Profile 2020: Live From The Delta: Meet Justin HodgesBy BRYAN DAVIS PUBLISHER,
It was the kind of sticky Southern night concerts were made for.
Musician Josh Newcom walked off his touring bus onto Hannah Avenue in Indianola, and he began to walk the neighborhood, handing out copies of his new album.
Moments later, the distinct vibrations of the band’s soundcheck could be felt outside the doors of Club Ebony, and after a couple of hours had passed, the loud twang of country, rock and blues – especially blues – was rumbling through the hallowed walls of the venue.
A large crowd – for Indianola’s fledgling music scene – had gathered and was dancing to each beat.
For Justin Hodges, the man who booked the act, this was the official launch of his movement, Live From The Delta.
Hodges was born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, where he lived until he received his degree in economics from Armstrong Atlantic State University.
During his sophomore year in college, Hodges’ mother asked him to score some tickets for an upcoming Elton John show, which was a huge show in a market like Savannah.
“She was going to be working,” Hodges said. “The tickets went on sale at 10 a.m., and she couldn’t get off work, so I said ‘Sure, I’ll get them.’”
He got eight, just as she had requested, but a couple of weeks later, she told him she only needed six, and she asked if he could get a refund for the remaining two.
“I tried to get a refund, and even though the event was sold out, and it was a hot event, and the seats were good, they wouldn’t give me a refund,” Hodges said.
He then turned to Ebay, where he started an auction for the pair at 99 cents.
“I ended up making $100 profit,” Hodges said.
A fan of music and economics, Hodges was immediately drawn into the ticket brokerage business.
Through experiences, some profitable and some not, he began to understand different markets and how to make a profit selling tickets.
By the time he graduated from college, he had a thriving business, and he knew he was going to be able to work remotely.
“I knew I wanted to be on the coast, and I knew I wanted to live someplace warm,” Hodges said. “I asked my grandmother, who was very well-traveled, where she would live if she could go anywhere, and she said, ‘San Diego.’”
For the next eight years, Hodges lived in the southern California city, and during his first year living there, he made a connection that would eventually lead him to the Mississippi Delta nearly a decade later.
“My first year living in San Diego, my neighbor came in and said, ‘I’ve got these friends from Mississippi coming to visit me. I want you to meet them. They love college football like you, and they love music like you,’” Hodges said.
The lifelong Georgia Bulldogs fan indeed hit it off with the folks from the heart of SEC country, but many of their conversations were about the Delta and blues, instead of Ole Miss and Mississippi State football.
“They proceeded to tell me all about the Delta,” Hodges said. “They knew how much I loved music, and they told me how the blues started here. I was unaware at the time.”
This friendship continued over the next eight years, and eventually, Hodges began to do his own research into the origins of modern music. Most of the time, it all led back to the Delta.
It was during his research about the Delta’s rich music history that he began to realize the economic conditions in the area were so dire.
“I really picked up on the plight of the region,” Hodges said. “I just couldn’t believe that a place that gave so much and laid the foundation for music as we know it in America, could have so little in return.”
Hodges was even further astounded that the music industry had never really rallied around the home of Charlie Patton, B.B. King and so many others.
Knowing the charitable nature of the music industry, Hodges felt a true calling to move from the paradise of the California coastline to the hot, muggy Delta, where he began the Live From The Delta movement two years ago.
Through his Mississippi friends, he was connected with B.B. King Museum board chair Bill McPherson, who then put Hodges in touch with Robert Terrell at the museum.
The ultimate goal has always been to start a movement that will eventually culminate in an annual festival that will benefit the region.
Building such a movement in such a poverty-stricken region is not easy, and Hodges knows that.
Through the museum, he began to handle all of the leads coming in from bands who were interested in playing B.B. King’s Club Ebony.
He’s taken a slow, methodical approach to building Live From The Delta. The artists must buy in, Hodges said, to the vision. They must have an understanding of the origins of American music, and they must have a deep appreciation for Club Ebony.
“It can’t be just another stop on the tour,” he said.
They must also believe in the cause where most of the door money goes, the youth education programs at the B.B. King Museum.
And most of all, they have to be good entertainers.
Josh Newcom was the first, and his electrifying sound rocked Club Ebony for over two hours back on June 28.
Hodges carried that momentum into his second show, which featured Borderline, a band from Switzerland.
The final show of 2019 featured a new format that Hodges plans to use at future shows.
Sid Kingsley was the main act, but local band Jake & The Pearl Street Jumpers opened the show.
After Kingsley did his set, the local band came back on stage to jam with the visiting act.
“This blends the touring bands with the local artists,” Hodges said. “This highlights improvisation, which is a major characteristic of the blues.”
Hodges eventually would like to see Club Ebony become a destination for fans to see big name acts in a small, historical and intimate venue.
Hodges is currently working on his fourth show, his first of 2020, and he hopes to make an announcement soon.
In the meantime, he has slowly been exiting the ticket brokerage business, and he has been working with a New York-based experiential marketing agency that is tied to some of the biggest brands in the world.
Hodges is hopeful that one day it will all tie together and produce something special and meaningful for his new home, the Delta.
Follow Hodges and Live From The Delta on Instagram and Facebook for more updates.
Photo by Joshua Branning