“Thacker Mountain Radio Hour” features music, literature and good humor.
One of Oxford’s many cultural gems is the weekly “Thacker Mountain Radio Hour,” a live radio and internet broadcast that headlines mostly Southern musicians and authors. You won’t want to miss a show if you’re in town.
It’s held at the Off Square Books, a used bookstore on the city’s vibrant downtown Square, on Thursday evenings during the spring and fall. Admission is free. The show starts promptly at 6 p.m., but it’s best to arrive early to assure getting a seat. Latecomers spill out onto the sidewalk.
(I attended a show during a recent media visit sponsored by Visit Oxford MS while on assignment for Where to Retire magazine.)
Often compared to the once-venerable “A Prairie Home Companion” on public radio, “Thacker Mountain Radio Hour” follows a variety show format. Host Jim Dees, an Oxford author and humorist, moderates the show with his quick wit and folksy patter. He introduces the guests, usually one author and two music-makers, singers or groups. Some are well-known or regionally known while others are up-and-coming.
The 4-piece house band, the Yalobushwhackers, are program mainstays (pictured at the top of this post). They perform at the back of the store, where a reading nook on a raised platform is temporarily transformed into a stage.
Everywhere else, bookshelves and display cases are shoved to the sides and replaced by about 100 wooden folding chairs for the audience. Paper lanterns hang from the ceiling. I noticed a small that read, “If an emergency, pick up your chair and take it with you, so no one trips over it. After the emergency, bring it back.”
The show I attended featured singer-songwriters Maggie Rose of Nashville and Louis Page of Memphis. Author Nell Freudenberger read passages from her recent suspense novel, “Lost and Wanted,” and discussed how she, as a layperson, learned enough about physics to create a main character who is a physicist.
“Physicists build models,” she said. “It’s not so different from what fiction writers do to create possible worlds.”
After the show, the audience folded up their chairs and helped staffers put them away.
“It’s a cool show and a lot of fun,” said real estate broker Eileen Saunders. “It’s part of the Oxford culture.”
Residents Betsy and Dave Johnston attend as often as their schedules allow. Every show is a “win,” they said.
“We like to support local and ‘up and coming’ talent, and there is plenty of both,” Betsy said. “Genres are varied and cross-cultural, and there is always a presentation of interest.”
“Thacker Mountain Radio Hour” broadcasts 30 shows a year. They are recorded and rebroadcast by Mississippi Public Broadcasting and Alabama Public Radio.
(The show’s title refers to nearby Thacker Mountain, an aspirationally named 700-foot hilltop with a fire observation tower.)
Since its first broadcast in 1997, the show has featured Caroline Kennedy, George Plimpton, Roy Blount Jr., Frances Mayes, Elizabeth Gilbert and Erik Larson. Musicians who have appeared include Marty Stuart, Elvis Costello, Paul Williams, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, the Mighty Gospel Warriors and numerous Nashville players.
For more information, visit “Thacker Mountain Radio Hour.”
Off Square Books, 129 Courthouse Square, Oxford MS 38655
(Many thanks to Visit Oxford MS for use of the photos as credited, including the feature photo of the Yalobushwhackers at the top of this post.)