Greenwood area musician Austin Woodard says one of his favorite compliments received at a show was made by an older man sitting in a chair. “When I used to smoke weed, I would have loved this,” the man said.
Woodard said that compliment makes him laugh, but it also makes sense, given that one of his most frequent musical collaborations, The Mezz, is oft described as a jam band.
“A lot of what we do as The Mezz is sort of improvising on the spot,” Austin said. “I listen to a lot of stuff — John Coltrane, sea shanties while washing dishes, Snarky Puppy, but jazz and funk are my two favorite genres. ... The freedom of this kind of band is fun. You can miss a note and act like that was part of it.”
Austin’s mom, Jamie Ridgeway Woodard, had him take piano lessons as a child.
“I absolutely despised it,” Austin said. “I dreaded doing it, but I’m glad she did. I started lessons around age 7 or 8 and took until I was 12 or 13.”
Austin got savvy with playing by ear, so his clever teacher would write lines of music that he would have to read to play.
“Now, that I’m older, I wish I had paid more attention, but that’s where YouTube kicks in,” said Austin, 26.
With The Mezz, it’s not uncommon to see Austin playing keys and bass guitar simultaneously. Also in his repertoire are guitar, mandolin and drums. With him in The Mezz are Zach Todd on guitar, percussion and vocals, with Will Thompson on drums. Austin’s cousin, Keller Ridgeway, plays guitar with The Mezz, too.
“I was home-schooled and had a lot of free time to learn stuff,” Austin said. “My mom’s side of the family is real musical.”
Bandmate Zach Todd says he and Austin met in 2016. The Mezz evolved from there and the band booked its first gig in March 2017.
“The Mezz has had a few member changes since then, but it kind of evolved into our project,” Todd said. “Austin is by far my favorite musician to play with. We don’t always agree on musical ideas, but we always find a way for our playing to compliment the others’. When either of us presents a musical idea, Austin is the one who usually keeps up with the musical theory behind it, to make sure everything ‘works.’”
Growing up, Austin said his dad, Glenn’s love for Motown rubbed off on him.
“My granddad was a Southern Baptist pastor, and when I was way too young, he asked me to sing a song for him. My dad had a cassette tape and two songs on it that stuck with me were ‘Brick House’ and ‘Love Machine,’” Austin said. “My granddad, who loved Southern gospel, looked mortified.”
Music is a side gig for Austin, who says while he loves music he doesn’t have the patience to teach it. To pay the bills, he works in sales at Batteries Plus Bulbs. He has also done freelance work in web design, work with Custom Audio and Lighting, photography sessions and more.
Since the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Austin said The Mezz hasn’t been able to get together for rehearsals or gigs as frequently as members did pre-pandemic.
“I would definitely love to do music full-time,” Austin said. “I love to wake up at the crack of lunch. It seems like a good career for someone who likes to sleep in.”
When he’s not playing music, Austin likes to check out other local bands, including the Fred Engler Band and Bad Weather States.
“One of the best things during the pandemic has been Hometown Hodges (a virtual livestream concert series),” Austin said. “The Mezz has been fortunate to play that several times now. And, a number of bigger bands have come through, too...For one of our shows, a crew guy was laying on stage eating pickles and stuff.”
The band takes its name from a 1950s slang term for a joint, inspired, in part, by jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow.