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Local Music Keeps OCB In Harmony

An effort enlivened by the rich arts community in Oxford, Mississippi, the Thirtieth Oxford Conference for the Book is not solely for the book. Free live music is sprinkled throughout the three-day schedule, acknowledging that writing and rhythm work hand in hand. From ambient and experimental to rock and roll and jazz, local music keeps the conference in harmony.

Kicking off the conference, the annual Authors’ Welcome Party at 6 p.m. Wednesday is always a conference highlight for authors, panelists, and friends. Over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at Brandt Memory House (406 University Ave.), party-goers will be treated to an exclusive performance by the Ole Miss Jazz Quintet. The quintet features revolving members of the UM jazz community under the direction of Michael Worthy, whose curated bands are known for filling the house at Proud Larry’s each semester. From the gazebo, the jazz quintet will fill the expansive patio and backyard of John Faulkner’s 1837 home with music that will get your toes tapping. Community members can purchase tickets here in order for your name to be on a list at the door.

Thacker Mountain Radio is a longtime partner of the Oxford Conference for the Book. Each Thursday, author readings combine with a visiting band performance as well as music from the house band, the Yalobushwhackers. At 6 p.m. April 5, the live radio show extends its stage to the conference, this year bringing poet Kaveh Akbar and two visiting bands; Creekbed Carter Hogan (“fingerpicked introspection and bittersweet confessionals” – Austin (TX) Chronicle) and ‘Memphis funkster,’ Hope Clayburn and Soul Scrimmage. The free performance is at the Powerhouse, located at 413 South 14th St., followed by book signings with all authors whose panels occur Thursday.

Concluding the conference are two more opportunities to hear a wide variety of music from literature-inspired musicians. First up, on Friday evening at Off Square Books, the Willie Morris Awards hosts the conference’s closing reception immediately following the award-winning authors’ panel at the same location. In addition to hors d’oeuvres and author book signings with all Friday panelists, the Willie Morris Awards will host a jazz performance by local legends Ricky Burkhead, Paul Tate, and Greg Johnson.

Jazz musician and upright-bassist Johnson is also the Head of the Department of Archives and Special Collections at the J. D. Williams Library, a longtime venue for the Welcome Lunch and the National Book Awards’ panel on Thursday morning. He looks forward to both attending and playing at this year’s conference.

“There’s such a connection between music and writing,” Johnson said. “Music can offer a framework to writing, even locally, with somebody like Ace Atkins for his series Crossroads Blues,” Johnson said. “Those overlaps are fascinating to me.”  As an archivist, Johnson’s job allows him to uncover histories in which writing and music intersect in the lives of people like William Faulkner and Larry Brown.

In a “Postscript” to the conference this year, William Boyle hosts crime fiction authors and local musicians in an honorary resuscitation of his Noir at the Bar series. As authors read excerpts from their recent works, musician Kell Kellum will create the sonic atmosphere. Kellum originally began experimenting with sound for film scores and is particularly drawn to live immersive experiences: “I really enjoy the call and response,” he said, “The music alone allows your mind to wander, but spoken word becomes a more pointed thing.” He partnered with Boyle previously to transform the release of Boyle’s 2019 novel A Friend is a Gift You Give Yourself into a Tom Waits-inspired live reading and sonic performance that the two have wanted to recreate for years. Noir at the Bar presented the perfect time, and is set for 9 p.m. at Ajax Diner, located at 118 Courthouse Square.

Bark will close out Noir at the Bar with original music from their recent album Loud, winner of the 2024 Mississippi Institute for Arts and Letters Award for Contemporary Music Composition. Husband and wife Tim and Susan Lee are a charismatic and talented duo who refuse to sit comfortably in any one genre: they situate themselves “somewhere between garage rock, punk rock, power pop, the Cramps, the Feelies, the B52s, R. L. Burnside, and the Delta blues.”

All events starting Thursday, April 4 through Friday, April 5, are free and open to the public. Check out the schedule at and follow @oxfordconferenceforthebook on Instagram and Facebook, and @OxConfBook on X (formerly Twitter) for daily updates.

Written by Lucy Gaines