Pelicans’ Mirotic gives back to local charity

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WINNING LOOK- New Orleans Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotic hosts free shave and haircut event at the New Orleans Mission. Photo submitted.

By Jesse Brooks

NEW ORLEANS- Nikola Mirotic, a forward for the New Orleans Pelicans, has already kicked off a busy offseason in the Crescent City by giving back to local charities.

On Wednesday, May 23, Mirotic teamed up with The New Orleans Mission and Gillette to host a free beard shaving and haircut event for those in need. The event also provided food and clothes for homeless individuals.
The New Orleans Mission is a charity organization that was founded in 1989 and they provide food, shelter, clothing and spiritual guidance to the city’s homeless population.

Mirotic made headlines this season after shaving off his instantly recognizable beard moments before an April 4 matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies to breakout of a scoring slump. Magically enough, the turnaround was instant as he went on to average 25.8 points and 12 rebounds in the five games that followed while shooting 56.3 percent from the field.

Mirotic’s improved beardless play continued on throughout the Pelicans’ first round sweep of the Portland Trailblazers in the opening round of the Western Conference Playoffs, and it landed him an endorsement deal with the Gillette shaving company.

Now thanks to the recent charitable event, the guests of the New Orleans Mission also get to enjoy the feeling of Mirotic’s winning shave as they spent a morning with the Pelicans’ hot shooting big man.

Mirotic, a native on Montenegro, was traded to the Pelicans on February 1 in exchange of Omer Asik, Jameer Nelson, Tony Allen and a 2018 first round pick and is largely credited for help saving his new team’s season after All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins went down with an achilles injury. Since arriving in the Big Easy, Mirotic has enthusiastically participated in the New Orleans community.

“This has been an incredible year. I want to take a moment to thank everyone. Mrs. Benson, the front office, my coaches, teammates, staff, and especially the fans for welcoming me and my family to New Orleans with open arms!” Mirotic Tweeted earlier this month. “I’m very proud to be a part of the New Orleans Pelicans organization and look forward to building on what we accomplished this season!”

Additionally, Mirotic also took time to visit patients at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans on Thursday, May 24 as part of an unannounced appearance.

Though Mirotic has only been with the Pelicans for a short time so far, his impact on and off the court has been positive. His contributions helped elevate a team from falling out of the Western Conference race to becoming one of the most talented. As of now, signs point to Mirotic being a great fit in New Orleans.

“I love the city, the community is great,” Mirotic said in statement to Will Gillory of NOLA.com on May 14. “I want to be a part of a playoff team, and I want to be part of a team that really has fun. This has been like a family for me, and I’m looking forward. This is the place I want to be.”

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Jay Artigues Sportsplex adds new services just in time for summer

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GROWING- The Jay Artigues Sportsplex has announced new training services and a full summer program that includes camps for kids. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

HAMMOND- The Jay Artigues Sportsplex, a multi-sport training facility located on Highway 51 northbound, has announced the availability of new services and full program of summer activities.

The Sportsplex, founded by current Southeastern athletic director Jay Artigues and former Oak Forest Academy baseball coach Tony Salim, was opened three years ago and started mostly as an indoor training facility for baseball, the only one of its kind in Tangipahoa Parish. Since Sportsplex’s opening year, the facility now offers training services for softball, cheerleading, tumbling and football in addition to baseball. Starting on June 4, they will offer strength and speed training as well.

“We have camps going on for everything from baseball to soccer to cheerleading, we just had a football camp so we really have it open to all sports,” said Salim, who now serves as manager and oversees the daily operations fulltime. “When we opened this place, Jay Artigues and I talked about this being one of our dreams for the area for several years, and at one point we finally said let’s go for it. We’ve grown a little bit every year. A lot of people think that it’s a baseball facility, which it is, but it offers much more than just baseball. We offer a lot of things for your kids to do.”

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BEAT THE HEAT- Now open at the Sportsplex, King Cone Ice Cream and Snowballs is serving up refreshments. Photo by Jesse Brooks

Salim also said that the stakes of high school sports have become a lot more competitive in recent years, and facilities like the Sportsplex that offer the latest equipment and services from trained professionals helps young athletes in the area gain an edge. By offering a competitive arena, the Sportsplex, which offers 10,000 square feet of indoor turf, promotes healthy lifestyles through competition for local area youth. As the facility grows and continues to include more sports, it gives opportunities to more kids to be occupied in athletic training.

