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M ARCH 2020

OXFO R D

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MUSIC I S S U E A G R E AT DAY F O R R YA N M I L L E R MU S I C + M OV I E S AT T H E OXFO R D FI L M FE S T I VA L C L A R K S DA L E ’ S J U K E J O I N T FE S T I VA L E M M A P I T TM A N O N B R OA DWAY & MISSISSIPPI WILDFLOWERS


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I N

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DEPA RTMENT S

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EVENTS

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Letter From the Editor

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Small Hall Songwriters Contest

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Digital Details

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“The Wizard of Oz”

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Calendar

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Empty Bowls Luncheon

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Shoutouts

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Oxford Art Crawl

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Small Talk

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MLK Day Events

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Recipes: Duck Fat Kettle Corn

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Princess Ball

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Out & About

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I Am Oxford: Emma Pittman

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Zeta Phi Beta Anniversary

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Thacker Mountain Radio

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Oxford Fiber Arts Festival

ON THE COVER

Following a tragedy, singer-songwriter Ryan Miller of Oxford turned to music. Now he’s got a new album, “It’s Been a Great Day.” Read Miller’s inspiring story starting on page 40. PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM


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F E AT U R E S

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FE ATURES 26 Wildflower Wonderland

From highways and byways, to ponds and pastures, to backyards and graveyards, Mississippi is abloom.

30 Lights, Camera, Music!

Music videos, documentaries and live performances add to the enjoyment at the Oxford Film Festival.

34 We’ve Got the Mississippi Blues

Juke Joint Festival draws an international audience to celebrate Mississippi’s music and cultural heritage, the blues.

40 “It’s Been a Great Day”

Singer-songwriter Ryan Miller’s Stairway Sessions inspire his first album, and his family and friends help it become reality.

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L E T T E R from the E D I T O R If you can believe the groundhog, winter’s supposed to be over. But according to the “Old Farmer’s Almanac,” March will be almost as wet and dreary as February was. I sure hope it’s wrong, but if not, a rainy day is a great excuse to feed your soul with some indoor entertainment. Our theme this month is music, and we’ve got plenty of that and more to share with you. First, we’re so pleased to introduce you to Oxford’s own Ryan Miller, a gifted and award-winning singer-songwriter. But don’t take our word for it: Listen to a sample of his “stairway sessions” at our website, invitationoxford.com, and read the moving story on page 40 of how a painful loss and community support eventually led to his brand new album, “It’s Been a Great Day.” Music festival lovers, take note: Next month, people from states across the U.S. and countries all over the world will gather in Clarksdale to celebrate Mississippi’s musical heritage, the blues. Turn to page 34

FOLLOW US

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for more about the Juke Joint Festival, which takes place each April, rain or shine. As one veteran festivalgoer observed, “The worse it rains, the better the time we have.” If you prefer to stay high and dry, Oxford Film Festival has you covered. Now in its 18th year, OFF continues to bring world-class cinema to Oxford. New to this year’s lineup: live performances during the music block. Read more starting on page 30, and follow Invitation Oxford on Facebook and Instagram this month for a chance to win free popcorn and a pair of tickets to the world premier of “It’s Time,” the story of Chucky Mullins. Starting to feel inspired? If you like to sing yourself, you might be interested to know that the 40th annual Sacred Harp singing this month at the Powerhouse is the largest in north Mississippi. You’re welcome to just sit and listen, or join in singing this form of early American music. Read more about this historic tradition of “all day

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singing and dinner on the grounds,” plus a new Renaissance music symposium at the university this summer, on page 20. Besides music, and a delectable kettle corn recipe (page 24), we’ve got another treat for you in these pages: Last year, from March to early May, Invitation Magazines photographer Joe Worthem and I spent hours roving the county roads and city streets to bring you a close-up view of the beautiful and stunning variety of wildflowers blooming all around us. If the sun ever does come out, you can step outside and see them for yourself. Otherwise, put on some music, curl up with some popcorn, and get lost in Mississippi’s breathtaking Wildflower Wonderland (page 26). Peace, love and music,

ALLISON ESTES EXECUTIVE EDITOR

@INVOXFORD


PUBLISHERS Phil and Rachel West

EDITORIAL

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Emily Welly EXECUTIVE EDITOR Allison Estes CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Leslie Criss OPERATIONS DIRECTOR Mary Moreton CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Shanna Flaschka Caitlyn Clegg Michael Newsom COPY EDITOR Ashley Arthur INTERN Abbey Edmonson

OFFICE

BUSINESS MANAGER Hollie Hilliard DISTRIBUTION Donald Courtney Brian Hilliard MAIN OFFICE 662-234-4008

ART

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Holly Vollor STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Joe Worthem CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Paul Gandy Jessica Richardson Megan Wolfe CONTRIBUTING ILLUSTRATOR Frank Estrada SOCIAL MEDIA COORDINATOR Janie Poulton

ADVERTISING

ADVERTISING CONSULTANTS Alise M. Emerson Leigh Lowery Lynn McElreath Moni Simpson Whitney Worsham Anna Zemek ADVERTISING DESIGNERS Paul Gandy Becca Pepper Hallie Thomas ADVERTISING INFORMATION ads@invitationoxford.com

To subscribe to one year (10 issues) of Invitation Oxford or to buy an announcement, visit invitationoxford.com. To request a photographer at your event, email Mary at mary.invitation@gmail.com. Invitation Oxford respects the many diverse individuals and organizations that make up north Mississippi and strives to be inclusive and representative of all members of our community.

PLEASE RECYCLE THIS MAGAZINE

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D I G I T A L details E XC LU S I V E LY O N L I N E

W i n Fi l m Fe s t iva l T ic ke t s!

