Stumble onto the back porch at Otherlands any day of the week and you'll likely spy most of the Midtown music scene soaking up the sun and sipping freshly brewed coffee. Luther Dickinson, Harlan T. Bobo, and Scott Bomar are among the regulars who drink and dine on the bagels and lox that singer-songwriter Dan Montgomery slings from behind the counter.
Concert promoter James Manning -- who's booked shows at local halls like the New Daisy Theatre and Barrister's and worked for both Mid-South Concerts and Beaver Productions -- is among the music-scene-connected patrons who stops in every day for a hot cup of joe.
Now Manning is booking early-evening concerts at Otherlands every Friday and Saturday night. Last weekend, Lucero frontman Ben Nichols, Brad Bailey of The Glass, Montgomery, and bluesman Robert Belfour were the inaugural acts. This Friday, July 21st, Blair Combest and Stephen Simmons will perform, and Rae Ray and Holly Cole will share the spotlight on Saturday. Upcoming dates include Scandaliz Vandalistz (July 28th), Sid Selvidge (August 12th, presented by the Memphis Acoustic Music Association), and Cory Branan (August 25th).
"This is a rough town for working people [who want to see live music]," Manning says. "Most Memphis headliners go on at midnight, and before then, you've got hours of dead time, with nothing to do but sit and drink. I hear folks say all the time, 'Boy, I wish I could've seen that band,' but they have responsibilities, and they can't go out all night.
"The 7 p.m.-to-11 p.m. timeframe is a nice window," Manning says, "and Otherlands provides a challenging, up-close-and-personal environment, so I think this is gonna turn out to be a really good thing for the scene."
Manning is culling most of his acts from Otherlands' regular clientele and bringing in eclectic groups for special performances, including Los Angeles world-beat trio Incendio, who will make their Memphis debut on Tuesday, August 8th. With the addition of Wednesday night concerts booked by another local promoter, Aaron Cregger, who's bringing in musicians such as Niko Lyras (July 26th) and Alvin Youngblood Hart (performing on August 9th), Otherlands is becoming a major venue on the Midtown scene.
"When you do it every day, this business can be really hard, on a spiritual level. It's tough and mean, and it really grinds on you," says Manning, who was forced to slow down after a bout with West Nile virus sidelined him in September 2004.
"At the time that I got sick, I was trying to get out of this business," he adds, explaining that he was paralyzed "from the belly button down" for 20 months and relearned how to walk in March.
Somewhere along the way, Manning decided to get back into the booking biz, and today he couldn't be happier. "You get into a spot where you're doing something good," he muses, "and you realize just how fortunate you are."
CheckmateLast February, local group Chess Club and producer Jeff Powell holed up at Young Avenue Sound for a marathon recording session that guitarist Jason Barnett recalls as a "full-scale monster that lasted 12 hours a day, six days a week, for two weeks straight." They emerged with the heady, poppy A Generation of Pleasure Seekers, recorded under the aegis of the studio's co-op agreement and scheduled for release this Saturday night.
"This band started as a drunken answering-machine message, and the next thing we knew, we were really doing it," recalls Barnett, who formed Chess Club with bassist Amy Brooks (since replaced by Jason Hatcher), keyboardist Doug Walker, and drummer Dave Wells in 2002.
Vocalists Susan Marshall, Free Sol, and Planet Swan, along with accordion player Rick Steff, joined the group in the studio, lending a hand on moody, melodic songs like "Boy on a Bicycle," "Drowning Stick," and the new-wave-informed duet "300 hp Lie Detector."
"We're really straight-up pop-rock, although we get a lot of comparisons to the Talking Heads," Barnett notes. "We don't scream, we sing -- and we have a synthesizer. We're all in our mid-to-late 30s, so I guess we're just embracing what we were raised on."
Chess Club CD-release party with the Rindstars and Walkie Talkie. Saturday, July 22nd, at Neil's. For more information, go to www.ChessClubRocks.com.