The Sportsplex truly is the only facility in the area where youth and high school athletes have access to resources are of college and professional level quality. Currently, the facility has hosted several local high school cheer squads that have rented the indoor turf for practices.

“I think it makes the local youth better,” Salim said. “Not only is it a pure training facility as far as whenever you need one-on-one instruction when you’re trying to get better, but we’re also available for local area teams when it rains, which prevents them from missing a practice. Several years back, many of us never had access to something like that.”

One of the newest additions of equipment is the hit track system. Salim says this technology is used by Division I programs, and it tracks how far a batter’s swings go and it measures the exit velocity of each hit. The system also records the batter’s swings on video to watch and critique later.

Salim feels that the more competitive high school sports become, the more important it is for athletes to participate in travel ball. The Hammond Yankees are a youth travel team that was established by Artigues and Salim in 2011 and their home is the Sportsplex.

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BEGINNINGS- The Hammond Yankee youth travel ball teams were founded by Jay Artigues and Tony Salim in 2011. Their home is the Sportsplex. 

“Anywhere from 10 to 20 kids have moved on to the college and professional ranks after playing Yankee ball,” Salim said. “Anyone can try out and we just try to get the best players possible. We’ve taken both experienced and raw kids. It just depends on what we think their potential can be.”

Wade Miley, who is a pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers, has trained at the facility and has hosted camps there in the offseason. Kolton Kendrick, who plays within the Minnesota Twins organization, and Zach Clark, a player in the Brewers organization, also train at the Sportsplex in the offseason.

Beyond this summer, the growing continues for the Sportsplex. Salim confirmed that the facility has purchased additional land to expand the property to include turf fields with hopes of being able to host their own tournaments. The move should make Hammond a major hub for youth baseball within South Louisiana.

In addition to the sports services, the Sportplex also offers their space for birthday parties for kids.

“Obviously, there was a big need for birthday parties in the area,” Salim said. “Guests can come in and they have the entire turf area. There’s a variety of games kids can pick from that include kickball, dodgeball, wuffleball, and flag football that is organized and run by trained staff.”

Birthday packages include a field facilitator, a hostess, soft drinks and bounce houses by request.

This summer the Sportsplex will also host a regularly scheduled Parents’ Night Out that will last from 6-10 p.m. For $25 a guest, parents will be able to drop their children off for an event that includes activities, bounce houses and food in a package.

Next month the summer camp schedule will begin at the Sportsplex:
June 4- Barrett Morgan Baseball Camp from 5 to 7 p.m.
June 4-7- All Day Sports Camp from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
June 11- Chris McBride Soccer Camp from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Ages 5-13)
June 12-13- Kids’ Cheer Camp time TBA. (Ages 5-12)
June 18-21- Jay Artigues Baseball Camp from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Ages 9-13)
June 25-23- All Day Sports Camp from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
July 16-19- Jay Artigues Baseball Camp from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Ages 9-12)

For more information, please call (985) 956-7770 or visit jasportsplex.com.

FULL STORY: Tigers’ Melvin Baker officially signs with Coastal Alabama CC

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NEW ERA- Independence High Magnet School graduating senior Melvin Baker has signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Coastal Alabama Community College. He is seen here seated next to Tigers coach Ace Misita and his mother Jennifer Cook. Behind him are Principal Chasity Collier and Sun Chiefs coach Robby Robertson. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

On Tuesday, May 22, Independence High Magnet School graduating senior Melvin Baker signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Coastal Alabama Community College, fulfilling a personal goal to reach the next level. Baker, a three-year starter, was exceptional during his time with the Tigers, and displayed measurable improvement each season.

“I don’t think you can truly put into words what Melvin has done for our program,” said Tigers coach Ace Misita. “Before I got here, when he was a freshman, he was hurt and couldn’t play and they went 0-20. Then three years later and he’s a senior, we’re 19-5 and on the cusp of making a deep playoff run.”

