Music has always been a part of Garrad Lee’s life. Just ask him and he’ll tell you, music informed everything he did. But with no musical talent of his own, what could he possibly do with only a pure love for it? How about rebuild a city?
34 year old Lee, a history professor at Hinds Community College, says when he was 11, he heard Public Enemy’s Night of the Living Bassheads and it made an impact. “It always stuck with me,” he says. “Hip hop has always been with me. It’s in the way I dress and talk. It’s what I know.”
Fast forward to 2006 when Lee left his hometown of Jackson, Miss. for Colorado. “I grew up here my whole life,” he explains. “I remember when Jackson wasn’t cool. Jackson wasn’t sought after and we never had good music.” Since moving back to Mississippi in 2009, he counts himself as part of a solution, a revolution and revival of sorts, to bring Jackson back to where he believes it should be.
When Lee’s not in class, he’s a music promoter, co-owning labels with Cody Cox (Furrows, Liver Mousse). Elegant Trainwreck, their first joint venture, has spun off a second imprint, a label called Homework Town. Their first two releases have been a 7” for Liver Mousse with 5th Child and one for James Crow a month ago.
Lee is also a manager – of sorts. “The running joke amongst a lot of people is I’m a semi-manager,” he explains. “I hate taking money from people. I don’t like to officially manage anyone. I’m in more of a position that people will come to me when they need something.” Lee says his lack of musical talent is made up for in his organizational skills. “If someone is looking to book shows or having issues with a venue, they can come to me and I can help.” He calls himself more of an adviser. “I don’t make money putting shows on, maybe just enough to do the next.”
The next is the Blender show (Volume 3) he and Cox have produced as part of Priced To Move, a two day pop-up art sale at Sneaky Beans today and tomorrow. Skipp Coon, Swamp Babies, Coke Bumaye and Spacewolf take the stage Saturday night in a free show. “This is fresh lineup,” Lee says, with none of the artists having performed together in the other two Blender shows. “Typically, we put artists together, but it takes work.” And while Priced to Move organizer Ian Hanson and Cox has a hand in the process, Lee pairs them off. He says the Blender is cool for him because it’s a stretch. “It’s interesting to step out of my hip hop comfort zone.”
Lee first became involved with Priced To Move, now in its third volume as well, to help Hanson with the musical aspect of it. “Ian came to me and said, ‘let’s do something this time for a huge draw, beyond the art show, and people can check out both,’” he says. “We’re helping each other, and, really, blending our two things as well.”
So if Lee is behind the scenes and really, gains nothing monetarily for his efforts, what’s in it for him? “We get knowing that when anytime people talk about Jackson, we had something to do with it,” he tells us. Lee says if no one steps up the plate to shape and change the city, then Jackson has no future. “If Jackson is better, then we have a hand in it.” Lee says his concern is more for others than himself. “I’m willing to sacrifice if it benefits the greater good.” He cites the steadfastness of business owners like Ron Chane. “We’re staunch supporters. I’ve lived in other cities and never cared to do anything like this.”
Lee says he’s heard the same talk others have about Mississippi’s capital city. “(They say there’s) nothing good to do and it’s too dangerous,” he explains. “We take that personally. My whole thing is, I get sick of hearing people say there’s nothing to do here.” Lee says it takes time – and warm bodies to prove otherwise. “For every one of them, it takes 100 of us to silence their voice. They’re quitters. I believe if there’s a problem, you fix it or you get people together to fix it. We’ve been taught to leave it. We’re doing everything we can to get people back. One day, in 10 years, kids will be moving back from ‘burbs and we’ll be saying ‘I told you so.’”
Blender kicks off a bit earlier than Saturday: Lee says Friday night’s front porch DJ sets from Spirituals and Melvin Priester and an acoustic set from The Weekend Kids wrapping a good theme around the weekend.