FLYER Q&A: Ozark Free Music Society now promoting concerts

Nathan Riggs and Austin Cash of Ozark Free Music Society ()

There’s been an experimental and improvisational music-shaped hole in Fayetteville for a while since the closing of DIY venues LaLaLand and Backspace. That’s partly been filled by new spaces like Likewise Community and Mount Sequoyah Center, and independent promoters like Trillium Salon Series.

The void has also been reconfigured and newly furnished by local musicians Austin Cash and Nathan Riggs. Both solo artists (check out Austin Cash’s excellent tapes on Gar Hole Records), Austin and Nathan have recently started the Ozark Free Music Society. You may have seen them at Likewise or Crystal Bridges.

The Ozark Free Music Society is free improvisation for randomly assigned ensembles. And they’ve just upgraded into independent promotion as well.

The group will present Marisa Anderson in the Clapp Auditorium at Mount Sequoyah Center this Wednesday, Nov. 2. Doors for the all-ages show open at 7 p.m.

This show is highly recommended. It’s a great opportunity to support a nationally touring artist, local artists and promoters, and see a show at Clapp Auditorium.

I talked to Austin and Nathan about the Ozark Free Music Society:



What: OFMS Presents: Marisa Anderson
Who: Marisa Anderson with an OFMS ensemble
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2
Where: Mount Sequoyah Center, Clapp Auditorium
Tickets: $15 at mountsequoyah.org

Hi Austin and Nathan. Tell us about the Ozark Free Music Society.

Austin: OFMS has its roots in the Saturday Morning Miracle Cure sessions that were happening in the fall of 2019. Basically, Nathan, Stephen Karnes and I would do a long, improvised morning set at Backspace in an effort to remedy the participants’ hangovers via sound bath. This was Nathan’s invention, but for me it was just a neat way to do weird music in Fayetteville without it being in the context of grimy noise shows, which tend to be bummers in my experience. So “post”-Covid, we wanted to find a new way to do something with the same spirit. We landed on “free improvisation for randomly assigned ensembles” as our M.O. We meet once a month, usually in my living room, and draw names out of a hat to see who plays with who.

How would you describe free improvisation to a stranger?

Austin: One or more players, no lead sheet, no set key signature or tempo.

Nathan: The Vulcan mind meld of the Star Trek universe is a good starting point. There are no consistent aesthetics in free improvisation. We may be trending toward a cluster of house styles, but it shifts a lot based on players. I call our overall style Ozarkian Free Improvisation.

Who are your influences? What artists are a good starting point for the uninitiated?

Austin: Free music-wise? I guess it would just be jazz musicians. Late Coltrane/early Ayler, although I think they often had at least a loose set of guidelines governing their performances. If someone was really interested, I would recommend reading John Corbett’s A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation. That book got me interested/educated in improvisation more than any particular record or artist.

Nathan: Even within the OFMS, I don’t think there’s a ton of influence overlap, outside of maybe some diagnosable anxiety disorders. Anything can get you there. I’m pretty sure we’re all into the Velvet Underground, though.

How can people get involved in the OFMS? Who are you looking for and what should they know coming into it?

Austin: Just ask! We have an email address ([email protected]) and you can DM us on Instagram. We try to be as inclusive as possible and welcome musicians and non-musicians alike. Any instrument, any skill level. Part of what I enjoy about doing this is the diversity of backgrounds of the people involved. We’ve had country/bluegrass musicians, noise/drone players, rock and roll guitarists, modular synth enthusiasts etc. Our congresses are free and open to anyone who is weird, but not creepy.

OFMS is presenting a show with Marisa Anderson on Nov. 2 at Mount Sequoyah. How did the expansion into show booking happen?

Austin: I think after the second or third congress, the idea of promoting concerts under the banner of the OFMS came up. Marisa is a great improviser, so it made sense. I saw that she was going to be in our area soon, so I inquired. We have a handpicked ensemble of OFMS alumni opening up with an improvised set. That’ll be Nathan, Paul Wolf, Vincent Edwards, and Josiah Johnson.

Nathan: Austin is a visionary and wheeler-dealer of some magnitude. He had the vision and moxy to make it happen. OFMS has the potential to be almost anything, depending on will and initiative. I’m excited to find out where it goes.

What films or visual art have affected your approach to music?

Austin: I guess the Minimalist sculptors from the 60’s, as far as plastic arts go. I’ve got a record coming out in the spring that probably wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t rewatched “Inland Empire” last year. Lynch made a big impact on me at a tender age and his work still means a lot to me.

Nathan: Mid-century sculpture, even though I don’t especially connect with it, influences how I think about music construction. Riggs & Cash once live-scored a butoh event with Lela Besom which altered my approach to playing. General notice: OFMS is available to score dance performances! And dancers are invited to attend the Congress.

What venues in Fayetteville are best suited for free improvisation? Does the ideal venue for OFMS currently exist?

Austin: If it works in my living room, I guess it would work anywhere. We had our third congress at Likewise in their big parking deck area. That was pretty great. It’s just a big concrete box and every sound in that space is effectively the same volume. I’d like to do that again some day.

Nathan: I have no idea. Any mysterious benefactors with large mansions are invited to email [email protected] I’m interested in any unconventional venue, and free, as the Congress is not a monied enterprise. I’d love to play outdoor spaces, laundromats, and anywhere capable of supporting a 20-foot-wide circle of performers. Anything could be an OFMS space; I hope we are able to secure more varied spaces in the future. The lack of an appropriate/ideal local space for OFMS is a challenge in both the negative and positive sense. RIP La La Land.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Austin: The congresses definitely aren’t shows per se, but we usually have a bonfire hang before/during/after those in my yard. There’s a ritual aspect there, I guess.

Nathan: I like sugar free Red Bull and staring into the bonfire we usually have at Austin’s place. Nervous pacing is essential.

What are your plans for 2023?

Austin: We’d like to promote more shows. Maybe on a quarterly basis.

Nathan: We want to send envoys to different states and host congresses in other locales. Hopefully we can book some captivating national acts. Austin and I have kind of a wishlist in our texts.

What’s your least favorite holiday? What plans are you currently trying to cancel?

Austin: Christmas. It’s the lame/edgy answer, I know. But it’s pretty burdensome and tacky.

Nathan: I hate the pressure to have fun on New Year’s Eve. It can feel kind of like homework. Generally I’m a holiday guy, though. I like excuses for something different to happen, pretty much any way I can get it.

What are some OFMS recommended horror movies?

Austin: The ’74 “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is a personal favorite. It’s not scary, but “Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages” is great.

Nathan: “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974) is goated. Lately I’m into Fulci movies like “City of the Living Dead” and “The House by The Cemetery.” Absurdity and sustained intensity in equal measure is the recipe. I love usual suspects like Romero, Carpenter, Raimi etc. “Terrifier 2” was a hoot and a half.