At the conclusion of this season, the Tigers advanced to the second round of the LHSAA 2A postseason where they fell to Many 52-46, the third seed.

As humble as Baker comes across, his impact as a leader was significant as he contributed through every position on the floor. Now he has a chance to play the role of a contributor for the Sun Chiefs, a program that seems to be a natural fit for the 6’6 swingman forward.

“We play position-less basketball, following a trend started by the Golden State Warriors, so we don’t really have any expectations around what kind of position he’ll play,” Sun Chiefs Head Coach Robby Robertson said. “We need some help around and above the rim, and I think he can help us there. But we aren’t going to post him up and back him down every time. He’s going to have some freedom and we will put him in the best possible position to be successful.”

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Sun Chiefs Assistant Coach Len Lanier discovered Baker through a mutual connection on his AAU team, Northshore Elite out of Slidell. Now that he has the opportunity, Baker is ready to make the most out of it.

“They told me to expect more of a work out plan and to work my way up to get into spots I want to be in,” Baker said. “I just expect to go to school, be in class, eat right, wake up at certain times and stuff like that.”

The quiet natured Baker says going to a school not far from home, 36 minutes northeast of Mobile, will make the transition a bit easier. However, he admits with a smile, that getting used to a new environment for the first time will still be a challenge.

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Photo by Matthew Roy.

What Baker leaves behind in Independence is a legacy unique to Tangipahoa Parish. When the best athletes move on to the college ranks, it is practically tradition that it will be accomplished in football. In Baker’s case, he always dominated on the hardwood, scoring over 1,500 points in his high school career and being named District 9-2A MVP this season.

“He’s an excellent young man and his mother did a wonderful job raising him,” Misita said. “He’s never been tardy or in trouble during his four years at Independence. Coastal Alabama got themselves a good one.”

Hwy. 51 Revisited: Jackson, Mississippi (pt. 2)

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Pig & Pint, a bbq resturant in Jackson’s Fondren district. Photo By Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

To experience the full range of Jackson, Mississippi’s food & drink culture, the best plan of action is to stay overnight so there’s amble time for the full experience. The Old Capitol Inn is a full service boutique hotel in the heart of downtown. The rooms are especially elegant and come at pretty affordable rates. Standard accommodation rooms cost about $99 per night, where suites and jacuzzi suites fall in the range of $145-175. The hotel also offers specials that include discounts for multiple nights or gift certificates for local restaurants. Wednesday through Saturday, the Rooftop Bar features local music and drinks. The restaurant also features a diverse menu for daily lunches.

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THEY’RE RED HOT- Hot tamales from Big Apple Inn on Farish Street. Photo by Jesse Brooks

For something authentically Jackson, there’s Big Apple Inn on Farish Street, owned and operated by Geno Lee, the great-grandson of a Mexican immigrant and son of an African-American freedom rider. The exchange of Mexican and African-American cultures around the Depression-era has resulted in tamales being as Mississippi as they are Mexican today. Since 1939, the restaurant has served tamales and the unique pig-ear sandwich. Pig-ear sandwiches are pig-ears boiled for hours dressed in slaw, spicy mustard, and served mini-burger style.

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IRISH PUB- Bangers and mash from Fenian’s Pub. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

With more than three major sites for higher education, Jackson is a college town. For some reason, Irish pubs spring out of college towns. In Jackson, one particular establishment, Fenian’s Pub, stands out. Yes, there are burgers and fries here, but also delicious, traditional pub fare such as fish-and-chips and bangers-and-mash are found here. Pub fare must be paired with good beer and Fenian’s serves the local stuff like Lazy Magnolia and Yalobusha Brewing Company’s Larry Brown Ale.

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PASSWORD- A rum old fashioned from The Apothecary at Brent’s Drugs, a speakeasy. Photo by Jesse Brooks.  

For breakfast, there’s Brent’s Drugs in the hip Fondren District. The restaurant is a renovated 1950s drug store that features traditional diner breakfast with a new twist. The old milkshake bar is fully functional. At night, a secret speakeasy bar called The Apothecary operates in the back behind a curtain where the evening’s bartenders serve up original craft cocktails.
Also found in Fondren is the Pig & Pint, a barbecue restaurant featuring all of the great tastes in pork and the best craft beers from Mississippi to Memphis. The BBQ here is smoked and slow cooked to perfection and their award-winning Pepsi-cola glazed ribs are the centerpiece of their menu. The restaurant even flashes a little of a Southwest flare with their assortment of BBQ nachos and tacos. You can dine in or dine outside on the patio with a scenic view of the Fondren district.