INVITATIONOXFORD.COM

Po p c o r n G ive away!

social S N A P S

FRAN

K EST

R A DA

Photos like these make it official: spring is in the air! Post your own special pics and tag us or use #invitationoxford for a chance to be featured here in our next magazine.

Follow Invitation Oxford on Facebook and Instagram this month for a chance to win a pair of tickets to the March 18 Oxford Film Festival world premiere of “It’s Time,” the story of beloved Ole Miss football player Chucky Mullins. Read about the festival on page 30.

Invitation Oxford wants to know: What’s your favorite popcorn topping? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram this month and be ready to tell us your favorite topper for a chance to win a Crop to Pop popcorn gift box! For popcorn-making tips, flip to page 24.

S t a i r way S e s s io n s

Broa dway D e but U S E R N A M E : @olemissbsb L O C A T I O N : University of Mississippi

Emma Pittman with judges from “The Search for Roxie.”

It may not be his full-time career, but Ryan Miller can claim the title of singer-songwriter. Read about the journey that led him to produce his debut album “It’s Been a Great Day” on page 40, and visit invitationoxford.com to see a video of one of Miller’s many Stairway Sessions.

Turn to page 64 for our exclusive Q&A with Emma Pittman, who will make her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in the musical “Chicago” later this year. Pittman was cast in the role after participating in broadway.com’s contest, “The Search for Roxie.” Read our complete interview with Pittman at invitationoxford.com.

CALENDAR AND EVENTS

Have an exciting event coming up? Visit our website and share the details on our online community calendar. Photos from your event might be featured in an upcoming magazine! FOLLOW US

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@INVITATIONOXFORD

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U S E R N A M E : @theyseeusgrovin L O C A T I O N : Oxford Square

@INVOXFORD


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C OM M U N I T Y

C A L E N DA R M ARCH 2020

Storytelling and Photography

Daylight Saving Time

M A R C H 2- 6

Spring forward: Don’t forget to change the clocks.

Award-winning photographer Danny Klimetz teaches this workshop on documentary photography and techniques. YAC members $300; nonmembers $315. See website for times. The Powerhouse.

MARCH 8

Spring Break Art Camp M A R C H 9 -1 3

UM Choral Concert

Kids ages 3-12 can enjoy games and art projects related to the spring season. Fulland half-day sessions available. See website for rates and other info. The Powerhouse.

MARCH 3

oxfordarts.com

oxfordarts.com

The University of Mississippi Chorus performs at North Oxford Baptist Church. Tickets are available at the university box office or at the door. 7:30-9 p.m. music.olemiss.edu

Oxford Film Festival M A R C H 1 8-2 2

Screen short and feature-length films, in both showcase and competition settings, and participate in panel discussions, filmmaking workshops and social events. See website for ticket prices, locations and schedule. Read more on page 30. oxfordfilmfest.com

St. Paddy’s Pub Crawl M ARCH 14

National Marching Music Day MARCH 4

Share your support on social media with the hashtags #MarchForth #MarchingMusicDay.

International Women’s Day MARCH 8

This year’s theme is #EachForEqual. Look for ways to celebrate the women in your life and work for a gender-equal world.

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The St. Paddy’s Pub Crawl starts at 3 p.m. at Harrison’s 1810 and ends at The Blind Pig. The crawl is free to join; food and beverages additional. Swag and prizes for best costume.

An Evening with Bruce Hornsby

First Day of Spring M ARCH 19

The vernal equinox occurs at 10:49 p.m. in Oxford, and spring has sprung.

M A RCH 17

Tab Benoit

Grammy-winning singer, pianist, composer and bandleader Bruce Hornsby brings his contemporary music such as “The Way It Is” and “Mandolin Rain” to Oxford. See website for ticket pricing. 7:30 p.m., the Ford Center.

Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and guitarist Tab Benoit brings his blues music from Louisiana to Mississippi. General admission in advance $22; day of show $25. 9 p.m., Proud Larry’s.

fordcenter.org

proudlarrys.com

M A RCH 20


Afternoon Tea M ARCH 21

The Cedar Oaks Guild hosts a classic Southern tea. RSVP by March 14. Tickets $25 per person or $150 for a table of six. 2 p.m., Cedar Oaks Historic Home. cedaroaks.org

Jordan Davis M A RCH 26

“Artist to Watch” Jordan Davis performs songs from his album “Home State,” including hit single “Slow Dance in a Parking Lot.” Tickets $25. Doors open at 7 p.m., show begins at 8 p.m., the Lyric Oxford. thelyricoxford.com

Miss-I-Sippin’ Beer Festival M A R C H 2 7-2 8

The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council invites beer lovers to this annual celebration with fun activities and free tastings of Oxford’s craft beer, plus a scavenger hunt with chances to win prizes at the Brewin’ & Groovin’ after-party. See website for tickets, locations and schedule. oxfordarts.com

“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” M ARCH 29

Carole King’s inspiring story about her rise to stardom and finding her true voice, featuring songs such as “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “One Fine Day.” See website for ticket pricing. 7:30 p.m., the Ford Center. fordcenter.org M ARCH 2020 | INVITATION OXFORD

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S H O U T O U T S A form of American music older than the blues has roots in northeast Mississippi. Sacred Harp singing is a nondenominational community gathering where people socialize and sing from an 1844 tunebook, “The Sacred Harp.” The annual all-day Sacred Harp Singing in Oxford, which takes place the second weekend in March, is the largest in north Mississippi. Warren Steel, University of Mississippi professor emeritus of music, brought the Sacred Harp tradition to Oxford in 1981. The style, also known as fasola or shapenote singing, was developed to teach people who couldn’t read music to follow a system of sight-reading without musical accompaniment. Singers sit in a square and face each other rather than an audience, and take turns leading songs, many of which date from the 18th century.

