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Art and Al discuss future of Jimmie Rodgers Festival

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
May 20, 2002
Two local radio personalities believe the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival is on its way to regaining prominence as a premier event in the South.
Art Matthews, owner of Music Emporium on 23rd Avenue and a radio personality on B-93 "The Buzz," is serving in his second year on the board of directors of the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Foundation.
Al Brown, Matthews' on-air radio partner, was one of the organizers of this year's concerts at the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival. Both met with The Meridian Star editorial board last week.
The Meridian Star: What was the main reason you decided to start working with the festival?
Art Matthews: Neither one of us wanted to see Jimmie Rodgers' legacy die. Every musician you talk to knows who Jimmie Rodgers is. The average person on the street may not have ever heard of him. But he's influenced so many great artists. He was a genius.
The Star: What is your immediate outlook for the festival?
Matthews: Our idea about the festival is to keep it small and slowly build it up. Next year we'll try to get a couple of bigger acts in here. Last year's acts weren't as expensive or as good as this year's acts, so we made more money.
In two years, why can't we have a stage at the Singing Brakeman Park and a stage at the other end of Front Street and have vendors down through there in between all along the way and have local businesses open up? Look at what Jubilee Jam (did in Jackson) and what they do in Columbus. We can do that here.
Al Brown: And they don't have anything to build on. We do. History is a huge thing to build on. We have that already built-in with Jimmie. We don't have to go out and find a niche like these other people. It's just getting everybody on the same page and working together on this thing to make it what it can be.
Matthews: That's our dream to make it a festival again. We want to make it a destination where people plan to come here the second weekend in May to see all the acts and enjoy the history of Jimmie Rodgers.
The Star: How hard has it been to get people involved in getting this festival back on its feet?
Matthews: Every year it should get easier and easier. Last year it was extremely hard. This year it was a little easier and next year should be even easier. We've got more and more people approaching us wanting to help out as opposed to us chasing them down, begging them. And as it becomes more successful, we'll see more and more people want to help with it. We think it's going in the right direction.
The Star: In your best estimation, what happened to the festival over the years that caused it to steadily decline?
Brown: I think it's fairly obvious that the interest was lost and relationships were broken. There was a sense in the community that there are people who are just not interested in Jimmie Rodgers anymore, because the acts were, no offense, "has-beens."
That's one of the reasons I think it's so important to have someone like Art on the board. Here's a guy who's been selling music to people for 28 years. And not just to people in Meridian, but to people from all over the South. He knows what music people of all ages like to listen to.
You can't get a consultant from Anchorage, Alaska, or Tokyo to give you that kind of vital information. It's just not there. Art is a guy who can make a decision about who will come where to listen to whom. That's one of the biggest reasons for the festival's success.
The Star: How do you define the success of this year's festival?
Brown: Look at the number of people who have attended. This year we had a great turnout. We had close to 1,500 people there on Friday night at this year's festival. And then we had another good turnout on Saturday night. That's at least double what we had a year ago. People were really enjoying themselves. That tells me that is was a success.