by Allison Glenn
I’m many miles in the air somewhere between Dallas and New Orleans listening to the track “Big Fun” by Inner City (from their 1989 LP Paradise) on the compilation The Motor City: Detroit House & Techno put together by Jay-Z’s music streaming software TIDAL. There is a diffuse sensibility to being above and between two places that I call—or called—home, in this case Bentonville, AR, and New Orleans, LA, listening to music from the city that made me, on a compilation created by a streaming service that has no roots in any of my backyards. And yet, I still feel at home. I’m clad in black with big curls and long orange-red nails clacking away at my keyboard. I say this to share that I am essentially myself—that in this non-space (recognizable only for the view of the landscape below from my window seat), I can be exactly who I am.
As I lazily doze off in the haze of sunshine cascading through the window, memories of late nights and early mornings spent dancing to some of my favorite DJs in the world come wafting into my mind. What is the genesis of this obsession with music? I grew up listening to Jeff Mills’s The Wizard broadcast on 97.9FM, and the first cassette tape that my sister brought home in the third grade (I was in second) was The Bucketheads “Street Songs” single and remix. We played that single over and over again on our shared boombox. This quickly accelerated to the shoegazing sounds of the Pacific Northwest combined with 90s hip hop and R&B. Coming of age, I became part of a scene that was super invested in music of all forms and skipped my senior prom to see The Roots perform at the inaugural Detroit Electronic Music Festival (DEMF); in it’s nascent days, DEMF—a three-day, multi-genre music festival held in Hart Plaza—was free.
I stayed local for undergrad, and in my first year at Wayne State University, I linked up with Marvin Prather of Forward Music, where I managed their calendar of events and took over as Detroit representative for Om Records, a San Francisco-based record label that included People Under the Stairs and Derrick Carter. I would receive monthly packages that included CDs of new releases and posters advertising upcoming tours, and my job was to go around to record stores and concert venues, and share the collateral with stores and promoters in the city.
Needless to say, music has always been one of the MOST important things in my life. Specific experiences with live music and recorded albums will conjure up memories as vivid as the moment itself. I’ll never forget seeing Beach House live at Pitchfork in 2010 with longtime friends Sasha and Katie.
As fog from the smoke machine rolled over the field at Union Park, Victoria Legrand lightly pushed her wind-whipped hair back from her eyes while crooning into the microphone, “…coming hooooome, any day now, any day now, any daaaay nooooow.” The air on the field that day was as thick and ethereal as Legrand’s moody lyrics.
Not long ago, Shabazz Palaces booked a show at Spanish Moon in Baton Rouge, and not even the threat of a tropical storm (and a cancellation from my cousin due to said storm) kept me from driving up from New Orleans to attend. The wood-paneled venue was small, dark, and divey—the thick air of a college bar that hadn’t changed in 20 years. Needless to say, it was the perfect venue for Shabazz. They had just released a double LP, and I purchased Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star on vinyl from the SubPop merch table. After the show, I walked up to Ishmael Butler—one half of Shabazz, best known as the inimitable Butterfly from Digable Planets—and asked if he’d sign my album. To which he replied, “yea, sis” and invited me upstairs to grab a sharpie and meet the rest of the crew. Turns out Ishmael has family in Baton Rouge, and the whole second floor was filled with friends and family. I was so moved by the kindness that he showed me in that moment. That might not have been possible in another city or a larger venue.
A year ago, if someone asked me what home and happiness would mean, living in a small town in Northwest Arkansas would not have been my first answer. The truth is, I had no idea what this chapter of life would bring. But, Fayetteville was just named one of the top three places to see live music in the United States. And, since living here I have seen Little Rock-based Daz & Brie perform twice—once at The Record in Bentonville and once at Smoke & Barrel Tavern in Fayetteville. I’ve also seen legendary DJ Pete Rock perform at The Record, and attended a free concert with Leon Bridges at the Buckyball at the entrance of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.
All this to say, there is something to a smaller venue—whether a major metropolis or NOT—that affords something different for the performers and audience. Let’s book more acts here, Northwest Arkansas! We should be a stop on Blood Orange’s tour, and anything that SubPop does. Tours should not be flying over, but stopping along the way to Dallas or Kansas City or St. Louis. I know that this involves volunteers, bookers, agents, bands, and venues all coming together to continue to make something special happen for an audience that needs to attend and support the experience, but I’m hoping we are on our way to more moments of euphoria at genuinely great live music experiences in the region.
Being oneself—feeling “at home”—is as much a state of mind as it is an actual place. Wherever I have found myself at home, I have found a connection to the things that matter the most: good friends, great food, better wine, and, of course, fabulous music. I’m looking forward to more of all of this as I close out my first year in Northwest Arkansas.
*This essay was originally published in print in Parlor Issue #1.