“Sacred Harp singing defies modernization,” Steel said. “This is do-it-yourself. Our music is not a commodity, bought and sold. It’s made together.” Yalobusha and Calhoun counties also have annual Sacred Harp singings. The next one is scheduled for April 5 at Bethel Baptist Church in Bruce. The gatherings attract singers from next-door Alabama and Tennessee to as far away as England and Scotland. The 40th annual Oxford Sacred Harp Singing and dinner is 9:45 a.m.-2:30 p.m. at the Powerhouse. All are welcome to participate or just sit and listen, and no experience is necessary. The event is free, but please bring a potluck dish to share during the dinner break. For more information, contact Warren Steel at mudws@olemiss.edu.

YAEKO TAKADA

4 0 t h A n nu a l S a c re d H a r p S i n g i n g

Re n a i s sa nc e Mu s ic Sy m p o s iu m The Renaissance will come alive this summer at the University of Mississippi. An anonymous donor’s generous monetary gift to the UM office of choral activities will fund a series of three annual symposiums including lectures and free concerts. The first of the series, featuring music from 1450-1600, is scheduled for June 15-18. UM music professor and director of choral activities Donald Trott looks forward to this historic event. “Anytime someone shares our desire to promote music and donates funding to help launch a special project (like this), it thrills us all,” Trott said. “We are always looking for private funding to help support special projects, travel and scholarships for our student performers.” Dennis Shrock, a noted choral scholar and author specializing in the Renaissance period, will be the guest conductor at the

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concerts and a featured lecturer in the symposium. “Renaissance choral music is especially beautiful, with many works composed in the genre of mass, motet, chanson and madrigal,” Trott said. “Dr. Shrock is a scholar-performer, meaning, he is very involved in researching the composers and compositions to be performed. He is very passionate about choral music of all musical periods, but quite knowledgeable about early music such as (is) found in the Renaissance period.” The Renaissance symposium will feature a mix of sacred and secular works by Byrd, Dufay, Gibbons, di Lasso, Josquin, Morley, Palestrina, Tallis and others. The next two symposiums focus on music of the Baroque-Classical period (1600-1800) and the Romantic era (1800-1900). The concerts will be recorded for wider distribution.


SHOUTOUTS

continued

OLE MISS ATHLETICS

Re b e l s S of t ba l l

The Ole Miss Rebels softball team finished fifth in the SEC standings in 2019, with a 41-20 overall record, and went on to capture the program’s second NCAA Regional Championship. Get to a game this month or watch them on TV — nine games will be televised this season, including the March 8 game against Missouri and the entire March 28-30 series against Florida. Visit olemisssports.com for times, tickets and broadcast information.

M A R C H

S C H E D U L E

OLE MISS VS. CENTRAL ARK ANSAS

March 3 O L E M I S S AT M I S S O U R I

March 6-8 O L E M I S S V S . YO U N G S TOW N S TAT E

March 11 O L E M I S S V S . C E N T R A L F LO R I DA

March 13-15 O L E M I S S V S . LO U I S I A N A - M O N R O E

March 17 OLE MISS VS . TEX AS A&M

March 20-22 O L E M I S S AT M E M P H I S

March 25 O L E M I S S AT F LO R I DA

March 28-30 M ARCH 2020 | INVITATION OXFORD

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small T A L K INTERVIEWED AND PHOTOGRAPHED AT OXFORD HOUSE OF MUSIC AND SQUARE BOOKS JR.

NOAH CANNON OXFORD

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5 YEARS OLD

What’s your favorite song? “I’ v e Been Wo r ki n g on t he Rai l road ” b ec au s e I l o v e t r ai ns.

ANDREW ANDERSON OXFORD

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6 YEARS OLD

What kind of music do you like? Rock ’n’ roll because I just like the sound.

HADDIE HOUSTON OXFORD

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10 YEARS OLD

What kind of music do you like? I l i ke t o l i s t en t o old musi c l i ke the Do o b i e Bro t h er s a nd Cr ystal Gayl e. It’ s v er y en erg et i c — i t makes you h o p.

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ANN SCOTT JONES MOBILE, ALA.

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6 YEARS OLD

Which would you rather be: a singer, a dancer, or a musician? Mu s icia n , s o I ca n do ma g ic.

A L E X A N D E R LYO N OXFORD

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19 MONTHS

What’s your favorite song? “Wh eels on th e Bu s . ”

TEAG PFRENGER OXFORD

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9 YEARS OLD

Do you play any kind of musical instrument? Pia n o. It’ s a ctu a lly mu ch ea s ier th a n wh a t it s ou n ds like; it’ s a bea u tif u l s tr in g in s tr u men t.

SHIVERS CUTCLIFFE OXFORD

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8 YEARS OLD

What’s your favorite song? I like anything from “Hamilton.”

DASHA KEENE MEMPHIS, TENN.

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9 YEARS OLD

What kind of music do you like? I like pop. I like th e fl av o r t o t he mu s ic.

BRYS TAL DAVIS OXFORD

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9 YEARS OLD

Which would you rather be: a singer, a dancer, or a musician? Th a t’ s like a ll th e t hi ngs I l o v e . It has to be a tie.