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GLAZED PERFECTION- You don’t want to miss the best in Jackson BBQ from Pig & Pint. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

 

Most of Jackson’s food taverns double over as fantastic bars with excellent live music that is mostly based in blues or rock-&-roll. When hopping from one place to the next, it’s best to make sure that Martin’s Restaurant & Bar, Hal & Mal’s, and the Ole Tavern on George Street are on your list. These places serve as great burger-and-beer type restaurants in the earlier hours before they prepare for late night entertainment. Most nightly shows are rarely over $5 on average.

For late night blues, visit Frank Jones’ Corner, the last club of Farish Street. Shows have been known to last until 4 a.m.!

The best that Jackson has to offer can never be accomplished in a day. Highly underrated, the city is on its way to being a culinary and nightlife destination.

Independence hoops star Melvin Baker receives first offer

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GETTING LOOKS- Melvin Baker, who recently graduated from Independence High Magnet School, has received his first offer from Coastal Alabama Community College. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

Recent graduate of Independence High Magnet School Melvin Baker is looking to further his career in basketball, and has announced that his first is offer from Coastal Alabama Community College in Bay Minnette, just northeast of Mobile.

Last season, Coastal Alabama CC turned in a 20-9 overall record while competing in the Alabama Community College Conference. The were eliminated in the first round of the postseason by Marion Military Institute.

Baker was a standout for the Tigers at forward. He scored over 1,200 points in his varsity career and was awarded District 9-2A MVP after the season ended.

Last season, the Tigers, under Coach Ace Misita, compiled a total record of 19-6 and the squad finished as District 9-2A Runner Up. Their regular season finish qualified them for a selection in the LHSAA 2A playoffs where they were defeated in the second round by No. 3 Many 52-46.

Standing at 6-foot-6, Baker mostly saw time in the front court for Independence as he was the Tigers’ most physical player. Now that he’s eying moving on to the college level, he wants to transition into becoming a guard for more favorable size matchups. While he may be raw in some areas, what Baker can bring to the guard position is someone that can run the floor, play physical defense and shoot the three. As the Tigers’ big man, Baker often started one-man fast breaks that were initiated by a defensive rebound followed by him handling the ball up the floor for the score.

For the summer, Baker will join the roster of the Northshore Elite AAU team to sharpen his skills as he possibly waits to see if he can pick up more offers. The deadline for prospective basketball players to sign with a Division I program in the NCAA is on May 16 and the deadline for Division II is on August 1.

Players that receive an offer from a school in the National Junior College Athletic Association have 14 days to respond. The final day to sign with a NJCAA program is on August 1.

 

The best steak you’ve never had is in Pine, Louisiana

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By Jesse Brooks

If you have ever been to Pine, Louisiana you would know how the area came up with its name. It’s 10 miles out from Franklinton if you’re traveling East either way on Hwy. 10 or Hwy. 436, and the journey feels like getting lost in a deep forest, aside from the occasional farm fields that pop up seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

If you aren’t a native of Washington Parish, you may not have much reason to travel to Pine, a mostly residential community that remains unincorporated. There’s a public junior/senior high school in the area and just a few general stores beyond that. However, in the thick of the forestry lies Bourne’s Restaurant, one of Louisiana’s best kept secrets in the way of food.

Bourne’s has a traditional playbook. As far as the structure of a Louisiana restaurant goes, it checks a lot of boxes: seafood, burgers, sandwiches, chicken and Southern style desserts. In true country style, Bourne’s features a massive buffet that always features crabs, crawfish and shrimp as long as it’s in season. It also features assortments fried and baked chicken, bbq ribs, pot roast, country vegetables with dessert included. The dinner buffet runs around $17.95 per person, and is reduced to $13.95 for lunch.

