If you are a music-lover in Jackson, it’s almost guaranteed that you have been seen at one point or another in Duling Hall, bopping along to the sounds of whatever band the eclectic venue is hosting that night. It is no secret that Duling Hall brings in big talent and is rightfully considered by some to be Jackson’s best live music venue. The venue would not be what it is, however, without the expertise and passion of its champion, Arden Barnett. Arden is the founder of the event planning and promotion business, Ardenland, the company responsible for securing and ensuring the success of a good number of big acts that have passed through Jackson. We talked with Arden himself to get a glimpse into his past and his process in his own words.
How did you get your start with Ardenland?
I was laid off from a “real” job one afternoon…I woke up the next morning at 4:33 AM, woke my wife Heidi and asked her if she was cool with me returning to the music business. I got a positive nod, so I walked upstairs to the old nursery that would become my office for the next two years, sent an email to four or five agents that I had known and worked with since 1982 and the rocket boosters were ignited. I guess you could say it started me.
Why do you choose the types of performers that you do?
80% of the acts we present are because they request to play Jackson. With thirty years in this business I have always leaned towards booking an eclectic mix of talent and see no reason to change. I love finding new talent and maintaining that relationship to be a part of in their career growth – Widespread Panic is one such relationship that has endured for almost twenty years.
To play off of that, are you personally a fan of the artists you choose, or do you try to appease a certain crowd?
Try and appease a crowd? Quite the opposite. I don’t book bands to try and appease a crowd, I book bands to educate, to plant music deep into the soul, to plant an emotion for the audience to go out share that feeling and make the world a better place. As far as the “certain crowd” thing, that morning at 4:33 AM when I decided to get back into the belly of the beast, I drew myself a few lines in the sand:
Don’t hesitate to say “NO.” In this business that is rule number one. It is also the hardest thing to do, and I have failed many times over. Nancy Reagan was spot on with the “Just Say No” campaign in so many ways.
I will not book sh*t bands. Now this is a bit of a broad stroke, but I have learned over my thirty years in this business that if I do not like the band then the show usually fails, often in a nuclear fashion. There are exceptions, but more times than not it holds true.
If the artist/band/crew are a**holes, then they will not return. Been there, done that. My staff works too hard, and the fans don’t spend hard earned money to be treated disrespectfully. In these times when live performances pay the bills, you had better respect and care for those that support you. This premise goes both ways: concert goers, respect your neighbor and the artist. Shut up and listen.
People first, tickets second.
What makes Duling Hall unique compared to other Jackson venues?
Duling Hall offers an incredible amount of versatility; whether it’s a concert, wedding, rehearsal dinner or a corporate event. The stage resonates with over 50 years of use; thousands of events that have ranged from elementary plays, to concerts in every genre of music. The artists that perform at Duling Hall become family, the fans that see shows at Duling Hall become family, the staff that works so hard at Duling Hall become family. Duling Hall is not just a room with a stage, it is a home to thousands of cherished memories and loyal fans.
What’s the best thing about operating a music venue in Jackson?
It’s coming to work with people that share my passion. It’s living in a city that is awakening to the precious gift of live music on any given day of the week. It’s having a vehicle to share music that is so dear to my heart to thousands of people. When a band takes the stage and I look out into the audience I think of the Peter Gabriel lyric from “Supper’s Ready”: “Can’t you feel our souls ignite?”
This was written while listening to:
Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Revelator (selected track: “Midnight in Harlem”)
Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s Blue Moon Ritual (full album)
Genesis’s Foxtrot (selected track: “Supper’s Ready”)
Genesis’s Selling England by the Pound (full album)
Genesis’s Nursery Cryme (selected track: “The Musical Box”)
Brian Eno’s Another Green World (selected tracks: “Sky Saw” & “Over Fire Island”)
Brian Eno’s Apollo (selected tracks: “Under Stars,” “An Ending (Ascent),” “Drift” & “Silver Morning”)
Camel’s Rain Dances (selected tracks: “First Light” & “Tell Me”)
Georges Bizet’s Symphony No. 2