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duck fat K E T T L E

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CORN

USE MISSISSIPPI-GROWN KERNELS FOR THIS SWEET AND SALT Y TREAT. RECIPES CONTRIBUTED BY JOHN M ARK LOONE Y

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ith the Oscars just over, and the Oxford Film Festival this month, we’ve got the movies on our mind. And what goes better with a movie than a big bowl of fluffy, warm popcorn? John Mark Looney’s 6 Mile Farm in Tribbett produces Crop to Pop popcorn, available at Chicory Market in Oxford. Try popping Looney’s sweet Duck Fat Kettle Corn, or follow his tips for making perfect classic popcorn and experiment with different oils and seasonings. Follow Invitation Oxford on Facebook and Instagram this month for a chance to win a Crop to Pop popcorn gift box!

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM

duck fat

KETTLE CORN 2 tablespoons duck fat ½ cup popcorn kernels, or just enough to cover bottom of pan with a single layer

¼-½ cup sugar Salt

In a large pot with a lid, heat the duck fat over medium-high heat. Place 2 or 3 kernels in the pot. When they start to pop, add the rest of the popcorn kernels.

When popping slows, pour the popcorn onto a cookie sheet and spread to cool (do not wait until all popping has stopped; it will burn). Dust lightly with salt.

When the popcorn starts to pop, add the sugar, replace the lid and keep the popcorn moving.

For plain popcorn, use 1 tablespoon oil instead of duck fat and omit the sugar.


Looney's tips for

PERFECT POPCORN Try different salts and spices. Any readymade spice mix such as a barbecue rub, Greek or Italian seasoning works really well. Experiment with different oils to impart different flavors. Looney says his favorite combination is duck fat seasoned with black truffle salt. If seasoning with spices other than salt, grind them first with a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle so they stick to the popcorn. Always add seasoning after popping. The seasoning will burn if it’s mixed with the kernels before cooking. For a fluffier popped kernel, try turning down the heat a little. Crop to Pop is specifically bred for eating quality, so it shouldn’t get tough. Air poppers work great; so do silicone and plastic microwave popping devices. You can even put popcorn in a paper bag, roll the top and stick it in the microwave. All seasonings should be ground to stick to the popcorn made without oil, or use spray oil. M ARCH 2020 | INVITATION OXFORD

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Nothoscordum bivalve (false garlic)

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Houstonia caerulea (bluet)

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Trifolium pratense (red clover)

Wildflower Wonderland PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM

Special thanks to Mississippi State University department of plant and soil sciences senior research associate Victor Maddox, master gardener Dianne Fergusson and plant aficionado Louisa McConnell for their patient and expert help in identifying the wildflowers pictured here.

Prunella vulgaris (heal-all or common selfheal)

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Trifolium incarnatum (crimson clover)

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F

Verbena rigida (vervain)

rom highways and byways, to ponds and pastures,

to backyards and graveyards, Mississippi is abloom. Next time you notice a sea of pink or gold or crimson, we hope you’ll stop and take a closer look. But to be sure you don’t miss out, we’ve captured the beauty for you here.

Ranunculus sardous (hairy buttercup)

Erigeron annuus (eastern daisy fleabane)


Allium canadense (wild onion) often grows in patches. This native plant has the flavor and scent of onion and can be used as a wild substitute.

Oenothera speciosa (showy evening primrose)

Oxalis violacea (violet woodsorrel)

Muscari (grape hyacinth)

Phlox pilosa (downy phlox)

Erigeron philadelphicus (Philadelphia fleabane)

Allium canadense (wild onion)

Tradescantia ohiensis (spiderwort) M ARCH 2020 | INVITATION OXFORD

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Dianthus armeria (Deptford pink, mountain pink or sweet William)

Coreopsis sp. (tickseed)

Coreopsis sp., the state wildflower for Mississippi, grows on the lawn at Oxford’s City Hall.

Salvia lyrata (lyreleaf sage or cancer weed)

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Claytonia virginica (spring beauty)

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Oxalis rubra (windowbox woodsorrel)

Leucanthemum vulgare (oxeye daisy)

Lathyrus hirsutus (Caley pea)


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lights, camera, Music! MUSIC VIDEOS, DOCUMENTARIES AND LIVE PERFORMANCES ADD TO THE ENJOYMENT AT THE OX F O R D F I L M F E S T I VA L . WRITTEN BY SHANNA FL ASCHKA ILLUSTRATED BY FR ANK ESTR ADA

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longside tailgating in the Grove and the Double Decker Arts Festival, the Oxford Film Festival is one of the things that make Oxford more than your average small Southern town. Now in its 17th year, OFF has become a collaboration of dozens of dedicated film aficionados. Alongside narrative, documentary and other categories, in its second year, OFF began offering a breakout category of music videos. While the works then were from a diverse group of musicians and styles, the following year saw a greater inclusion of Mississippi artists with the addition of videos featuring local groups like the Kudzu Kings, The Cooters and the Taylor Grocery Band. OFF executive director Melanie Addington proudly notes that all the videos included in the festival are now Mississippibased, a trend that began in 2011 along with a change of the festival category’s name to Mississippi Music Videos.