As great a deal as the buffet is, many see the ribeye steak as the restaurant’s centerpiece. When you find the item on the menu, the ribeye is the only steak listed with no ounce measurement. No weight measurement is needed. All anyone needs to understand about the ribeye is that it is huge and it is not to be underestimated.

In a world that seems to be increasingly terrified to undercook food due to the bland tasting consumer that my lodge their whiny complains on Yelp later, Bourne’s is not afraid to correctly cook your beef at the temperature that is ordered. Their steaks must be marginated for a significant period of time because they are always as tender as cutting into butter.

The way they prepare the ribeye also creats a natural au jus, and every dish is served with a cup of the light gravy on the side. As far as seasoning goes, Bourne’s method doesn’t seem complicated at all. There seems to salt, pepper and maybe some garlic and onion powder in the rub. Beyond that, the approach mostly depends on a good quality cut slow-cooked in its own juice.

Mass production in the modern restaurant has resulted in a lower quality product, but the ribeye at Bourne’s conjures up memories of the great small town Louisiana steakhouses of the past. A quality piece of meat such as this one seems to be worthy of a Florida Parishes replacement of the great Bear Creek Steakhouse in Montpelier that was a powerhouse through the 1970s-90s. The preparation they use is similar to that of Doe’s Eat Place of Mississippi Delta fame.

The ribeye comes with an additional baked potato accompanied with all the fixings, including a side cup of melted butter. Dessert is also included with the purchase of the meal. The best part of it all is that the total cost of the ribeye dinner runs around $24.95, which is about $3 less than the national average, and Bourne’s is simply better than most places North of Lake Pontchartrain.

The next time you feel like taking a drive “through the woods” make a stop at Bourne’s, just East of Franklinton.

Connect with Bourne’s here on Facebook. 

Oak Forest Academy boys hoops senior Chris Backa signs with LSU-Alexandria

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CHASING DREAMS- Oak Forest Academy senior forward Chris Backa, a native of Finland, has signed with LSU-Alexandria. He is pictured next to his host family Tanya and Kyle Warren. Back row (from left) Jacket assistant coach Joe Fekete and head coach Curtis Matherne. Photo By Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

On Thursday, May 10, Oak Forest Academy (Amite, LA) boys basketball senior forward Chris Backa officially signed a letter of intent to play for LSU-Alexandria. Backa, who is a native of Finland, averaged 14.5 ppg. and 6.5 rpg in the 2017-18 season, and shot 44 percent from 3-pt. range for the Yellow Jackets.

“This season, I saw a kid who is determined to get better,” OFA head coach Curtis Matherne said of the 6-foot-9 wing. “Until Christmas, we tried to make him play with his back to the basket, which was a little out of character for him. I met with my assistant, Coach Joe Fekete, and we figured out that we needed him on the perimeter to make plays, and from that point on he improved dramatically.”

Backa was featured on an OFA team that made it to the semifinal round of the MAIS AAAA Div. 2 State Championship Tournament were they fell short to Madison-Ridgeland Academy 65-63. The Jackets finished their season with a 20-10 overall record.

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“First of all, I have to say that I loved playing here,” Backa said of Oak Forest Academy. “We had a wonderful start to the season, then things got a little bit rough, but we didn’t give up. To only lose by two to MRA in the overtime of the semifinals I’d say we had a really good season.”

 

Backa says he is aware of the national attention brought to the LSU-A program, under head coach Larry Cordaro, since their run to make it to the NAIA Finals. The opportunity to play for a high caliber program, he says, was a major factor in his decision to sign with the Generals.

Backa also said he had special insight into Generals’ program thanks to his coach’s relationship with Cordaro.

“Corardo and I worked at Southeastern Louisiana University as grad assistants,” Matherne said. “He’s an awesome guy who’s built a national powerhouse in Alexandria. What I was stressing to Chris is that LSU-A is a family type program similar to what we have here. I know that was an important factor to Chris.”

Matherne went on to call Backa a “perfect fit” for LSU-A, noting that they were looking for a bigger player that could hit 3-pointers and make plays off the bounce. Backa said he sees himself primarily as a shooting wing, but he feels he can also be a player that does multiple things with the ball in his hands.

“Playing in America has been an eye opener for me,” Backa said. “I’ve gotten to experience many different cultures and see how different people live. I’ve also met many people who are now like family to me.”

