When Sam Cox, Pace Ward, Justin Ryan and Hunter Williams moved into the house on 310 Elm Street, they didn’t have plans to create the latest do-it-yourself music venue in Oxford, but a drought of homegrown music venues in the area forced them to consider it.
DIY venues have been a staple of the Oxford music scene for several years. House show venues in the city are usually run by University of Mississippi students, which causes an inevitable passing-of-the-torch each time show runners graduate.
“Keeping the DIY scene was passed down, and it landed on us because our house was kind of like a perfect situation,” Cox said. “It’s a big room; there’s plenty of space for people to hang out. There’s really no sound from the road, there’s a lot of parking, so it worked out perfectly.”
The Cats Purring Dude Ranch on North Lamar Blvd. and Rose Room on Pierce Ave. predated Freddy’s as DIY music venues in Oxford.
Patrick McKee, one of the former tenants at Rose Room, contacted Cox and became his mentor, Cox said.
“He mentored me kind of, and we talked about it throughout the whole summer of 2018, and he helped me get connections and helped me understand how to run a venue. Then in August we had our first show,” Cox said.
The Freddy’s Basement house has been passed down by Delta Psi fraternity members for several years, but it didn’t become a venue for house shows until August of 2018.
“A lot of us are members of a fraternity actually — which is kind of silly to think about — but it was just some fraternity brothers of ours who would throw Halloween parties here … and a lot of people would show up to them,” Ward said.
Shows at Freddy’s Basement take place in — you guessed it — a basement.
A large mattress spray painted with the words “Jesus was NOT Irish” and “Freddy’s Basement” greets concert goers when they enter the room.
In the past, the mattress was pushed up against the door of the basement to block sound from parties which now is covered with a trash bag for the same purpose, Cox said.
“It used to say ‘Jesus was Irish’ which I know two of the guys who lived here were Irish Catholic, so that’s probably what it’s referencing,” Cox said. “Then someone went on later to spray paint ‘not’ in-between ‘was’ and ‘Irish’ and so now it just says ‘Jesus was not Irish.’ Then we spray painted ‘Freddy’s Basement’ on there at the end of this past summer.”
The tenants at Freddy’s Basement designed it to be inclusive to all members of the Oxford community. They wanted to create a space with an emphasis on listening to music where everyone felt welcome. In the past, shows have attracted very diverse crowds of high school students, Greek organization members and even university professors.
“It’s inherent for every venue (that) it’s going to be like the people that run it, and their friends are like the prominent people at the shows, so we wanted to create a space where everyone was invited and could feel included, and I think we succeeded at that,” Cox said.
When Casey Nelson, who works as a study abroad advisor at Ole Miss, moved from Houghton, Michigan to Oxford in January, he hoped to be able to find a music scene like the one he had helped cultivate in Houghton with his DIY music venue “International House of Toast.”
“It was definitely something that I was hoping to find. I think I like tried to find some vague Google searches, but nothing really comes up,” Nelson said. “I was at one show at Proud Larry’s, and the crowd wasn’t really big. I saw one guy who just looked like he knew what was up.”
That guy was Pace Ward. Nelson approached Ward to ask him if there was a house show scene in Oxford.
“I’m like ‘Hey, are you from here? Do you live around here?’” Nelson said. “I asked, ‘Is there a house show scene here?’ And he was like ‘Yeah, they’re at my house.’”
Nelson attended three shows at Freddy’s Basement and found that they fostered the same kind of community that he had at International House of Toast.
“You see these different niche communities coming together and hanging out at once, and I really liked that,” Nelson said. “That was something that was big in Houghton … and I kind of get that vibe from Freddy’s, too. It’s not just one group of people. There’s different people with different musical interests who come together to see different acts and all come together.”
Freddy’s Basement organizers saw a need for a music venue that could showcase local talent who couldn’t find places to play at the larger venues in Oxford. Freddy’s Basement was supposed to be a place where people could come together regardless of clique or age and listen to music.
“You have all the people who are the ‘Square rats’ who know everybody that have been playing in bands for years, and they can get shows as easy as they want,” Ward said. “Half of them work at (Proud) Larry’s or whatever, but we were starting punk bands in the basement. We had friends from Jackson and Hattiesburg who were playing punk rock and, like, ‘making noise,’ and not doing the thing that everyone likes to hear all the time. We wanted a place for them to come and play, too, because we like that stuff and I think that this town has room for it if we cultivate a space for it.”
Freddy’s Basement shows have been comprised of touring bands for most of the year, but they also let local groups come and play shows as a way to hopefully help them gain recognition.
“We need a place to get people to play because (Proud) Larry’s is booking all these bands from out of town, and you have to have some kind of name for yourself if you want to play there,” Ward said. “Where are people going to play their first shows at? That’s kind of the space that we tried to create.”
Forrest Philpot, who uses the stage name “Forrest,” released an album titled “777” in May. Philpot, who is from Cleveland, Mississippi, has played at other venues in Oxford but believes that house shows like those at Freddy’s Basement are unique.
“It’s a house,” Philpot said. “That’s the way to go. House shows are my favorite because people can do whatever they want and have fun, and it’s all ages. (Proud) Larry’s is really cool because they treat you really well and you get a pizza and some beer and stuff, but I just like homegrown DIY stuff more. The shows here are really fun and always packed out.”
For their final show of the year, Freddy’s decided to comprise a list of bands that were all local to Mississippi and their friends. They saw their final show as a way to give exposure to local musicians who they thought deserved the recognition.
There were also booths with local art and merchandise for sale.
“The first group (Dogcatcher), is actually a solo artist, and she is a really good friend of Pace’s who has come to pretty much all of our shows,” Cox said. “So we want to get her music out there as kind of an exposure thing for Oxford. It’s our last show, but people will come and see her music and finally get to hear her music, and maybe it will help her get recognition. Maybe start a career for her, or not a career but just get her some popularity.”
Cox also shot a music video for Inside Voices, one of the bands headlining the final show. The music video for “This Cab Needs Wheels” was featured at the UM Film Festival in 2018.
“It was a really fun time filming it and (it was) one of if not probably my most proud film creations,” Cox said.
Despite the overwhelming success of Freddy’s Basement for the past ten months, the future of the venue remains uncertain with all of its tenants finishing their undergraduate degrees and moving to other areas.
The new tenants moving into the house are Delta Psi fraternity members, keeping with the building’s tradition.
Ward said that the idea of keeping the house in the ‘brotherhood’ seemed arbitrary, but he credited the fraternity for bringing the tenants of the house together initially.
“I think it may have been better if people were interested, to give the house to someone or kind of pass on the house to someone who was invested in continuing ‘this,’” Ward said.
Whether Freddy’s Basement will continue in the future is up in the air, but the future tenants have been given the green light to continue. If it doesn’t continue, another DIY venue will surely pop up in Oxford to take its place.
“We do know the people buying it and renting it, and they’re really cool guys, but I don’t know if they are interested in keeping this running,” Cox said. “So as of right now, we’re saying Freddy’s Basement is over with. If they come back, I told them that they could use the Freddy’s Basement name and keep it going. It’s just kind of up to them.”