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“With Mississippi and its music history, it is one we like to keep highlighting,” Addington said. “It is always a popular block, usually selling out. It is a great sampler of all the types of music Mississippi offers.” This year OFF celebrates Mississippi’s music heritage with live performances during the music block. “We did a concert in November to raise funds to hire local musicians to play,” Addington said. “Among the musicians programmed, we have Tate Moore, Bill Perry, Silas Reed, Don Smith, Skid Rogues, Stace and Cassie Shook, Tony Maynard and more.” Eight music videos are on the schedule this year, including “Price of the Blues,” a recording of a live performance by Nashville singer Tullie Brae at Ground Zero Blues Club, and “I Will Survive,” a moving performance by a man in treatment for stage 4 cancer. The music videos are a part of a viewing block on Saturday,


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March 21, from 7:15-9:15 p.m., which includes a film category that was introduced in the festival as of 2017 — music documentaries. The idea originated with Newt Rayburn, publisher of The Local Voice and a musician himself, who has been involved with the festival since it began, both on and off the screen. He was originally a contributor, and he submitted several music videos; his band, The Cooters, received The Hoka Award for Music Videos in 2004. In 2015, Rayburn took the helm as head programmer for music documentaries and videos. “About three years ago, I suggested that OFF add a music documentaries category,” Rayburn said. “It has been a very popular addition to the festival.” For Addington, the documentary category was a natural complement to the music block, and the late Ron Shapiro had a hand in convincing her. “I wanted to expand upon that (music category) when I took over,” Addington said. “After advisory committee member Ron Shapiro sent a suggestion for a good one back in 2016, I realized we needed to highlight music even more.” This year, four such works will be shown within the music video and documentary block. Each is 12-15 minutes long; one, “40 Years of the Delta Blues Museum,” was made by Clarksville native Coop

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Cooper, who also has a music video in the festival. Other entries come from outside of Mississippi; for example, “Post 398” is a work by U.K.-based filmmaker David Drake that examines a floundering underground jazz club in Harlem that represents the last of its ilk. In addition to those in the music block, longer music documentaries will be shown in other blocks within the festival. For example, at 3:30 p.m. on March 22, a feature-length film called “Stories In Rhyme: The Songwriters of The Flora-Bama Lounge” will be shown alongside a short piece about Elvis Presley’s love of spiritual music called “How Great Thou Art.” The logistics of choosing the best of the best to showcase in the festival is complicated. Addington said the selection work is done by about 50 volunteer screeners and a head programmer for each category. “They watch films for six months and narrow down to the final list,” Addington said. “We judge based on creativity, technical skills, sound and, with docs, the story as well. There are about 50 music documentaries submitted and room for about three to five. With music videos, we try to make sure as many as possible get in to support Mississippi musicians.” “The music documentaries category was flooded with terrific submissions, and we felt like we could add more to the fest this year,” Rayburn said. “All of the documentaries playing in OFF are fantastic and not to be missed.” For more information about the Oxford Film Festival and to buy tickets, visit oxfordfilmfest.com. View the schedule at 2020oxff. eventive.org/schedule.

Follow Invitation Oxford on Facebook and Instagram this month for a chance to win a pair of tickets to the Oxford Film Festival world premiere of “It’s Time”!


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We’ve got the Mississippi Blues R A I N O R S H I N E , J U K E J O I N T F E S T I VA L D R AW S A N I N T E R N AT I O N A L AU D I E N C E TO C E L E B R AT E MISSISSIPPI’S MUSIC AND CULTURAL HERITAGE, THE BLUES. WRITTEN BY MICHAEL NEWSOM

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM

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owntown Clarksdale is hallowed ground in the history of American music. And each April, it is the scene of Juke Joint Festival, which brings fans from around the world to hear thumping drums, greasy slide guitar and howling voices singing about lust and heartbreak. Juke Joint Festival is more than just a soul-cleansing communion of those who want to dance and forget their troubles. It offers something for everyone. There’s the ever-popular monkeys riding dogs, which is exactly what it sounds like, along with a petting zoo, pig races, history bus tours, street vendors and tamale rolling lessons, to name a few. Roger Stolle owns Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art Inc., a blues music emporium in downtown Clarksdale. Stolle, who is a co-founder of the festival, sees it as more than just a gathering of musicians and music fans. JJF is one positive against the world’s negative perceptions of Mississippi, the birthplace of many of the genre’s most beloved and well-known acts. “It just gives you that rich, Mississippi experience,” Stolle said. “Historically, Mississippi has gotten a lot of bad press, and there are so many great things here, (especially) the people. Blues music is a great ticket to get people to meet the locals.” Stolle had his own awakening years ago when, as a young blues fan, he came to Clarksdale as a blues tourist. He has made it his home since 2002. Continued on page 36

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Continued from page 34 “Growing up in Ohio, I won’t lie, we never heard anything positive,” Stolle said. “Then, I got into blues music, and that’s what brought me here. It was like, wait a second, I understand there is some challenging history here — there is everywhere — but the people here are amazing.” Stolle has been actively involved in helping promote the music of the Delta and expanding its reach. The work has paid off by growing the local music scene, which helps the area’s economy. In recent years, Juke Joint Festival saw tourists from 46 states and 26 foreign countries. Last year’s weather made surveys difficult, but Stolle predicts a similar turnout this year. Hotels have been booked since June 2019, including the new Travelers Hotel and the Auberge Clarksdale Hostel. The Saturday night crowd is typically around 3,500, with double that number during the day if the weather is good. “We’ve gone from only one or two nights a week of live blues to 365 nights of live blues music a year here,” Stolle said. “For a town of 16,000 that is just unheard of. That is just ridiculous.” Even torrential rain didn’t faze last year’s attendees. The lineup featured musicians with memorable names like Super Chikan & the

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Fighting Cocks, Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry, Earl “Guitar” Williams, Louis “Gearshifter” Youngblood, Lightnin’ Malcolm, Sean “Bad” Apple and many more. Inside Cat Head, Pinkie Pulliam, a bass player from Holly Springs, avoided the rain and waited to take the stage with Duwayne Burnside, who was energetically pacing about the store, chatting with Stolle’s customers. Pulliam was excited about playing authentic north Mississippi hill country blues for the crowd. It’s not like Delta blues, he noted, beaming with a little hills pride. “It just has a feel to it that is natural to me,” Pulliam said. “The mood of the music is, to me now, like if you ever watched African women dancing. It has that feeling; it just moves your body. It’s not sad. It’s not, ‘I lost my baby,’ and all that.” Pulliam said he enjoys transferring his energy to the audience. “I am trying to give them what I am feeling,” Pulliam said. “I just try to share the music in me with them. Music is just like a portrait. You put all the pieces together, and you have a picture. Once you present that hill country picture to people, they just love it. It comes over them.” Even for those who may not fully understand English, or grasp


