was ready for a bit broader musical experience as well as a chill, laid back joint to grab a beer and a meal. That’s when the idea of Blue Canoe was born.
I had zero front of the house experience, and I had never booked a band either.
I had run several kitchens 10 years prior and thought that it surely was enough experience to venture into owning a business, right? Well, I’m not going to lie, the learning curve was steep and I spent half of those early nights sleeping on the couch by the bar, but it was well worth it to see the pleasure and enjoyment the food and music was bringing to Tupelo. I think the second weekend we were open, we hosted Blue Mountain on back-to-back nights and that sort of set the stage for the next 11 years. I’m not sure if everyone knows, but Blue Mountain once penned a song called Blue Canoe, which is where the name for the bar originated. Meredith Martin was a huge help in booking a lot of the acts in the early years and that helped take some of the load off of me. She helped bring in acts like Alabama Shakes, Lukas Nelson, Mandolin Orange, and American Aquarium. As the years have rolled by, we’ve been fortunate to host a ton of acts that have gone on to become rather large stars in the musical world. Acts such as Gary Clark Jr., Sturgill Simpson, Leon Bridges (thanks, Michael Addison!), Ryan Bingham, Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, and Marcus King—all of whom are currently selling out huge venues around the country. Some of these acts were mildly known when they passed through and we sold those shows out. Others, like Tyler Childers, for example, were completely unknown. I paid Tyler $100 and a small bar tab to play back in 2016 and there were maybe 20 folks present. The following year, he was a household name with anyone that kept up with music. Sturgill Simpson played Blue Canoe twice, but the first time they rolled through, there were maybe 35 folks there. I make mention of those stories to say that you just never know who you might catch on a random night, but you do have to get out and take the chance to stumble into a story such as these. Around the time Blue Canoe opened, Chris Root and Michael Addison were spearheading Downtown Tupelo’s summer concert series, Down on Main. They had a plethora of big bands roll through town, too-- bands like Galactic, Bobby Rush, Paul Thorn, Charlie Mars, Moon Taxi, Del McCoury, and North MS Allstars, just to mention a few. Those were some prime musical days for Tupelo and all of this is basically skipping right past the oodles of gigantic acts that have continued to roll through the BancorpSouth Arena. You may not be familiar with all of these acts or the acts we hosted each week, but these days, it’s so easy to do some quick musical research using Spotify or YouTube that you’re not going into it blindly. It’s not even a gamble.
I believe the power of music will lead us to good people and good times.
Music has its way of moving things inside of you that you would never expect to move, even more so when it’s performed live. It really does stir the soul, and looking back, the majority of my best friends to this day came via some musical connection. It’s powerful stuff and it’s there for the taking, but you have to put yourself in front of it. So, do your homework and get your ears in the audience for the acts that seem to be speaking your language. You just never know who you might see, who you might meet, or what stories will someday come out of your effort. Like one of our Blue Canoe shirts says, “you’re not strangers if you love the same bands.”