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Big Star’s Jody Stephens plays host to a star-studded virtual benefit show

Aside from “a few little in-house projects,” Ardent Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, has been shut down since March, says Jody Stephens, the facility’s longtime studio manager.

“We’ve used the time wisely doing maintenance and building upgrades and technical upgrades to the studios,” he adds. “But we’re still closed until the end of this [pandemic].”

Stephens will play a big part in an upcoming project at his workplace: serving as host of “Coming Together in a Brand New Year: Live From Ardent Studios,” a virtual fundraising concert on Jan. 24. It’s the latest event presented by In.Live, a San Francisco-based firm known for its premium interactive livestream experiences. (Stephens has been on the company’s artist advisory council since the fall.)

“I’ve made some friends over the years,” Stephens says somewhat modestly, referring to the musicians he’s met through his work at Ardent and as the drummer for Big Star. So for this event, he contacted several of them to contribute prerecorded, never-before-seen performances.

The list of participants is impressive. It includes Posies leaders Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow (Stephens’ bandmates in Big Star), Jayhawks singer-guitarist Gary Louris (who worked with Stephens in Golden Smog) and singer-guitarist Luther Russell (Stephens’ partner in Those Pretty Wrongs).

For his duties as host, Stephens thought about doing the show opening and the introductions for each performer live on Jan. 24 from Ardent, but in order to avoid possible glitches, he decided to prerecord them there.

“Wow, that was stressful,” Stephens admits. “You have to keep your energy up. After the first take, there’s a second take, and then a third take. And you have to keep in mind your true feelings about these things instead of just reciting the words correctly.”

As for the video performances, Stephens says, “They’re aren’t fancy, but they’re personal.” Look for Stephens to perform some Big Star material with Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson, former Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed and Jason Isbell sideman Sadler Vaden.

Messages from Church Health and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the two Memphis-based recipients of the event’s net proceeds, will be shown. After the performances, Stephens will take part in a live Q&A session from Ardent, with music writers Bob Mehr and Rich Tupica among those scheduled to join him from locations to be determined.

Ticket prices for the virtual show start at $5. The premium tickets have lots of extras; the three $400 packages each come with a complete set of Big Star vinyl albums signed by Stephens. 

— By Chris M. Junior

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