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the dialect of the singer, blues music is something you feel. The large number of international tourists the festival attracts is a testament to the universal appeal of the genre. Parisians Pauline Tornue and Lucile Engoulevent, who now live in New York City, traveled to Clarksdale as part of a tour of the region that included stops in Memphis and New Orleans. The scene was something new for the French-born tourists, who spoke in front of Stolle’s place as hill country blues legend Kenny Brown played a particularly hot version of the staple “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” “The food here is amazing,” Tornue said. “Yesterday, I ate chicken gumbo soup and etouffee. We had grits and cheese, also.” “We were saying that we feel like we are in a movie,” Engoulevent said. “Especially for foreigners you know when you see movies and TV shows from the United States, there is always this kind of atmosphere going on, and now we are here for real.” Juke Joint Festival is always held rain or shine. Todd Hicks, of Cleveland, a veteran of the festival, said he’s actually had more fun there when the weather is rough. “The weird thing is the worse it rains, the better the time we have,” Hicks said. “It pushes people into a tighter spot and everybody is not walking around. We kind of get huddled up a little more, more drinks are shared, more stories are shared, and more friends are made.” Hicks had been on a bus full of tourists from other countries while he was at the festival. The diversity illustrates the potential the music has to change the area’s reputation and fortunes. “All of Central America is here, and all of Scandinavia is here,” Hicks said. “The blues gives us something to draw people here. The blues can’t save the Delta, but the Juke Joint Festival will make a damned good go of it.” The 2020 Juke Joint Festival kicks off Thursday, April 16, and runs through Sunday, April 19, with the major events being held on that Saturday. Find the music lineup, schedules and more info at jukejointfestival.com.

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“I T ’S B E E N A GR E AT DAY ” S I N G E R-S O N G W R I T E R R YA N M I L L E R ’ S S TA I R WAY S E S S I O N S I N S P I R E H I S F I R S T A L B U M , A N D FA M I LY A N D F R I E N D S H E L P I T B E C O M E R E A L I T Y. WR IT TE N BY C A I T LY N CL EG G

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hat started as a project to feed Ryan Miller’s creative side and to help him heal in the aftermath of a tragic car crash has turned into a full-length album. In 2016, Miller, two of his children and his father were in a head-on collision on Highway 9 north of Bruce. The kids were OK; Miller had some minor injuries, but the crash killed his father. As a way of working through the pain of loss, Miller turned to music. He began writing songs inspired by the impact his father had on his life. “I’d like to say that was intentional, but it wasn’t,” Miller said. “It was sort of a natural progression.” The deeply personal lyrics in his songs quickly earned him recognition. Miller won the American Songwriter Magazine Lyric Contest two years in a row, first with “The Captain’s Son,” and then with “Asking For a Friend.” “It’s Been a Great Day,” Miller’s debut single and the name of his album released Jan. 20, pays tribute to his father’s positive attitude toward life. Miller acknowledges that some form of his dad runs through each of his songs, particularly those with country or blues influences. His father loved the “old school” country singers like Merle Haggard and Hal Ketchum. “Everyone always says my dad was the greatest guy,” Miller said. “People would ask him, ‘Max, how

are you doing?’ and he would respond, ‘It’s a great day in Oxford.’” The road to the new album began with Miller’s so-called “stairway sessions.” In off hours, he would grab his guitar and head for the stairwell of his office building in the Center for Manufacturing Excellence at the University of Mississippi. He would settle on the steps and play and sing covers of popular songs, and also work on his own music. “As long as I do it after hours, I won’t get fired,” Miller joked. “It’s where I can go by myself and test new things out. And I’ve only had students complain one time.” Eventually he began recording the sessions and posting them on social media, where they received an outpouring of support from friends and family that continued to grow. Pretty soon, Miller realized he had enough material from the stairway sessions for an album. Inspired by the positive feedback from both followers and professionals, he started a Kickstarter campaign that funded about two-thirds of the cost of his first album, recorded at and produced by Blue Sky Studios in Jackson. “Surrounding myself with support and honesty has been important,” Miller said. “It’s been an overwhelming part of the whole process. I am very grateful.” Miller describes himself as “a singer who plays the guitar.” His music pays homage to experiences throughout his life, as well as the people he’s been close with. Although he doesn’t attach a particular genre to his music, he has an affinity for lyricists who weave narrative into their songs, and his own songs tend to be contemplative. “‘So I Can Say Goodbye’ is a song about my family,” Miller said. Continued on page 42

