In late 2005, when Clay Levit was looking for a place to open his music store, he plotted the location of Martin Music, Strings & Things, Amro, Bob Fisher's Music Town, and the Guitar Center on a map. The Texas-born transplant, a former organic-vegetable farmer, initially planned to open shop in Midtown. But, noticing a glaring hole in the East Memphis corridor, he decided to hang the shingle for Fiddler's Green Music Shop (FiddlersGreenMusicShop.com, 684-2227) on Sanderlin, just a few blocks north of busy Poplar Avenue.
"If you sell electric gear, you have to sell effects racks, amps, cords, and everything that goes along with electric equipment, and that's already being done in Memphis. But no one else in town devotes their space and energy solely to acoustic instruments," says Levit, pointing to the stock of Blue Ridge guitars, Breedlove mandolins, and McSpaddin mountain dulcimers that line the walls.
Levit is an avowed Celtic music fan who stocks Irish whistles and drums, harps and fiddles. Although he doesn't play in a band, he can often be found onstage during the weekly music jams at Midtown's Celtic Crossing. Even the name Fiddler's Green, he explains, was pulled from Celtic mythology. "The fiddler's green is the place you go when you die, where there's plenty of wine, women, and song," he says.
Plenty of folk and bluegrass customers also walk through the door, looking for instruments like Arkansas-brand banjos, dobro guitars, and acoustic basses.
"Celtic and bluegrass are very similar," Levit says. "When Bill Monroe created bluegrass, he used typical English folk-music instruments. Bluegrass songs such as 'Whisky Before Breakfast' and 'Red Haired Boy' came from Celtic tunes, which were brought to Appalachia by Scotch and Irish immigrants. They're close, but you'll see no jigs in bluegrass."
Even so, he hopes to add to the local folk community, which has fostered groups such as the Memphis Area Bluegrass Association, the Memphis Acoustic Music Association, the Mid-South Celtic Arts Alliance, and the Memphis Dulcimer Gathering, Celtic bands such as Planet Reel and Will Tell, and events such as the Coffeehouse Concert Series at Holy Communion Church, where promoter Mark Loft regularly raffles off instruments donated by Fiddler's Green.
Violinist Roy Brewer -- a veteran of local groups such as Paradoxical Babel and The Brewers -- works at the store and offers music lessons, alongside a dozen instructors, including guitarist Michelle Bush and Jennifer Puckett, the principal violist for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.
Savvy fans can spot Brewer, who has played with everyone from the symphony to Three 6 Mafia, holding down fiddle duty for Cat Power's appearance on Austin City Limits, now available on DVD, or hear him leading the score during a pivotal scene in Black Snake Moan.
All eyes will be on former Memphian Greg Cartwright at the South By Southwest Music Festival Thursday, March 15th, night when his band, The Reigning Sound, takes the stage with Mary Weiss, former lead singer for The Shangri-Las. The group holed up with Weiss at Brooklyn's Coyote Studios to record Dangerous Game, her Norton Records comeback, last year. Now, they're combining forces for a series of dates, which kicked off in early March at Cleveland, Ohio's Beachland Ballroom, and includes an appearance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. So far, Dangerous Game is getting kudos across the board: The New Yorker calls it "remarkable," while Rolling Stone describes it as "lean" and "sharp." Weiss herself told Terry Gross, host of NPR's Fresh Air, "I wanted to make a straight rock-and-roll record, and I think we achieved that."
Produced by Cartwright and Norton Records owner Billy Miller, Dangerous Game includes more than a few songs that are familiar to Reigning Sound fans, including "Stop and Think It Over" and "I Don't Care." For more information, go to MaryWeiss.com.
Blues fans, mark your calendar for the afternoon of Saturday, April 7th. The Blues Foundation and Boscos restaurant have teamed up for a Blues and Brews fund-raiser featuring a performance by John Hammond and special beer brews for the lucky 100 folks who make it in the door. For tickets, call 527-2583, or go to Blues.org.
The following weekend, Clarksdale, Mississippi, is hosting its annual Juke Joint Festival, with music provided by Robert "Bilbo" Walker, L.C. Ulmer, Terry "Big T" Williams, and more. For details, go to JukeJointFestival.com or Cathead.biz.
Closer to home, North Mississippi hill-country duo Lightnin' Malcolm and Cedric Burnside have a new Sunday night gig, playing at Callie's in South Memphis. Showtime begins roughly at 6 p.m. The bar, owned by Melvin Burnside, is located at 1243 Walker.