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I have been long been fascinated by Southern cultures. At first glance, it appears that the South is dominated by an overarching, monolithic culture. It is easy to believe that culture never changes in the South, that there are no differences of opinion, that everyone thinks and acts the same way.
Yet such a view misses the wonderful diversity of Southern culture, which I describe in detail in my book Live at Jackson Station: Music, Community and Tragedy in a Southern Blues Bar. In the 1980s, Jackson Station was one of South Carolina’s most popular blues clubs. Despite being ensconced in the tiny conservative town of Hodges, SC, Jackson Station showcased music and embraced patrons from all walks of life. Owned by two openly gay men in a state where “buggery” is still listed as a felony crime, Jackson Station was a cosmopolitan oasis in a desert of parochialism. Jackson Station’s clientele was tolerant and diverse -- politically, economically, socially, racially, and sexually. Jackson Station welcomed everybody.
Since at least the time of H.L. Mencken’s “Sahara of the Bozart,” (1917), the culture of the South has not been viewed very favorably. As Mencken put it, “Virginia is the best of the South today, and Georgia is perhaps the worst. The one is simply senile; the other is crass, gross, vulgar and obnoxious. Between lies a vast plain of mediocrity, stupidity, lethargy, almost of dead silence.” Yet Live at Jackson Station challenges persistent myths of the South as being devoid of culture. In my book we meet highly exceptional, quite intelligent, and extremely motivated individuals. And far from being filled with “dead silence,” the tremendous live music at Jackson Station (from Widespread Panic to Nappy Brown) showed that the South can get very loud indeed. Certainly, Jackson Station was a far cry from the rarefied galleries and concert halls of Mencken’s Europe. But it was nonetheless an important patron of music and the arts in its time.
There is a humanity in the South that often gets eclipsed in the darkness of its history. Live at Jackson Station shows that Southern rituals and traditions have value. For example, the importance of family, of accepting others in spite of themselves, of cooking food and eating well, of telling stories and drinking beer, of spending time in the outdoors, of the pleasures of listening and dancing to music, of making sure people have their needs met, and so on. These values were fully embraced by the culture at Jackson Station. In my view, they represent the South at its very best.
Today, America is returning to the South. The South is becoming more American. Yet we must remember that the South has always been a multicultural place. No one ideology, or worldview has a monopoly here. There are so many types of Southern accents. And they could all be heard at Jackson Station, which still offers a model for community today.
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