Image: Frank Farmer

As we celebrate our fifth anniversary, we look back at some of the neighborhood’s favorite daughters and sons. Writer Mark Leopold profiles Arden Barnett, owner of Ardenland, who we first profiled in the fall of 2013.

Talking to Find It In Fondren two years ago, concert promoter Arden Barnett, the head of entertainment company Ardenland, had a lot of glowingly optimistic things to say about Jackson – a city “on the cusp of entering in to the next phase of being one of the greatest places in the country to live.”

A grandiose sentiment, to be sure, but one that  Barnett still whole-heartedly stands behind. Sure, he recognizes the struggle, saying, “it’s a battle to sell new music in Jackson,” something he attributes to Mississippians desire to stay in their comfort zones. But if Ardenland is promoting a show at Duling, or Thalia Mara, or Hal and Mal’s, or anywhere else in the state they book acts, you’re going to hear good music. “It might not be your music, but it’s going to be good music.”

What it all boils down to is an undemanding principle at Ardenland’s core. Simply put, “We don’t book sh** bands.”

Staying busy is no problem at Ardenland. Last year they put on 242 shows, five festivals, and 100 private events. As long as people keep going to shows, Barnett will be able to keep bringing in bigger names.

Of course, there are disappointing nights when a fantastic band is playing their heart out to a crowd much smaller than it should be. But while those nights might not bring in the money, Barnett says it doesn’t matter. “The magic is in the music,” he points out, emphasizing that seeing one of those shows with only a few dozen other people in the audience could be one of the most meaningful music-going experiences of someone’s life. Creating those moments is why Ardenland will work tirelessly to expand Jackson’s musical appreciation. And Fondren is the place to do it in. “It’s the energy hub [of Jackson]. It’s the fire that keeps the kettle boiling.”

As for what’s in store, Arden says there’s “a lot to look forward to. Start saving your money.” Bigger names will grace the stage of Thalia Mara Hall, and with $125,000 already put into Duling to improve sound and lighting, “phase two is still very much alive.”

When Arden travels to book bands, as he’s doing now in Los Angeles and Denver, he’s not going to sell Ardenland, he’s going to sell Fondren. Fondren is where Arden intends to keep making a difference. Asked if he could choose anywhere in the world to do what he’s doing Arden replied, “Right here. No ifs, ands or buts.”

Nashville, Austin, and Birmingham are all replete with music. But Fondren, Arden says, is where “you can make a difference in someone’s life.”