Each year, Homecoming gives Mississippi State graduates and fans a chance to return to Starkville for a chance to experience the town again. The football team is typically the favorite, tailgating abounds and old friends meet up with one another, often for the first time in many months.
In one circumstance, these friends just happen to have belonged to a band called Law of Nature, and this band just happens to have a show scheduled for Rick's Caf¨ on the night of Homecoming.
Law of Nature first formed 17 years ago in Corinth. Guitarist Chapman Welch was 15 and had been fronting the band, playing guitar and singing when he met Jennifer Knight, 14, who was introduced to him as a vocalist.
"We listened to her sing for just a little bit, and we said, 'Hey, we really need to hire this girl,'" Welch said. "She took over vocals, and I shifted to guitar with just a few vocals."
The band played small parties and a few festivals while the members were still in high school, but the group really began to make a name for itself once Welch graduated in 1992 and began attending MSU. Soon after relocating to Starkville, the band began playing shows at Dave's Dark Horse Tavern and Rick's Caf¨ Am¨ricain. As often happens with bands, though, Law of Nature began going through roster changes.
"[Knight and I] had numerous bass players and drummers for about four months," Welch said. "In 1998 we put fliers up advertising tryouts for a new drummer. Michael [McGrath] showed up and played for just a few minutes. He's amazing."
Not long after, Welch talked bassist Andy Sherman into joining the band, and the current version of Law of Nature was formed. From there, the group began putting more time into the music, playing shows of mostly original songs with only a few slightly obscure covers.
"We started out being really influenced by R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs and stuff like that," Welch said. "But I had grown up listening to Metallica and Megadeth and playing bluegrass. Kind of an odd combination, but we play all sorts of stuff. We play heavy things that sound like The Pixies. We do country songs. We're all over the place."
Law of Nature's eclectic influences helped carve out a band that skips between genres easily and fluidly.
"We play whatever we want," Welch said. "I'm excited when I hear a band do a bunch of different things. We're influenced by most everything that we like, from classical to rap. I grew up playing classical piano. [Our style] is all over the board."
Saturday at Rick's, the band will relive another experience it frequently had in its time in Starkville: having another Starkville band open for them.
"The Persians are opening up for us on Saturday," Welch said. "[When we lived in Starkville], people opened up for us all the time. Young Agent Jones used to open for us. Back then everybody used to open for everybody else. We'd play at parties and there might be 10 bands playing that night."
Law of Nature first encountered John Brocado of The Persians in a battle of the bands contest in Memphis, Tenn., when Brocado played for the band Skeleton Crew, which incidentally beat Law of Nature in the competition.
After some time at MSU, Welch eventually withdrew from the university to focus all of his time on working with the band. Law of Nature soon began touring the country and recording albums. At this point the band has three albums: Four Points in the Valley, More and Hot Pants and Pop Rocks. The band also began touring extensively.
"We probably played four nights a week," Welch said. "That's between 200 and 250 shows a year. It was our living. I can't imagine doing it now, with gas prices and all. You can travel to Oklahoma and only get paid about $150 for a show, and that wouldn't even pay for the gas getting there, much less the way back."
After three years of touring and playing together, Knight and Welch, who had been dating for about ten years of the band's existence, moved to Denton, Texas, to allow Welch to earn his doctorate, ending the band as it was. Soon after that Sherman moved to North Carolina and McGrath moved to Las Vegas, leaving the band spread out across the entire country.
McGrath, a real estate investor, continues to drum in Las Vegas and even won a drum competition in the city recently. He has been asked to audition for the Blue Man Group, as well.
"I'm probably going to pursue the audition," McGrath said. "It seems like it would be fun. Painting your face blue seems better than a 9-5 job."
Now, five years and the marriage of Knight and Welch later, Law of Nature is returning to Starkville for a reunion show.
"We played another reunion show in June," McGrath said. "We usually only play once a year now, but we were all in Starkville over the summer, and we hadn't played at Rick's in four years. We had about 700 people there. Rick was really impressed and said he'd like us to come back for Homecoming, and we agreed."
The band plays Saturday at Rick's following The Persians. For more information about Law of Nature visit www.myspace.com/lawofnaturemsu.