With Backa signing at LSU-A, he makes the fourth OFA prospect to sign on a college level under Matherne in the last three years. Currently, the Jackets have two former players in NCAA Div. I (Mushabar Ali at Southern and Ashton Spears at Jacksonville State), and one former player (Reggie Johnson at Lamar CC) in JUCO.

St. Helena HC Brandon Brown accepts job at East St. John; Northeast DC Johnny Felder rumored to replace Brown

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MOVING ON- After leading the St. Helena Hawks to a LHSAA 2A State Championship appearance in 2017, Brandon Brown will move on to become the head coach and athletic director of East St. John.

By Jesse Brooks

On April 20, St. Helena College and Career Academy Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Brandon Brown gave a farewell address to faculty, staff and students in which he announced that he has accepted the same positions at East St. John High School in LaPlace.

“The goal is for him to bring greatness back to East St. John,” St. John the Baptist Parish Schools Superintendent Kevin George said to The Advocate on April 18. “East St. John has one state championship (in 1980), but we are so accustomed to winning and going to the playoffs. We want to get back to the winning tradition.”

Brown’s Hawks showed clear benchmarks of improvement in each of his five years at St. Helena. In compiling a 36-25 record during his tenure, Brown provided structure and stability to a program in need.

Brown’s first year on the job resulted in a 2-9 season. Their dramatic improvement immediately after led to a championship appearance last season, eventually falling to Welsh 38-26, was the program’s first appearance in a title game since 2004.

The hire is a homecoming for Brown who was a standout player for East St. John. His performance on the field earned him a scholarship to Alcorn State.

Brown replaces Aldon Foster after three seasons. Before arriving to East St. John, Foster was head coach at Amite High.

During the development of this story, an unnamed source indicated that Northeast High Defensive Coordinator Johnny Felder has emerged as the likely candidate to replace Brown as the new head coach and athletic director of St. Helena.

 

 

Hwy. 51 Revisited: Jackson, Mississippi (pt. 1)

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Home of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Photo By Jesse Brooks.

By Jesse Brooks

There seems to be a reoccurring theme of crossroads on this journey. The crossroads are a change in direction, a change of scenery, or a complete change of philosophy. Not many cities in America understand that, or embody that, as well as Jackson, Mississippi.

Jackson’s roots can be traced to a French-Canadian trader named Louis LeFleur that set up shop in a village along the banks of the Pearl River in an area known as LeFleur’s Bluff. Years later, as the Mississippi territory was being prepared for statehood leaders suggested a somewhat central location for the capitol. The location we know today was chosen in 1821 and named for General Andrew Jackson for his impressive victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. The new capitol was open for easy trade routes, and the new hub city would offer road that could lead in directions to other major cities.

After the Confederacy lost the Civil War in the 1860s, Jackson faced many challenges during the reconstruction period. Ultimately the expansion of the railroad was good for business, as interstate trade and commerce took hold.

Much of this type of transition into the modern era is documented at Mississippi’s Old State Capitol, which now serves as an official state museum. Built in 1839, the building wasn’t used for the state legislature for most of the state’s history as it was abandoned in years following the Civil War, but today the state’s earliest history is preserved for visitors through multi-media exhibits on self-guided tours. The museum is open daily, and admission is free.

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The old Standard Life building in Downtown Jackson. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

Mississippi has been based on agriculture for all of its existence so naturally the Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Museum in Jackson is dedicated to that early history. In an interactive visit, tourists can come face-to-face with some of the earliest farm equipment in American history. There are exhibits devoted to trains, livestock farming, and the history of the logging industry. For anyone interested in getting a view of life from a previous century, this museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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The Hotel King Edward is a throwback to Old Jackson. Photo by Jesse Brooks

Jackson is a blues city, historically and presently. The capitol city became a facilitator for the music, as the country shifted into the 1920s. The city had several labels at the time, and most of them could be found on Farish Street, an area of town for African-American commerce. Hosting everyone from Robert Johnson to Cab Calloway got their first mass audiences on Farish Street, and the area was important for businessmen and artists alike. Today, most of Farish is abandoned, and the public efforts to revitalize the section have not worked out. However, a few business owners still hang on out of pride because of the import role the street has played in history. A blues club, F. Jones Corner, on Farish aims to keep the music of Jackson blues alive. On any given night at the club locals like Jesse Robinson and Vasti Jackson can be heard.

