The infectious storytelling of the Prophet Najee mixed with hard hitting instrumentals to make him standout performer. (Instagram screen capture)

A number of artists and musical institutions are taking the show to Instagram live to share some musical joy during these trying times.

TSD’s All Over Town columnist Brianna A. Smith.

With venues on lock down across the city, Hear 901 Music Festival 2020 (Blue T.O.M Records, The University of Memphis’ Student – Run Record Label) put on a virtual concert that was an entertaining watch from the safety of my couch.

The Hear 901 Festival is a culmination of an entire year of study for music industry students at the U of M.

“It is a platform to showcase the skills they have gained from the Music School. They get to plan, book, promote and produce a full-fledged music festival by themselves,” said Colin Dunning, a U of M music business student.

Blue T.O.M. (Tigers of Memphis) Records is managed by students, for students. From public relations to booking, students work to help fellow student musicians develop their full potential and talent.

“As a whole, this is an opportunity to showcase the upcoming Memphis Music scene to the local and national community of the music world,” said Dunning.

The host of the evening, Jordan Occasionally (JD), was a ball of talent and energy. She won a fan in me!

She opened the show singing her R&B ballad “Coffee” and followed up thanking guests for tuning in virtually.

“Tonight, we’ll be presenting the Hear 901 Music Festival. It usually happens live at a dope venue space but this evening it’ll be happening in our dope home spaces.”

The show typically takes place at The Bluff on Highland, which usually holds around 300-400 people (students mainly).

“It is usually a pretty good size event for our artists to perform, so going from that size to virtual was definitely a significant shift in how we had to approach this festival,” said Dunning.

The show was extremely diverse and full of local talent performing original music.

The first performer of the night was Sam Ryden, whose musical style range from folksy Americana to an acoustic soul/pop vibe. His sound was mature and his guitar and vocal talents were equally amazing.

Kelsey Taylor, an indie singer and songwriter, followed. She had such beautiful tone and control. “I write music that’s really lyrical,” she said.

She put on a show that was an incredible display of powerful vocals and soulful expression. I would love to see her perform live one day.

Reminiscent of John Mayer, Compton McMurry fused sugary pop hooks with timeless stories and raw, acoustic textures. His songs lean heavily on inspiration from stories in the Bible and other classic literature. He blessed us as the third performer of the night. Compton’s sound was folk-pop groove featuring him playing the guitar. He had a feel good, chill set.

Midway through the show, host JD introduced the audience to the president of Blue TOM ‘Big Mike’. “I’m really so proud of everyone on our committee that put towards the effort to make this virtual festival happen,” said Mike. “This is amazing. The artists sound amazing.”

The original festival was scheduled for April 11, but was cancelled the week before because of the virus.

“A couple of days before the original festival date Nick Black and Ben Yonas, our event coordinators, were brainstorming and came up with the idea for the virtual festival,” said Dunning.

“The next two weeks consisted of planning and coordinating Instagram Live, marketing, artist availability, and how to fill all of our time slots with entertainment,” he said.

Jalan Veasley, the fourth performer of the night, said, “Music should excite you; music should invite you; music should spread a message and tell a story.”

His poetry background mixed with his natural charisma made him a diverse and special addition to the lineup. Jalan had a cool flow to himself and a great uplifting message through rap. His personality and energy were eminent!

The Prophet Najee, a Nigerian rapper from Memphis, was my favorite act of the night. Najee’s infectious story telling mixed with hard hitting instrumentals made him a standout performer.

“A lil rona not gone stop us,” he said. “Vibe out with me.” His energy was contagious and truly what the world needs right now.

Avon Park Band was the headliner. They played songs from their latest EP “Watson.”

They are an indie-alternative band based in Memphis, that formed after its members got good responses while playing together at house shows.

The band consists of drummer/lead vocalist Will Crowe, guitarist/vocalist Connor Bankey, guitarist/vocalist Will Buehler, and bassist Alex Haggard. Together, they delivered fun, upbeat music that I consider enjoyable to fans of any genre of music.

Blue T.O.M. Records hosts several events to highlight their artists. For more information visit their website www.bluetomrecords.com.