Reviving the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival

By By Kelly Quackenbush/The Meridian Star
March 26, 2001
The Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival will begin a transition this year in order to stay alive, according to the venue director for this year's festival.
Art Matthews, operations manager at WKZB 93.5, discussed the changing face of the festival at a Meridian Star editorial board.
In February, the Jimmie Rodgers Foundation announced the festival would be shut down, but with the community showing support for it to continue, officials asked Matthews to lend a hand. The festival is scheduled May 3-5.
Matthews has been involved in the music business for nearly 30 years. He wanted to help the festival out of its "rut." Also helping with the musical portion of the festival is Al Brown, general manager of WKZB.
A shift in the kinds of music featured will mark the festival this year, Matthews said, with blues and jazz joining country.
Matthews would like to see the festival attract a younger crowd and help educate the public on the positive influence Jimmie Rodgers had on music.
Matthews and the foundation decided to promote Jimmie Rodgers the person this year with the railroad aspect of his life.
The talent
Matthews is bringing in new talent with headliners Tab Benoit, Blue Mountain, Greg Crowe, and Britt Gully and the Water Moccasins.
Matthews believes playing strictly country music turns people off, especially young people. The festival has been the same for many years and the low attendance numbers indicate it's time for some changes.
Future Plans
He would like to have one concert at the Temple Theater ballroom and one concert outside. Giving people a variety of music and atmosphere would draw more people. Matthews believes if beer was sold at the festival, a larger number of people would attend also, to "just have some fun."
The cost of each of the two concerts is $10. Matthews believes in the future he will be able to bring in bigger names and keep the prices low to provide quality entertainment at a reasonable cost.
According to Matthews, there are no relatives of Jimmie Rodgers to keep promoting the name and keep his legend going and this is one of the problems of the festival going down hill.
The majority of people involved with the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival are comfortable with the changes, fearing without changes the festival will disappear, Matthews said.
The festival is keeping sacred traditions such as gospel night, the talent show, and the annual Jimmie Rodgers Golf Tournament.
Most of the corporate sponsors do not associate with the festival anymore because it does not make any money. Matthews believes a profit this year would bring corporate sponsors back and will help promote the festival next year.
Kelly Quackenbush is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at kquackenbush@themeridianstar.com.

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