Something is going on in Mobile, Alabama. You can feel it in the winter air, walking along Dauphin Street downtown, turning into the block-square, well-maintained, 19th-century parks, looking up at the second-story, wrought iron railings a la New Orleans, glancing left to the famed Saenger Theatre, then strolling by Soul Kitchen, Wentzell’s Oyster House and The Brickyard, where Ben Jernigan and Friends rock out every Thursday night till closing time.
There’s an opera, a symphony and clubs featuring live music up and down the street, on a weeknight. There are music festivals in spring, summer and fall, and the city goes all out every February to celebrate the country’s oldest Carnival/Mardi Gras two-week bacchanal. Murals cover the occasional brick sidewalls, people walk the streets at night, and the restaurants—featuring local catch from Mobile Bay and the wider Gulf—stay open late. Art shops, dress shops, a piano as public art—this is a town rich in culture, and its history dates back to 1702.
There are also blocks of abandoned storefronts along the way, with signs for lease, some crumbling brick facades, a reminder of the economic realities and civic dislocation faced by so-many mid-market cities across America in the 20th century. And the stigma of its associations in the Civil Rights movement will forever linger. But here, now, in Mobile? You can feel the change happening. Two more blocks and we’re at Dauphin Street Sound, pictured on this month’s cover and home base for guitar-playing, Cy Young Award-winning Major League pitcher Jake Peavy and his Merry Band of Outsiders.
But you won’t see Peavy on the cover; he’s far too humble for that. He will likely blush at the notion that I just called them “his” Merry Band of Outsiders. He is simply happiest when surrounded by family and friends, usually with music involved. While he had established foundations in each of the cities he has played in—San Diego, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco—when it came time to establish the overall Jake Peavy Foundation, with its emphasis on Boys and Girls Clubs and music, he brought it all back home. To Mobile. To be run and developed by family and friends.
There’s the uniquely irascible yet always charming pater familias, Danny, Jake’s dad, an expert cabinet maker by trade and a fastball-throwing early influence; best friend and brother Luke, a catcher and a better hitter than Jake, who in a corporate world would be considered head of operations but in real life “just takes care of stuff,” he says; friend and monster guitar player Ben Jernigan, who comes up with crazy new ideas to expand the reach and then actually makes them happen; Sarah Lauren, head of the foundation with a New York style and Southern mentality; and Thomas Fowlkes, head of marketing, who was a teenaged Boy Scout with Ben and whose great-great grandparents just happen to be buried on Jake’s ranch in central Alabama.
When the team needed a headquarters for Jake Peavy Productions and the foundation, Jernigan found a studio. Local engineer Keylan Laxton came onboard, bringing technical expertise and a slew of local contacts. And then they cold-called Grammy-winning engineer Trina Shoemaker, asking her to come in and advise them on what to buy by putting together a wish list. Shoemaker, an original Outsider living the past decade in nearby Freeport, following an exodus from Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, is now a partner. She seems happy and completely at home.
While the studio provides a base for the Peavy efforts in Mobile, the reach extends to whole city blocks, which he has bought up to revitalize, concentrating on arts and cultural-based development. There is weekly outreach to the Boys and Girls clubs in the area. And in a recent visit to launch the overall Outsider brand for the company, an audience of industry professionals was treated to a performance and roundtable discussion with a local teenage big band jazz ensemble, supported by the foundation.
It’s a good story: A favorite son returns home and gives back to the community. This one just happens to be real. And it shows.