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Continued from page 41 “I took stock one day and realized I’m married, and I have three beautiful children. My greatest fear is going too soon and not being able to see them grow up.” Miller’s father was in the Coast Guard, so the family traveled a lot. He credits some of his musical interests to exposure to different cultures and perspectives when he was growing up. “People ask me, ‘What do you write?’ and I respond, ‘Yes,’” Miller said. Miller has had musical aspirations for most of his adult life. He came to Oxford on a scholarship with the University of Mississippi Concert Singers. He was a music major for one year, but eventually changed course. “I knew I could write to music, so I thought, ‘I’ll move to Nashville and become a country singer,’” Miller said. “I quickly learned that at 18 years old, I didn’t have anything to write about.” Miller spent the summer after his freshman year of college in Italy with the Concert Singers. The group participated in the Gran Premio Europeo di Canto Chorale, which Miller describes as the Super Bowl of choral competitions. They went up against professional choirs from as far as Taiwan and Hungary — and won. Miller said his time with the Concert Singers sharpened his skills, but most pivotal in his relationship with music was the acapella group Blue Ten Harmony. Miller, who is a founding member, credits his work with the group for his attention to detail and quality in his music. They started with biweekly rehearsals, and went on to sing the

national anthem at an Atlanta Braves game and record a self-titled album in Nashville. Blue Ten Harmony’s influence is woven through Miller’s work. Two of his fellow group members sang backup on the track “This Old Church,” on his debut album. Although Miller’s early attempt to become a country music star in Nashville didn’t materialize, he realizes that age and experience have added a vital component to his musical career. “It’s ironic that I’m 40 and just now venturing into the (professional) music scene,” Miller said. “But a few years ago, I realized that now I actually have things to write about. The songs I wrote at 19 were really bad. I didn’t have anything to say. Now that I’m older and have stories to tell, there are things I want to communicate to others. Writing songs is the best way I know how to do that.” Miller’s love for music permeates his home life as well. The Miller household is full of music; the family members all sing or play instruments, including guitar, violin and piano. Miller and his wife, Erin, regularly sing and play music together, and she serves as a sounding board for his new material. He jokes that in many ways, his wife is a much better musician than him. Through the power of music, he hopes to leave an indelible mark on his children’s lives. “We’re the dorky family that is singing all the time,” Miller said. “We make songs for everything — bedtime, bath time or even explaining how the Smoky Mountains got their name.” Miller encourages others to pursue creativity as a healthy, cathartic experience. Although his recent musical journey came about after his father’s death, Miller knows his father would be proud of his album. “If my dad were here, I know he would be supporting and encouraging me the whole way,” Miller said. “But he would be honest about whether he liked it or not. He would probably tell me to play something that sounds more like Merle Haggard.” Visit invitationoxford.com to watch one of Ryan Miller’s Stairway Sessions. His album “It’s Been a Great Day” is available from digital music outlets.

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SONGWRITERS CONTEST PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEGAN WOLFE

The third annual Small Hall Songwriters Contest Concert took place Jan. 18, judged by Emmy-winning musician and songwriter Greg Barnhill.

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1. Amy Jones with Judy and John Mosley and Lisa Moon 2. Greg Barnhill, Luke Smith and Andrew Newman 3. Luke Fischer and Nate Robbins 4. Janet Hornton and Susan Whitaker 5. Robyn Hopkins and Belinda Buddrus 6. Richard Raspet and Wendy Garrison 7. Michelle and Brian Blake 8. Kyle and Amy Jo Kite

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“THE WIZARD OF OZ” PHOTOGRAPHED BY ABBEY EDMONSON

The Regents School of Oxford lower school drama club production of “The Wizard of Oz” took place Feb. 13 and 14 at the school.

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1. Swayze, Rheagan, Mary Naden, Naden and Carter Vaughn 2. Kathy and Pete Brummett with Ellie and Graham Bumgardner 3. Doug, Beth and Zach Paul 4. Morgan and Marcus Fondren 5. Betty Guess and Janis Miller 6. Ceecee McLaughlin and Judson Hart Cochet 7. Janice Mcgee and Haley Messersmith 8. Corrie, Elizabeth and David Reed

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EMPTY BOWLS LUNCHEON PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEGAN WOLFE

The Empty Bowls Luncheon took place Feb. 13 at the Oxford Conference Center. Proceeds benefit the Oxford Food Pantry.

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1. Harter Crutcher, Lockie York, Tammy Heleniak and Jamie Rider 2. Tawny Parham, Greg Lovelady, Sandra Bruner and Laura Jackson 3. Hanna Teevan, Jessica Lynch and Nadia Thornton 4. Cathy Tidwell, Ron Kitchens, Pam Roy and Candace McMinn 5. Jacqui Lear, Glenn Boyce and Caroline Mayo 6. Lindsay Goldthope, Tajanae Rivera-Buford and Jeanette Clements 7. Cora Brusevold and Ellen Lackey 8. Mansi Patel and Stacey Fiser 9. Debbie Stepp with Donald and Virginia Edwards

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OXFORD ART CRAWL PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEGAN WOLFE

The first Oxford Art Crawl of 2020, hosted by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, took place Jan. 21, with stops at the Chancellor’s House, Gallery 130 in Meek Hall, Uptown Coffee and other locations. 1

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1. Cecelia Moseley, Burchie Ellinger and Olivia Johnson 2. Ellen Olack, Kateland Dillard and Daneel Ferreira 3. Gay and Steve Case 4. Andi Bedsworth with Robert Saarnio 5. Esther Bloomekatz and Amy Rosen 6. T.J. and Renee Wofford 7. Jessica Richardson and Mallory Smith 8. Brian and Gray Fisher with Virge Cornelius

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MLK DAY E VENTS PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEGAN WOLFE

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The third annual community reading of Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” took place Jan. 18 at Off Square Books. Southern Foodways Alliance and the Oxford Film Festival hosted a free film screening in observance of MLK Day Jan. 20 at the Powerhouse.

