"This is a Laboratory": The Audubon Sessions

a female singer accompanied by two male musicians
Mason Jar Fireflies

On December 4th, the Mike Curb Institute of Music welcomed the band Mason Jar Fireflies to 1034 Audubon for the last Audubon Sessions performance of 2015. These shows are performed and filmed in front of an audience comprised mostly of current Rhodes College students, and then made into an ongoing web concert series. Much of the planning and production of the shows and the series is done not by professionals, but by Rhodes students, and this last show was also special because it served as the culminating project for the students of the Music and Community in Memphis class.

Mason Jar Fireflies call themselves a “rhythm & greens” band, which they describe as a combination of pop, soul, country, and R&B. Based in Memphis, they are comprised of Adam Gowdy, Kyndle McMahan, and the resident old man, Greg Carmack. At the show, they kept it simple; the only instruments were two guitars, a hand shaker, and Adam and Kyndle’s versatile voices. For Jad Quaddarah ’19, the Mason Jar Fireflies "quite simply write some fantastic songs that tell really great stories, and it was a perfect fit for the intimate space in Elvis' house.”

Students in the Music and Community in Memphis class do much more than just study in a classroom. Says Jad, “The biggest thing about the class is that you learn through experience, from actually doing things, as opposed to just hearing about them in a classroom.” Each student has specific jobs before, during, and after each performance. Ashley Dill ’17, associate event manager, interviews the performers before they begin their show, giving the audience insight into what they are about to hear. Marissa Evans ’17 and Jean Xiong ’17 are both part of the AV crew, and they film the performance from multiple angles so that the show can be edited and added to the project’s online series (http://eveningatelvis.org). Other students help organize the guest list, manage catering, book the artists, and more.

The shows involve a lot of work, but they’re also fun. “At each performance, I sometimes forget I’m supposed to film and I just start really getting into the music,” Jean laughs. And despite the class being a music course, it is in no way limited to just music majors. Because of the many different jobs necessary for putting on such complex productions, it’s easy for students to find a place for their diverse skillsets. Says Marissa, “It was pretty fun and cool getting to hang around majors that you never really interact with, and seeing how each major contributed to the class.”

Elvis Presley lived in 1034 Audubon when he was 21 years old and taking the world by storm. He bought the house with the earnings from “Heartbreak Hotel,” and performed on the Ed Sullivan Show for the very first time while he lived there. Before each performance, John Bass, director of the Mike Curb Institute, emphasizes how these shows are for students who are similar to Elvis, who are around 21 and just trying to change the world. Bass calls The Audubon Sessions “a laboratory for our students to work on real life skills with real world productions." With the Music and Community in Memphis class, these students are doing exactly that.

 

By Sam Clark ’17