When Jim Dees and the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour crew plan the show’s remote performances each year, they know Tupelo has to be on the list.
Dees, host of the Oxford-based radio program, is excited to bring Thacker Mountain back to Tupelo this Saturday night for its fifth annual taping in the Link Centre Concert Hall.
“Tupelo has turned into one of our best dates of the year,” Dees said. “I guess I have to attribute the good folks in Tupelo. They just come out and fill that place up. They’re ready to be entertained.”
Thacker Mountain’s taping will be a homecoming for Paige Williams, a journalist and author who grew up in Tupelo. She’ll appear on the program to talk about her first book, “The Dinosaur Artist.”
Williams is part of a guest lineup that includes blues guitarist Dexter Allen and soul rockers, Matt Stansberry and The Romance.
“I think this might be one of my favorite lineups that I helped put together over the last few years,” said show director/producer Kate Teague. “I think Paige will obviously be a major hit. Our audience in Tupelo will welcome her back home. All around, it will be a versatile and upbeat show.”
Saturday’s program starts at 7:30 p.m. and admission is free and open to the public. Concert Hall doors open at 7 p.m.
The program will not be broadcast live. It will air Saturday, Aug. 10, at 7 p.m. on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour can be heard every Saturday at 7 p.m. in Tupelo on WMAE (89.5 FM) and WMAV (90.3 FM) in Oxford.
Williams serves on the staff of The New Yorker magazine and is the Laventhol/Newsday Visiting Associate Professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She has held a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, and her work has won a National Magazine Award for feature writing.
Dees recalls the first time he met Williams, who graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in journalism.
“It was at one of our favorite watering holes here in Oxford, City Grocery,” Dees said in a telephone interview. “At that point, I think she had already graduated and maybe working for the North Carolina paper (Charlotte Observer) and her career was already rolling.
“Of course, she gets the Harvard Fellowship and goes to Columbia. I’m not going to say I was shocked and surprised. I just didn’t know her that well,” Dees added. “When I heard all of that, I remember thinking, ‘Man, it does not get any more top shelf than that’.”
“The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal, and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy” (Hatchette Books), published in 2018, explores the true story of a Florida man’s attempt to sell a dinosaur skeleton from Mongolia.
Best-selling science writer Rebecca Skloot said the book is “steeped in natural history, human nature, commerce, crime, science and politics, ... an extraordinary debut by one of the best nonfiction writers we’ve got.” Publishers Weekly called it “Vivid storytelling ... A triumphant book.”
“Richard Howarth of Square Books said he knew Paige had a book in her, but didn’t know it would be this kind of book with this deep, deep reporting,” Dees said. “The narrative drive of this thing is quite an achievement, especially for a first book.”
Dees said Williams’ appearance gives the audience a chance to hear her read from the book and talk about it, and then visit with her after the program.
“It’s definitely a homecoming for her,” he said.
Music & Audience
The music portion of Thacker Mountain is headlined by Crystal Springs native Dexter Allen, the former lead guitarist in the band for blues legend Bobby Rush, and the Oklahoma City-based Matt Stansberry and The Romance.
“I give Kate so much credit for our music,” Dees said. “I love music, but I’m not as tuned in to these younger bands as she is, such as Matt Stansberry and The Romance. I’ve listened to them on YouTube. They’re a high-tempo, kind of funky soul band. I think they’ll show the crowd something. And Dexter Allen is a great guitarist. He toured with Bobby Rush for years, so he knows something about showmanship.”
Both bands will perform full sets following the radio show, starting at 9 p.m.
Teague said Thacker Mountain schedules eight remote programs away from Oxford each year. The show recorded a program last week at the Neshoba County Fair.
“Our remote shows are definitely a separate beast,” she said. “It requires a lot more logistics and setup from our crew. It gives us an outcome we don’t usually see in Oxford. ... We are so appreciative of our audience in Tupelo. They’re always super enthusiastic and lively. They always pack the house out and give us a really fun show.”
Even though the hour-long program won’t be live, Dees said they’ll treat it as if it’s on the air.
“We don’t stop if someone messes up. It’s 60 minutes and we go straight through,” he said. “That gives us a little bit of an element of a live show. It makes it more fun, like a high-wire act.
“I think it’s a solid hour show in Tupelo,” Dees added. “I’m fired up to get over there and get it on.”