Chaney Nichols says he’s always had music in his blood. The Rolling Fork native mentions the Delta blues as an influence in his life. But when you don’t play an instrument and have melodies coursing through your veins,” what do you do? Start a record label.
In 2001, a then 26 year-old Nichols finished a judge’s clerkship with dreams of becoming an entertainment lawyer. Resume in hand, he set out for music city and Nashville’s famed Music Row. Nichols had the legal experience, he was told, but no industry cred. “Having that void, I decided ‘I’ll generate my own music background,’” he explains. “It was kind of a backwards way of doing things.”
Fast forward a year and Nichols had returned to Jackson in 2002. When he began to notice the same four bands (Questions in Dialect, Fletcher, Bellador and A Becoming Walk) playing the same four venues, each trying to do their own thing, he suggested a meeting to all of them. “I said ‘Why don’t we do this under a unified front to generate greater exposure and attention?’” he proposed. The front, a label called, Esperanza Plantation (taken from the name of Nichols’ family farm) was born in March of 2003. The first release was a split 7” between Questions in Dialect and A Becoming Walk.
As the founder of Esperanza, Nichols serves in the role of executive producer, providing bands with resources and connections to industry pros to help them get their craft out to fans. Is it a lucrative business? “No,” says Nichols. “The label is a labor of love. And a tax write off,” he jokes. “Out of 23 releases, three have made it to the black.” Esperanza is Nichols instrument. “I’m not a musician, so this is my way to make music and support art, which is what it’s all about.”
Like fellow Delta native Muddy Waters, Nichols says he’s rollin’ and tumblin’ with the evolution of the music industry. “The number of record stores have dwindled and music sections in brick and mortar stores have shrunk to a half section,” he says. “It’s tough, but we’re just rolling with the punches, seeing which way it goes.” But, he also calls it an exciting time, especially for labels like Esperanza and other independent imprints. “Now is the time for small labels, like us, like Cody Cox’s Elegant Trainwreck and Garrad Lee’s Homework Town. I’m thrilled to see artists who are slowly developing a new model, trying to create something new.”
Speaking of the local scene, Nichols says Jackson is unlike any other. “The 90’s were a dark period,” he says of the artistic void felt here. “But tons of bands have arisen in the last 5 years. It’s a huge push for community in Jackson that you don’t see in larger markets. As long as that is fostered, it will continue to grow.” And that spirit, of course, includes Fondren. “The creative energy is here; this is the heart of Jackson. The greatest sense of community lies between Woodrow Wilson and Northside.”
The successes of Esperanza Plantation can be seen in their catalog. Twenty three records are proof, Nichols says, “putting ideas to work and making it happen.” And when one of his bands achieves even greater success, it’s exciting to him. “It’s in seeing bands like The Weeks, who first started coming to shows at 13 and grew up in this scene,” Nichols says. “They’re now taking the Jackson and Esperanza name beyond this state, and I got to play a little piece in that. It’s a crowning achievement for me, helping Jackson artists make Jackson music and take it to the masses.”
Esperanza Plantation presents their 10th annual Holiday Showcase this Saturday night at the Pix Capri at 7pm. The all ages show is $15 a person. There is no heat, so bring a coat. Here’s what you can expect from the six band bill:
– Johnny Bertram and The Golden Bicycles
A Jacksonian until last year when he and his recent college grad wife returned to Portland,OR, Betram released his 2nd full length this summer. This is the first show of the year for him in Jackson and first in support of the new record. Nichols says “if you want to see Johnny, get here on time. The first chord will be struck at 7pm.”
– TB “Bryan” Ledford
Former Oxford resident and co-founder of Thacker Mountain Radio, Ledford may be best known for his time in The Kudzu Kings and Taylor Grocery Band. In 2007, LedfordÂ moved to Jackson. His folk based, “Appalachian roots with a country/folk rock element” sound can be heard on his solo debut, released in 2011. That record includes Palestine and Jericho Mile, songs he has played for ten years. Nichols says Ledford has been playing private gigs with a soul and funk Christmas review. “I hope that makes it into the set list Saturday.”
– Jess Coppenbarger
With songs from his debut release, Oxford Basement Collection, Coppenbarger is currently writing and planning to record in 2013 for a sophomore release. Formerly the frontman for Flethcer (later Colour Revolt), Coppenbarger will be playing with a full band. Nichols says he’s excited to see the direction ofÂ the new material.
– Bear Colony
This loose collective of musicians from Little Rock, Arkansas came into the fold as friends with several members Colour Revolt, even touring with them at one time. This Saturday’s set is a record release show of sorts, having put out their sophomore release last month. This will be their first Jackson show in 2012.
– Questions in Dialect
QiD hasn’t played since 2005 as their original four piece line up (Phillip Blackwell, Jonathan Blackwell, Matthew Magee, Daniel Guaqueta). Nichols says they’re picking up where they set things down and moving forward. “This,” he says, “is a reintroduction.” If you remember their early 2000’s shows, QiD was known for their visual aspect. Nichols says Saturday’s show will take it to a new level, calling it a “very 2012 QiD set.”
– The Weeks
Former Jacksonians and now Nashville based, The Weeks will close the show. Signed with the Snakes and Serpents label, The Weeks played Esperanza’s 10th birthday in October. This is their last performance in Jackson for the year.