Fun by Any Means Necessary: Punk Rock in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Fun by Any Means Necessary: Punk Rock in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

There is a difficult to name feeling at a Hattiesburg house show. You are a friend, no matter who you are.

I arrived painfully on time to my first punk show in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. At the insistence of the friend I was with, we rolled up to Spice World (a punk house off Hardy street) at 7pm on the dot, the time listed in the Facebook event promoting the show. We did not walk into a packed room with an opening band tuning up, as planned, but rather we entered into a perfectly normal living room with one person sitting on the couch. They were seemingly unfazed by our barging into their home, hopping up and introducing themself as Bobby. Regardless, I was mortified. Looking down the barrel of a stretch of time sitting alone in a stranger’s house, I knew that I needed an activity to keep busy, and asked if we could help set up. “I guess we could start working on that,” Bobby replied. So my friend and I stood behind them, holding tacks and blankets while they stood on the couch and covered the windows to soundproof them. They’d already gone to their neighbors on each side of Spice World, as they did before every show, and made sure everyone would be okay with the noise, but it was still important to limit what they could. Eventually, the touring band–Stiff Love, from Olympia, Washington–arrived, their gear was loaded into the living room, and the house quickly filled with dancing punks.

Hattiesburg house venue The Looney Bin before the show begins.

No punk in Hattiesburg has a title or one singular role they play.

That whole trip to Hattiesburg was a lesson in punk hospitality. My friend and I had come from Jackson during my spring break from Millsaps, which conveniently lined up with a four-night run of shows in the Hub City. We slept on the floor of the Looney Bin, another punk house in town whose residents opened their home to us, despite hardly knowing me. Every show we saw that weekend was attended by kind strangers who wanted to introduce themselves to us. Bobby made a point of dancing next to me at the Stiff Love show, and later told me that they were the unofficial “Lead Friend” in Hattiesburg. Not only did they book shows at houses, promote them on Facebook, and play in a band, but they also met new showcomers, invited touring bands to get Taco Bell after the show, and offered to take them around Hattiesburg and make their trip worthwhile. All told, my friend and I saw three of the four shows that weekend – two were at bars (Jazmo’s and the Thirsty Hippo) and one was at a house (Spice World). On our last night in Hattiesburg, I found myself in kind conversation with Deedee Catpiss, who had just played an excellent set on the Thirsty Hippo stage. “I hope y’all will come back soon!” they said as we exchanged goodbyes. “This was kind of a weird weekend for shows. They’re not usually like this.” I wondered about that the whole drive home. Shows at bars seemed pretty normal to me! What could that have meant? 

Hattiesburg’s TAG poses for a photo in front of their banner. 

It was hard to believe that I could see the bands that I loved from all over the place with a group of people who are now my close friends. Hattiesburg is amazing that way.

I kept coming back to shows for the next two and a half years, and eventually figured out what Deedee meant. A show night in Hattiesburg 90% of the time meant a house show, not a bar show. “A house show,” as musician/show booker/kind friend Hampton Martin later told me, “is just any old house where people say, ‘Hey, bands can play in this room!’ If you’ve got an outlet, we can make a show happen there, as far as I’m concerned.” Usually these houses are occupied by punks who agree to regularly host shows there and are given fun names to more easily identify them. Bands set up in living rooms and bedrooms with furniture pushed against the walls and play from amps sitting on the floor. Shows have a “suggested donation,” never a firm entry fee, and all the proceeds go to the touring band . If you don’t feel like dancing in the living room, you can go listen from the hallway or take a break in the backyard. Booking bands at local venues can be difficult, especially if they want to cater to all ages or sober crowds, and it’s much easier – and more fun - to just plug in and play at a house.

At a house show, everyone helps make it a success. The person who booked the show, the band members, and whomever else volunteers their assistance make the fun happen. Hampton explained it this way: “We’re playing this show in your living room, I’ll help you move this coffee table out of the way. And I’ll help you clean up and move the coffee table back.” No punk in Hattiesburg has a title or one singular role they play – if you play in a band, chances are you also book and host shows. You might let traveling bands sleep on your floor, cook for them, promote the show online, help them sell t-shirts, or make art for their albums and flyers. Very few people do everything, but everybody does something.

Posters from past shows decorate the walls of Momo’s Haunted Mansion.

