Considering the amount of devastating concert cancellations that have occurred in the last few months, the idea of live music feels like a luxury from a past life. However, this past Friday a handful of Mississippi State University students were able to safely attend a concert performed by The Michael Character hosted on the steps of Allen Hall.
James Ikeda is a musician from Quincy, Massachusetts who drove to Starkville for the performance. In the classroom, Ikeda teaches history to high school and community college students. On stage, Ikeda performs acoustic punk rock as the musical persona The Michael Character.
Ikeda has been touring since 2012. Three years after starting touring, he embarked on a unique musical journey which eventually led him to the steps of Allen Hall last Friday.
"I think around 2015 I realized I'd played in a number of states. I decided I wanted to play in all 50, and just arbitrarily decided I want to do it before I turn 30. So the last three or so years, I've been very aggressive about it, and every time I go anywhere, I try to make sure that I'm going to play at different places," Ikeda said.
Mississippi was the final state Ikeda had to play in before his thirtieth birthday on May 30th. Ikeda contacted a member of Starkville's local band Celery Teeth at the beginning of the semester in order to coordinate the concert. He explained under normal circumstances he would not have made the drive, but as his deadline was rapidly approaching, he and his partner Eleanor were willing to make the long trek to Starkville.
The small audience did not bother Ikeda, as his requirements for a concert are minimal.
"My rule is it has to be three people who are not my family. I have to be pre-announced, and it can't be an open mic," Ikeda said.
Joy Cariño graduated from MSU this month with a degree in English. Cariño is a member of Celery Teeth and was present at the concert. Cariño expressed concern when she realized the concert was not postponed, but her concerns were put to rest by the safety precautions taken by those present at the concert.
"I was kind of apprehensive personally because I was like, 'I don't know if I want to be a part of a concert.' But it was very small. There were only seven people in total, and everyone was standing very far away from each other. We talked, and we just hung out. And it was a really special time to just hear about where James and Eleanor are from and to talk about music," Cariño said.
Cariño enjoyed The Michael Character's performance and also enjoyed playing a few Celery Teeth songs with her fellow band member, Susie June Hunt.
"I think that I really enjoyed his music because he just writes whatever. One of my favorite ones that he did was a song about American imperialism, and that is just perfect right now," Cariño said.
Keegan Lindsey is a junior physics major at MSU who was also in attendance. Keegan is not a member of Celery Teeth but is friends with several of the band members.
Lindsey was grateful for the now-rare opportunity to engage in live music.
"I really appreciated the opportunity to support small artists," Lindsey said. "That is so important ... I think my favorite part was how genuine and whole the whole experience was."
Lindsey also thoroughly enjoyed The Michael Character's quirky performance, right down to the merchandise he passed out.
"Part of his merch are these toothbrushes, which he gave to us. I thought that was really unique and neat," Lindsey said.
Ikeda explained that for him, performing is more about connecting with people than merely gaining a large following. He noted music is especially relevant for gaining perspective and understanding during times of crisis.
"I think what art, what music does for me very often, is it provides new lenses for how to look back to what I already know and apply it to something new. I think one of the things that these moments call for is a lot of imagination," Ikeda said.
Ikeda also stated what he hopes his own music does for others. He desires to offer people context and encourage them to come up with their own ideas, rather than forcing his own upon them.
"I think, ultimately, you produce this thing, and you share it. And then people take it, and they use it for whatever they need it for. I like the idea that you don't need to have solutions for other people," Ikeda said.
For a few hours, a sense of normalcy was restored for the seven people in attendance, as they enjoyed live music and watched Ikeda finally accomplish his goal. For everyone else, this event provides a hopeful sentiment that although Starkville is a very different place than it was earlier in the semester, surprising things are still happening on the Drill Field.