The Civil Rights era of the 1960s brought a lot of unrest to the city of Jackson, and the city has a unique place in the fight for equality. Many of the organized efforts to defeat segregation took place in the sit-ins of the city. One of the darkest days of the struggle occurred in Jackson on June 12, 1963, with NAACP state field director was assassinated outside of his family home by KKK member Byron De La Beckwith. Evers was a WWII veteran that had played an essential role in the desegregation of the University of Mississippi and schools in Jackson. His home is open as a public historical site today at the address of 2332 Margaret Walker Alexander Drive. Inside the home there is a clear image of the kind of life the Evers family lived and everything they had gone through. The most haunting sight of the visit is that Evers’ blood still stains the carport to this day. Tours are free to the public daily though times may vary.

Jackson is a city soaked in the heavyweight of the past, but it must make a choice on what direction it wants to take for the future. Fondren, Jackson’s newly self-declared “hip” neighborhood has some suggestions. The area is revitalized with a new, yet vintage, charm. It’s where Jackson’s art and music elite of a new generation met to keep the city fresh. At any of its local businesses, you can find pop-up restaurants, local beer, and indie rockers like the Stonewalls doing their take on Jackson music.

Jackson has faced some economically challenging times in recent years just as any other American city, but right now is no different than other times Jackson has faced as a crossroad. One can only hope that a city chooses a path that honors its tradition, while still being inviting enough to grow a new generation. That may be what is happening in Jackson, and it seems that we are seeing the very beginning of that growth. With a culture that blends the old with the new, great food, be it hometown favorites or new ideas, is being mixed into that blend.

Hammond Regional Arts Center launches “Playing the Staircase” listening series

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Baton Rouge musicians Clay Parker and Jodi James will perform at the Hammond Regional Arts Center on July 27.

Hammond, LA, April 20, 2018 – The Hammond Regional Arts Center is pleased to announce the launch of its original listening room series, “Playing the Staircase.” This exciting new concept to Hammond, Louisiana will see the Hammond Regional Arts Center transform into an intimate listening room for original, acoustic music designed to expand the Arts Center’s mission into the audio arts.
“Playing the Staircase” will feature local and regional musicians playing on the landing of the HRAC staircase and give audiences an intimate listening room to enjoy original lyrics and music. Each session of “Playing the Staircase” will occur the last Friday of the month with musicians performing from 6-8 p.m. These events are B.Y.O.B.

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Hammond songwriter and musician Jess Kerber will open the “Playing the Staircase” Series on June 29. 

The HRAC is pleased to announce the first round of dates for “Playing the Staircase” shows: Jess Kerber (June 29), Clay Parker and Jodi James (July 27), Ameal Cameron (August 31), Denton Hatcher and Kristen Foster (September 28), Peter Simon (October 26), and Bill Robinson (November 30). Admission to each listening room is $5, and the entirety of the cover will go to the musicians.
The HRAC has had a long history of promoting and presenting original art, theatre, and storytelling. HRAC Executive Director Maureen Joyce is pleased to add original music and songwriting to that impressive list. She believes this will allow the Arts Center to be more versatile and open the door to new opportunities.

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Local songwriter Ameal Cameron. 

“Similar to the visual journey an artist takes us on, the musical journey, when we are truly present and listening takes us to those shared, connected memories and experiences that speak deeply into our joy, being and greater humanity,” Joyce said.

HRAC Media Coordinator Tara Bennett agrees. “The City of Hammond needs outlets for original, live music. People don’t just watch bands – they share an experience, and it’s our job to create the best possible environment to let such experiences happen. Our listening series is our attempt at doing just that.”
To have a taste of what “Playing the Staircase” will offer, visit the HRAC website at hammondarts.org/playing-the-staircase to listen to samples of music from the scheduled artists.

