Meet me at The Spot: Hammond’s underground D.I.Y. rock scene

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MEET ME AT THE SPOT- Aaron Campbell, a local art and music enthusiast, has made his home Hammond’s center for its outcast original rock scene. Photo by Matthew Roy.

By Jesse Brooks

The night air was unusually crisp for a Deep South evening. A crowd migrates back and forth from the front and back yards of a 110-year-old home in a small residential area.

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After the closure of Augustine’s, a local dive bar, Hammond is left without a consistent music venue for non-cover band acts. Campbell opened The Spot as a refuge for original music. Photo by Matthew Roy.

There’s an interesting crowd out on this particular night, a mix of college hipsters, rock-n-roll blue collar guys in their 30s-40s, metalheads, and girls that just wanna have fun. There are some girls with their arms folded smoking cigarettes. Rocker dudes file in with suitcases of beer. The one small entrance door to the house is open and you can see a drum kit and two huge amps inside. In the doorway, there’s a guy accepting a $5 cover while letting guests know that if they want to drink, B.Y.O.B. is the rule to abide by.

Clearly, rock-n-roll will be played tonight.

This isn’t a scene from a “do it yourself” show in the Bowery of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1977. This is present-day Hammond, Louisiana, just outside of the Downtown District.

Aaron Campbell, a 32-year-old local art enthusiast, owns and lives at the home that people of the scene refer to as “The Spot”. After Hammond’s only consistent home for full ensemble original live music, a local dive bar known for decades as Augustine’s closed Campbell felt he could help keep the scene alive by letting his band friends play shows during parties at his home.

“The first time we had a show here it was really loud, but no one called the cops. So I guess nobody cared!” Campbell laughed. “This house has some kind of crazy energy to it and it was pretty bizarre looking. But I’ve decorated it with vintage stuff I’ve found in Monroe, Mandeville, and all over the place.”

Campbell says his father, who has passed on, originally bought the house for $10,000 in the 1980s. Since he has fully taken over the property, he has given the interior design a 1960s mod feel. The halls are a trip of nostalgia full of mid-century modern furniture and vinyl records. A portrait of Bob Dylan hangs in the main parlor that doubles as a performance area.

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Bassist Nathan Heck of Wonder Kid. Photo by Matthew Roy

On this night, Wonder Kid is headlining, a self-described “mope wave” band. By their standards, mope wave sounds like the melodic evolution of emo rock only that the mood has shifted from passionate eruption to expressive nihilism. Opening the show is singer/songwriter/guitarist Britton Newton of the band Biscuithound, followed by Kavyk, a progressive melodic metal band fronted by Troy Bennett, who has served as a gatekeeper of sorts of the Northshore’s metal scene.

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Wonder Kid performing live at The Spot. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

“Mixed bills are good for shows like this because there is original music in Hammond, but there’s not a ton,” said Nathan Heck, bassist for Wonder Kid. “It’s common for scene shows to have the same kind of bands on a bill, but for a small scene like ours, the bands would kind of cancel each other out.”

The Spot is a small space so the keepers of the scene really only promote the shows through social media posts and word of mouth. Heck and some of the other musicians playing that night kind of agreed that shows at The Spot tend to average around 20-30 or more attendants, which is practically over compacity to fill the parlor room. Everyone also agrees that the shows aren’t meant to be run like a business. Artists receive 100 percent of the door cover, plus tips, and the hosts are simply volunteering their time.

However, there is a consolidated belief by show-runners that if their co-op atmosphere can produce consistent crowds that they have provided evidence that original music should be given a chance by someone looking to integrate it as part of their business model.

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IT’S LIT- A campfire keeps show goers warm outside of the spot as they wait in between set for the next act up. Photo by Matthew Roy.

With Augustine’s closed, original musicians in Hammond have little to no representation in the Northshore region in venues that host live music. Despite what seems like an ideal location for importing and exporting creative endeavors, a college town in the cross of I-55 and I-12, the clubs and festivals cater more towards major production stage shows for cover bands or DJs.

Since the closure of Augustine’s, Benny’s Place, a local bar in Downtown, has received praise from local musicians for filling some of the voids. Benny’s is able to accommodate smaller ensembles, and they book shows when they can. It’s also recognized by most musicians that the bar was never set up to be a full-time music venue with a large space. Nevertheless, the bar is appreciated for being a home for everyone, including local creatives.

The most dedicated Tangipahoa Parish area artists take their chances trying to become fixtures in the Baton Rouge scene out West or in New Orleans an hour South. Even then, most artists face the tough task of competing for gigs in cities that feature artists already established in their scenes.

Without much backing from both the public and private sectors, original music in Hammond is mostly confined to now being underground. It’s created a lack of interstate commerce as far as music goes in town, and left Hammond, and even the Northshore, mostly ignored as a market for music.

Despite, being disregarded as a music destination, the nation’s music once flowed in Tangipahoa Parish. If you think of America’s music originating through jazz and blues in New Orleans and then spreading North by way of the Mississippi River or railroad, that puts Tangipahoa Parish in the direct path of that flow.

Cave Tangi was a jazz club that was located on Highway 51 between Hammond and Ponchatoula and it opened its doors in 1938. It was a destination hub complete with the world’s greatest fried chicken and an underground dancefloor, unusual for a place outside of a swamp. Names like Glenn Miller and Fats Domino headlined there, and celebrities such as actress Rosemary Clooney were known to be frequent guests.

The club stayed open throughout the rise and fall of rock-n-roll before eventually fizzling out in the 1980s.

When the garage band movement of the 1990s rose, Hammond once again experienced a living music scene with several clubs supporting the cause. However, as originality faded in mainstream music so did the talent buyers in the local area.

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Songwriter Britton Newton opens the evening with an acoustic set. Newton fronts a progressive band called Buscuithound. Photo by Matthew Roy.

Though Hammond’s original music scene seems to lack a direction, there is too much there to be ignored. It’s also possible that its lack of definition is its biggest asset. Without hangups over genre and the social cliques that follow those. The scene is producing an audience that is eclectic and in it for the love of the live show.

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Metal band Kavyk plays in front of a small but fierce space. Photo by Jesse Brooks.

As a member of two different bands, Troy Bennett has served as a curator for the metal scene for years but doesn’t limit his support to just his genre. He goes to most area shows and as long as the music is original, he doesn’t see reasons to not support an act that contributes toward the greater good.

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Kavyk frontman Troy Bennett lets out a thunderous growl. Photo by Matthew Roy. 

“It’s a small scene and it’s as simple as if you don’t support it then we don’t get to have anything,” Bennett said. “And that’s good in a way because maybe some people might get exposed to something that maybe they wouldn’t have given a chance before.”

The crowds that show up seem to reflect Bennett’s world view. A lot of the same people show up for every show and always enthusiastic every time.

God save the scene.

In loving memory of Archie Powell.

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