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1. Lois Brown, Ruby Redmond and Jean Woodruff 2. Karen, Anna and Andrew Lafferty 3. Sofia Serafin, Antonio Tarrell and Matt Wymer 4. Jeff Jackson with Valerie Beasley Ross and Courtney Cook 5. Kristin Hickman, Jonathan Smith, Sarah Bilsky and Ayla Gafni 6. Jodi Skipper and Rhondalyn Peairs 7. Lisa Howorth, John Martin and Kate Bishop 8. John and Pat Iverson 9. Nequel Burwell, Madison Gordon and Rebecca Barkholz 10. Brenda Slayden and Clarissa Jordan

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PRINCESS BALL PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEGAN WOLFE

Chick-fil-A hosted its annual Princess Ball, a special father-and-daughter date night event, Jan. 27, 28 and 29 at the Powerhouse.

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1. Alice and Daniel Centeno with Kate Pierce 2. Bindie and Peter Collins 3. Russ and Phoebe Bragg 4. Vivian and Bruce Newell 5. Sawyer and Pat Ward 6. Khloe and Brandon Hawkins 7. Molly and Jason Shirkey

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8. Terrence and Sophia Thomas 9. Clark, Mike and Michelle Fudge 10. Posey and Jason Brooks 11. Jacob and Stella Bae McDougal 12. Josh and Willow Brooke Thomason 13. Ellie and Kyle Killens 14. Glenn and Sarah-Kay Coleman

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ZETA PHI BETA ANNIVERSARY PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEGAN WOLFE

The Mu Chi Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. celebrated its 35th anniversary Jan. 10 at The Jackson Avenue Center.

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1. Jacquline Vinson and Tamara Webb 2. Veronica Agnew-Granger and Cathy Allen 3. Sandra Vaughn, Kenya Washington, Patricia Hines and Marilyn Barnes 4. Kimberly Brackett and Catrina Travers 5. Denise Fondren and Romana Reed 6. JoVan Reed and Floretta Clark 7. Mary Polk-Hawkins and Gwendolyn Knight 8. Ethel Morgan and Ava Jackson 9. Luretha Phillips and Loretha Jones 10. Kimberley and Catrina Travers

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THACKER MOUNTAIN RADIO PHOTOGRAPHED BY MEGAN WOLFE

Thacker Mountain Radio kicked off its 2020 season Jan. 23 at Off Square Books, with author Ashley Wurzbacher (“Happy Like This”), pop-rockers Short in the Sleeve and Memphis soul-funk duo, The PRLVG. 1

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1. Claire Byrne, Caroline Pollard and Isabelle McLeod 2. Lee, Ginnie, Kim and Gail Patterson 3. Kristin Hickman and Lexi O’Donnell 4. Ann Phillippi with Melvin Warren 5. David Crews and Ralph Vance 6. Christopher and Christian Underwood 7. Linda Whitten and Barker Fowler 8. Kathleen Wickham and Larry Wells

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FIBER ARTS FESTIVAL PHOTOGRAPHED BY JESSICA RICHARDSON

The 10th annual Oxford Fiber Arts Festival featuring weaving, knitting, spinning and other fiber crafts took place Jan. 24-26 at the Powerhouse.

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1. Jessica Ruthven and Gian Luca Cantarin 2. Stephen Threlkeld and John Covert 3. Marjorie Buckley and Billy Chadwick 4. Wesley Craft and Jacqueline Knirnschild 5. Susan Zachos and Jennifer Miller 6. Emily Hamblin and Jonathan Smith

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OUT & ABOUT M i s s i s s i p p i G rave l C up Bi ke R a c e

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1. Heath Morrison, Shannon Estes and Briar Frederick 2. Michelle Adams and Kim Yarborough with Lucy 3. Carson Harrington, Brandon Krawczyk and Matt Grovero 4. David Merideth with Fowler and Billy Staines 5. Deke Adams and Chris Partridge 6. Yasmine Brown, Bobby Hudson III and Mercedes Pride 7. Rhodes Walker and Avery Goggans 8. Brian Harvey, Sarah Robinson, Noah Hamilton, Cory Franks and David Brevard 9. Tina Suggs, Libby Tidwell, Sarah Robinson, Simsie Schaff, Kayla McIntyre, Jeff Jones and Julie Kelly 10. Jeannie Clement and Jonnie Mayo 11. Cynthia Colburn and Brenda Meriweather 12. Barbara and Bill Bailey 13. Gail Hercules and R.J. Lee

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OUT & ABOUT T he R i g ht e ou s Brot he r s C o nc e r t

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MISSISSIPPI'S BEST

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EM M A mma Pittman, who studied theater at Oxford High School (class of 2014) and at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York (class of 2018), is now preparing for her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in the musical, “Chicago.”

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INTERVIEWED BY ALLISON ESTES

Q: How did this all come about? A: The audition was an online

video submission. I posted it and was like “whatever” — if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.

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Where were you when you heard you made the top 10? A: I heard from them Oct. 23, which was my birthday, that I got in the top 10 semifinalists. It was the best birthday present ever!

Q: In November, Facebook users voted you

into the top 3 finalists. What was that like?

A: I was floored. I was home, choreographing

“’Tis the Season” (at OHS). (Then) we were being flown to New York for the audition. It was the fastest three days of my life. We had a Roxie boot camp first. The next day was the audition, in front of Ann Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth, and Bianca Marroquin (all former Roxies). I just had to have fun and be myself — that’s all I can be.

Q: When did you find out you got the part? A: I found out right then (at the audition)! I

had to keep it a secret until they announced it (two months later) — it was crazy!

guys. A huge thank you to the community for always being supportive of the arts. Read the complete interview with Pittman at invitationoxford. com. Watch “The Search for Roxie” at chicagothemusical.com/roxiecasting.

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JON ESQUIVEL PHOTOGRAPHY

Q: How does it feel to be a hometown hero? A: I literally wouldn’t be here without you


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