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ABOUT THE MUSICIANS

Jess Kerber Biography (Show on June 29)
Jess Kerber is a singer/songwriter taking influences from the 60s/70s era of folk. She has played at multiple local events and venues including the Three Rivers Art Festival in Covington, LA and The Ghost Light Theater, located in Hammond. This past summer, Jess was chosen to play at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston as part of the Top Ten Singer/Songwriter Showcase at Berklee College of Music’s Five-Week Summer Performance Program. With both parents being musicians, from an early age she was exposed to artists such as Joni Mitchell, The Allman Brothers, and Norah Jones. Born in New Orleans, Jess has lived in Hammond for most of her life and will soon be attending Berklee College of Music on a three-quarter scholarship in the Fall of 2018.

Clay Parker and Jodi James Biography (Show on July 27)
Clay Parker and Jodi James are an acoustic duo from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The pair’s use of dense harmony-singing and subtle musical arrangements indelibly binds them to the tradition of singer-songwriters and positions them well in the folk roots and Americana strains of country music.

As solo performers, both Clay Parker and Jodi James have long been staples in the burgeoning capital area songwriter scene. With Parker’s releases “The Wind and The Warble” (2011), “Any Old Time” (2013), and “Queen City Blues” (2017), there surfaces a home-spun array of familiar melodies, blues, and folk-style picking matched with phrase turning poetics and old-timey wit. James’ recordings “This Fire” (2009), “Far Between and Fleeting” (2012), and “Things I Leave Behind” (2015) are a deep and weighted collection of personal stories, vulnerable feelings, hopeful beginnings, and tragic endings – sometimes set against a quiet, breathy guitar – sometimes joined with the whole force of rock and roll.

In late 2014, Parker and James began writing together and hit a prolific stride that yielded about a dozen songs in just a couple of weeks. “When we started arranging and singing these songs,” says Clay, “there was an immediate appreciation for how easily everything sort of melted together.” Already being enamored with the old, family-style way of singing, it became clear that they should embrace these duet songs in the purest sense of the word. Jodi remarks, “There wasn’t ever a lead or background vocal – it just became one thing. We began experimenting with that idea a lot.”

The duo released a self-titled EP in December 2015 to great local and international acclaim. Among the reviews, John Apice of No Depression wrote: “This is an album that will need to be listened to and not just played in the background. It has to marinate in your musical soul–It is for select tastes and for discriminating ears. It will make an impression…it will.” Similarly, Rob Dickens of Australia’s Addicted To Noise commented: “Clay Parker and Jodi James have put together a gentle, loving and alluring collection, all songs both sincere and sublime.”

Parker and James have since been tirelessly touring the U. S. in support of the EP. Just in the last year they have played cafes, theaters, house shows, pubs, etc. in 28 states and show no signs of stopping. “It’s a fast way of living trying to do something so slow,” Parker snarks. “We’ve always [independently and together] been interested in operating at a slow and steady pace. We want the stuff we make to last a while.” James confers, “We’re not the kind of people who live and rely on social media and such. But we are constantly working and building and framing what we do… and driving.” Independently and as a duo, Clay Parker and Jodi James have shared stages with the likes of John Fullbright, Slaid Cleaves, Guy Clark, Verlon Thompson, Chris Hillman, John Moreland, Carlene Carter, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Robert Ellis, Jimmy Webb, and many more. They also played a musical role in the upcoming Ethan Hawke film Blaze, a glaring look into the life of the late singer-songwriter Blaze Foley.

On the horizon, the pair are planning an early 2018 full-length album release. Clay notes, “We’re looking forward to putting out these songs that have resided on our live setlists for quite a while now. And we’ve got some of our favorite Baton Rouge musicians helping us fill out some of the sonic spaces.” Jodi continues the thought, “We are really proud of our music scene down here in Baton Rouge – some of the best songs here – and we feel fortunate to take a little piece of that with us everywhere we go.”

The Hammond Regional Arts Center (HRAC) supports, promotes, and coordinates visual, performing, and literary arts in Tangipahoa Parish and surrounding parishes. Our primary mission is to enrich lives through quality arts education, develop an appreciation of the arts within individuals, and introduce the public to professional exhibitions, performances and literature.

The Hammond Regional Arts Center is supported in part by a Decentralized Arts Funding Grant from the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge in cooperation with the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, and Louisiana State Arts Council.