As the pastel sunset retired and gave way to the night sky, the sun went down, the stage lights came up, and music poured out of the stage speakers at the Chain Park at Twin Forks venue. A crescent moon hung high overhead as ‘Paul Johnson and the About Last Nights’ band took the stage at Future Fest. They were the final act of the fourth installment at the Leaf River Fall Fests on Oct. 13.
The nearby hidden gem venue is off the beaten path for most students and Hattiesburgers, and even Siri has difficulty finding its way there. Once the entrance is found, just around the bend is a sound amplifying bowl-shaped location with a backdrop of manicured grass, paved walkways lined with small trees in a photogenic display that hugs alongside the Leaf River with plenty of parking, a ‘bouncy-house’ and playground for the kids, refreshment vendors, a large performance stage front and center donned with booming speakers, an arsenal of musical weaponry, act after act of local and up-and-coming musicians. The only thing missing? A crowd.
“Last year we had a good turnout. This year there have been some challenges. We are on Saturdays as opposed to Fridays,” Event Coordinator Jonathan Pluskota said.
Pluskota then highlighted the difficulties of overlapping events, namely the mainstay Fall Saturday ritual of NCAA College Football. “We really like the venue. It’s a great sounding park with plenty of space if you want to spread out,” Pluskota said. He also mentioned ideas of more signage and promotion from the city to garner more support from the area.
Future Fest was presented by Southern Miss Gulf Park SGA and was comprised of all local acts. It began with local school of music, Groove House, who brought a small army of talent. The school showcased three different groups who were able to get experience appearing on stage and in front of a crowd.
“They have started their very own school of rock,” Max Dyar, a Hattiesburg native and Groove House performer said. “Groove House has all ages from 8 to 60 and all levels of talent,” Dyar said when asked who all participates in the school.
“You can bring the kids, listen to free music, put up a lawn chair and let them run around,” attendee Tina Thames, of Hattiesburg, said. Thames, who wants to see more community involvement, plans on bringing more friends and family along to the next event later in the month.
The second act, Floridamen, came on stage and played a mixed-bag of original music.
“[We are] rock influenced with a singer and songwriter twang to it with just a touch of country,” Michael Howell said of their styling. Floridamen have a six track EP releasing later this year.
Brennan White, a Nashville native and Southern Miss entertainment industry major was present at the event for class working the sound board, will be producing the Floridamen’s EP.
“Nobody wants to be there for the process of someone making it,” White said. “I think a big thing is people want to be blown away by local artist but have less of a standard for artists that have already made it.” This notion is a shared frustration of many local artists and entertainers.
“I like the fact that it’s an open setup for the kids to run and play and I can keep an eye on them and an ear on the music,” Petal native Katrina Nelson said. She has three children ages 6, 13, and 18. She said that the event may would make a great date night. Nelson also appreciated the safety and security she felt with the presence of multiple Hattiesburg Police officers.
Tyler Tisdale, of Midnight Revel, aptly described the band’s style as “Southern-Rock Soul fusion.” Tisdale said that more involvement from the community could draw in a bigger crowd. The five-man ensemble has an album coming out in January and will be opening for Flowtribe Oct. 25 at The Dollar Box.
Paul Johnson, Laurel native and front man of Paul Johnson and the About Last Nights described his love for the event.
“I have such a passion for it. I want to see this place boom in the arts and with music,” Johnson said. Johnson grew up in the area and moved to Nashville because he wanted to get out to where music and arts flourished but now is devoted to seeing the Pinebelt grow. “I started loving where I was from. It’s less about leaving, and it’s about making an impact where you’re from.”
The final episode of the Leaf River Fall Fest series will be Harvest Fest, featuring Americana, bluegrass and folk music on Oct. 27.
More information on each group can be found at the following websites.