JJ Grey and Mofro-Durham NC 3-10-24

JJ Grey and his incredible band stopped in Durham NC supporting his latest LP, Olustee.

JJ Grey, the soulful singer from Northeast Florida, brought his band Mofro to the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) on Sunday March 10th to a very welcoming crowd.  The group is on tour promoting their latest release Olustee.  It's Grey's first release in nine years, and the band's tenth album. His first record, Blackwater came out in 2001, that recording was followed three years later with Lochloosa. Both of these records were on the independent label, Fog City. In 2007 JJ was signed by Alligator Records, where he released his next six albums.  He switched to the Provogue label, for his ninth recording, Ol' Glory.  After many years of successfully touring on this hits in his catalog, JJ returned to Alligator Records to record Olustee, his first self-produced record. 

"Olustee" is said to be a Seminole word meaning "pond" or from the Creek (Muscogee) language ue-lvste (/oy-last-i/) meaning "black water", Olustee Creek, and the town historically known as Olustee Station, was the site of Florida's largest civil war battle are located in the Osceola National Forest in Baker County. Olustee's title track on this record is remembrance of the the tragic fires in 1998, caused by lighting strikes in the dry countryside that ended up engulfing seven counties in Northeast Florida that ended up closing 135 miles of Interstate 95 from as far north as Jacksonville and south to Titusville. 

Grey is an avid outdoorsman. His songs typically talk about the problems that arrived with over-development. He has always advocated for the protection of the shrinking untamed natural spaces, and specifically about this area because of his  family's ties to this region and both its history and natural beauty. The the inclusion of John Anderson's popular song "Seminole Wind" reflect this common thread.

JJ's music career was launched while he was still working his day job in a Jacksonville, FL lumber yard and playing music at night. On stage in Durham, JJ told the crowd about how thankful he still is for those early days before he pursued his music full time. He talked about how his coworkers helped him continue to earn a paycheck, while being able to slip away from his work to book new shows, practice & perform.

I was fortunate to meet JJ before the show that afternoon! After the sound check for this performance and told him that I was also a Florida native, a Florida State alumnus, and that I had family in Hawthorne, who's land backs up right to Lake Lochloosa. I also have a lot family the Jacksonville area. Grey smiled and recognized that we shared those connections. During our brief conversation, I brought up that while in college in Tallahassee, I had met Mike Shapiro,  who had played keyboard with JJ during his early career and when I mentioned his name his face lit up again recalling the memories

Later during the show, I was thrilled to hear the band play one of my personal favorite songs of his, Lochloosa. It's a song about a lake located between Gainesville, Florida and South towards the town of Micanopy and  Payne's Prarie Preserve. The lake which is also a very special place to me as whenever  I travel from North Carolina back home to visit my mom we will stop there, resting under the mossy oaks stretching our legs with a walk out onto a dock that has a gazebo over the water so you can enjoy the view. I will be headed back there over the Easter holiday next week and plan to continue this pilgrimage of sorts while celebrating mom's 81st birthday.  For me, "Lochloosa is on my mind". 

JJ really seemed to enjoy getting back out to promote his first self produced record on stage. He relished sharing the stories behind his songs with his fans. I think what he enjoyed most was when the crowd readily sang his lyrics back to him as they acknowledged how they are moved by the passion they share for not only the music, but the intentions, the message to preserve the natural spaces, to remember the history  as well as, the native peoples who lived in ways that were sustainable before it's just another strip mall where paradise was bulldozed to put up a parking lot. 

Warming up the crowd before Mofro's set was Hill Country Blues musician Cedric Burnside who started his career off at only 13 years old as a drummer playing for his grandfather, R.L. Burnside. Cedric has  been previously nominated for two Grammys  and is a recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship, the country's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts and was recently recognized with the 2024 Mississippi Governor's Art Award for Excellence in Music. He has performed and recorded with such diverse musicians as Jimmy Buffett, Bobby Rush, and Widespread Panic.

He has also appeared in several films, including Tempted and Big Bad Love (both released in 2001) and the 2006 hit Black Snake Moan, and he played the title character in 2021's  Texas Red

Burnside has never strayed far from the distinctive blues style introduced to the world by his "Big Daddy" R.L. and such other greats as Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill, and Otha Turner. "I've been traveling my whole life, and the song 'Hill Country Love' gave me a chance to let people know that I love what I do and give a sense of how we do it in Mississippi - like, the house party is a tradition here, Big Daddy threw a lot of them. So that's what I was thinking about as I was writing that song - where I come from and also where I'm going, and how my journey has been to get to where I'm at now."


Set List:


WYLF  (What Your Looking For)

A Woman


Top Of The World

The Sea

99 Shades

Everything Good 

Deeper Than Belief 



Seminole Wind 

Lazy Fo Acre

On Fire

Shining Down


On A Breeze

Brighter Days 


Words and Photos by: Jerry Friend