I grew to love Hattiesburg fiercely because of this do-it-ourselves mentality. I kept coming back, sleeping on friends’ floors or driving there and back from Jackson in one night. During an interview a year later with artist and show organizer Jesse Moore, he spoke at length about how he cherishes that community feeling. “Everyone’s on equal ground. Even you and the touring band, there’s no VIP section for the band. They’re right there in the middle of the party with everyone else.” As a fan of punk, it was endlessly exciting to me that I could just walk into someone’s kitchen and talk to whatever band had just finished up. I’ve had so much fun and met so many interesting artists in Hattiesburg. I chatted with Preening on the porch of the Looney Bin, got a pin from Spodee Boy in the kitchen at Momo’s Haunted Mansion, and swapped leather jackets with members of Stiff Love at Spice World. It was hard to believe that I could see the bands that I loved from all over the place with a group of people who are now my close friends. Hattiesburg is amazing that way. 

In the summer of 2018, I had the joy of photographing some shows and interviewing some friends for the Folk and Traditional Arts Program at the Mississippi Arts Commission. The first show I photographed was not a house show, but instead one held at the Spectrum Center. By day, the Spectrum Center is Mississippi’s only LGBTQIA+ resource center, but occasionally they allow a show to happen in their main meeting area. Learning my lesson from my first Hattiesburg trip, I arrived slightly past fashionably late, missing out on both T.A.G. (Teens Against Gender) and Deedee Catpiss and the Fuzz Coffins’ sets. Luckily, I managed to catch Snake Church from Birmingham, who played so fast that I didn’t get a single non-blurry photo of their set. Snake Church played tough d-beat punk 1 to a happily receptive crowd. I stood right behind a row of enthusiastic dancers, who moshed and flossed across the floor, narrowly missing the amps stacked against the wall. That night, Bobby let me crash on their couch at the recently-retired Spice World, and I interviewed them about their history with Hattiesburg punk. Bobby moved into a Hattiesburg punk house from Georgia, completely on a whim and with no prior interest in punk rock. But the longer they stuck around, the more shows they saw and people they met, the more they felt at home with the punks in Hattiesburg. Though they have become more involved in booking and playing shows, Bobby’s favorite thing is still meeting touring bands: “The people who come through make it. They make it wonderful, and the people wouldn’t come through if the folks here weren’t wonderful. It’s a really magical spot.” 

Some bands go straight rock’n’roll, some go funkier, some are fast and fun, others are a little moodier. The unifying factor is lightheartedness.

The next show I photographed that summer was EW from Florida with Rainé Rainé from Georgia and locals, Judy and the Jerks. This time, I managed to arrive right on time to be fashionably late, chatting with other show-goers on the large and popular porch of the Looney Bin before catching my perennial favorites in Hattiesburg, Judy and the Jerks. They played their usual high-energy fun set to a room of onlookers from all angles – some danced in the living room, some poked their nodding heads out of the kitchen (where merch was set up and beer was stored), and some listened from outside. EW was next up, a two-person rock band with Brooke on drums, Zo on bass, and both on vocals. They played excellently danceable, angry feminist songs, even swapping instruments midway through so that each one had their turn on vocals. I was so excited after their set that I wandered over to the kitchen counter where they’d set out t-shirts and tapes for sale. I blew all the cash I had on two tapes and a neon yellow shirt that I planned on cropping. Finishing out the evening was Rainé Rainé, a solo project that consisted of one small keyboard, one microphone, two synthesizers, and a looping machine. The musician advised us before their set that they wouldn’t be quite as high energy as the other two bands. In fact, they would be sitting on the floor, and we should join them if we felt inclined. A few people sat on the couch, the rest sat on the floor, and we all nodded along with Rainé Rainé’s slow, looping melodies. It was a welcome respite from the heat of everyone dancing, which was exacerbated by the lack of air conditioning at the Looney Bin.

Florida’s EW performs.

The next morning, I spent an hour interviewing Jesse Moore in the backyard of his house. Jesse spoke to me with all the bravado and charisma I had grown to know and love him for. Jesse has been involved in Hattiesburg punk since the beginning – in the early days, back in 2013, he’d drive from his house in Vicksburg just to bring a PA system to shows. Now he wears a lot of hats in Hattiesburg, often booking shows, making flyers and album art, hosting touring bands on his couch, collecting donations at shows, and using his shared home as Hattiesburg’s punk “home base”. He enjoys the variety of sounds from different bands: “There’s no two bands in Hattiesburg that sound alike right now. […] Everyone has naturally, or even in some cases purposefully, tried not to recreate replicas of the same band over and over again.” Some bands go straight rock’n’roll, some go funkier, some are fast and fun, others are a little moodier. The unifying factor is lightheartedness – Hattiesburg bands are masters of catchy songs with fun lyrics and a distinct lack of tough-guy seriousness, which is exactly what Jesse says draws touring bands to the city again and again. “Most people say that Hattiesburg is fun, it’s pure, it’s a little goofy. Just a bunch of goofy kids in some country-ass, mosquito-infested town having fun by any means necessary with what they have available.”

The crowd enjoys Royal Brat’s set.

When I asked Sarah what makes Hattiesburg special, she knew without hesitation. "It’s the people...people that come to our shows, host shows, play in bands, everyone’s really dedicated and passionate about the community that we’ve created."

The last show I photographed was Royal Brat from Minneapolis with locals Pleather and Judy and the Jerks at Momo’s Haunted Mansion. Momo’s was named after its occupants’ friendly cat, who could often be found working the room on show nights, being pet and cooed at by small clusters of punks. Pleather opened up with a set of sweet, danceable rock songs, followed by Royal Brat’s loud, Lisa Frank-inspired queer punk. I danced in the living room in between snaps while others looked on from the hallway. After a brief break to hang out and pet Momo, Judy and the Jerks played yet another lightning-fast, high energy set. I headed to a bedroom where merch was set up and grabbed a Royal Brat tape and a shirt off a bed. 

The next morning, on my drive back, I reflected on my earlier interview with artist, show booker, and former punk house resident Sarah Krock. One of the founders of the current Hattiesburg scene, Sarah has been hosting and playing shows since 2013, living in active show houses for 5 straight years. She and her friends attended festivals in the early days with the intent of being ambassadors for Hattiesburg, handing out caseless mix CDs of the city’s music to anyone who would take one. Together, they built a punk scene with recognition around the country and a thriving community of artists making music together. When I asked Sarah what makes Hattiesburg special, she knew without hesitation. “It’s the people...people that come to our shows, host shows, play in bands, everyone’s really dedicated and passionate about the community that we’ve created. People care about what we’re doing and people care about each other in a way that I don’t know is true for other places.”

“The main challenge I see here is long-term sustainability,” Jesse once told me. The places where I used to see shows – Spice World, Momo’s Haunted Mansion, the Looney Bin – don’t host them anymore. Some of the bands have stopped playing. People need breaks, they move out, their priorities shift, they make room for the next. And yet, Hattiesburg sustains. The next bands and houses always come. In January of 2020, blissfully unaware of the impending pandemic that would shut down live music for the foreseeable future, I went back to Hattiesburg to see a blowout type of show. URIN, from Germany, was playing a new house, the Sin Den, along with six local bands. I had gotten caught up in a new job and hadn’t been able to make it to a show in a few months. I didn’t recognize a lot of faces in the crowd. But I still had friends booking and playing, and it still felt like everyone was ready to be my friend. I got to watch some of the newer locals I’d been wanting to see, like MSPAINT, Fumes, Space Trash, and Bigg Band. As URIN rigged up their instruments (including a contact mic, power drill, and sheet metal), I caught up with my buddies, musing about how wild it was that a band all the way from Berlin would go to the trouble of coming through little old Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

There is a difficult to name feeling at a Hattiesburg house show. You are a friend, no matter who you are. This way, it is possible, if you want, to always be engaged in conversation at a show. Everyone who organizes them knows everyone who’s there to listen to bands, and vice versa, and everyone at the show wants to know everyone else. Hattiesburg punks are a tight-knit group. They all work creatively together in numerous ways, from playing music to making zines and posters, to hosting bands. Being brought into the fold at a show isn’t just knowing people who see shows often - it’s knowing musicians, artists, organizers, and everyone in between. Punk isn’t just for the cool people who are there, it’s for everyone.

Julie Gore, of Hattiesburg’s Judy and the Jerks, performs.

The Hattiesburg Punk Playlist

“Sled God”, Baghead

“Beava Diva”, Big Bleach

“Dumpster Time”, Judy and the Jerks

“Nuclear Beach”, Eye Jammy

“Crawl”, Dumspell

“Riot”, Pleather

“Juvenile Hell”, The Almighty Bigg Band

“Crime Scene”, Control Room

“Supernova Fever / Sea of Stone”, Stellatone

“heartbreak in hattiesburg”, Big Hits

“Post-American”, MSPAINT

“Anguish”, Burning Sword

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Footnotes

  1. ^ D-beat punk stands for "down-beat", with drum patterns largely modeled after discore and crust bands like Discharge.

Lucy Isadora

Lucy Isadora

Lucy Isadora is a zinester, punk vocalist, and general rock and roll enthusiast. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Lucy is a graduate of Millsaps College and now resides in Jackson, where she teaches middle school English. When she’s not attending or playing a show, you can find her organizing her record collection or trying to learn drums. More of Lucy’s work is available at https://lucyisadora.tumblr.com/.