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Jimmie Rodgers: The legacy, legend, man, music, museum, festival

By By Carl Fitzgerald
special to The Star
May 25, 2003
This is the final of a five-part series on Jimmie Rodgers, written for The Meridian Star by historian, entertainer and radio personality Carl Fitzgerald. The series was published on Sundays from April 27 through May 25, 2003.
In the past four weeks, I have touched on mostly the historical aspect of Jimmie Rodgers.
In this part five, final installment, I plan to give you readers some personal opinions as to why the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival is not the largest festival celebration of its kind in the U.S.A. And, it should have been.
However, here in 2003, we find that it's not known, even in our own state, that a JRMF still exists. Why? There are a number of reasons, in my opinion. Here are some of them.
1. Accountability. The public needs to know how much money the foundation has or doesn't have. They need to know what the foundation receives and what it is spent for.
2. Put the non-profit organization status back to work in every area of the festival and foundation. After all, since 1976 27 years ago no goals have been set and no visions met. What have you done that's a memorial to "The Father of Country Music Jimmie Rodgers"?
3. Do not promote or publicize false claims about JRMF or the Rodgers Celebrations, like the false 50th anniversary claim. The real fans know the difference. Media-blast exposure does not change the facts.
4. The Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival official dates should never have been changed by anyone, any group, any board or committee. The week of dates as were being held through the late '80s and or most of the '90s always included May 26. This is THE Rodgers Memorial Anniversary date. So, if you are going to try to continue having a JRMF celebration, get back to that week. This would have been the week and tomorrow (Monday) would have been "the day" on this memorial day weekend. (I realize that the Sam Marshall administration started deviating from the official dates and I said it was a mistake' then, and it is now!)
5. And finally, in my basic reasons list, the "country-Rodgers" tradition has been dropped (was dropped) by the early 90s, and the event became a Country Music Festival instead of a Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Festival. This was first identified as such by veteran radio personality, from Mobile, the late Jack Cardwell. I agree, Jack was right.
I would like to say at this point I think president Betty Lou Jones did a good job of holding things together this year. She acquired some media coverage and support which has been lacking in recent years. Betty Lou is not bashful when it comes to asking for help.
Bad decisions
It's just that the foundation officials for the past 12-15 years have made some very bad decisions and lost that down-home' hospitality and country flavor excitement. They were running the celebration like a commercial, business-venture project. That has not and will not work.
Prior to 1972, our initial opener May 26 show, as the festival's show producer, I had talked with in person, on the phone or invitational letters and made management and agency arrangements for several artists to be here at the Ray Stadium JRMF show, under "the stars."
People like Ernest Tubb and the "The Texas Troubadors," Hank Snow and his "Rainbow Ranch Boys," country-western singer-star-writer, legendary Johnny Bond; Wilburn Brothers, Jerry Clower (remember, he was our emcee that night); Bill Anderson and "His Po'Folks Band."
What a show that turned out to be, 33 years ago tomorrow, May 26. Remember, Faron Young and his show came in at the last minute from a Laurel engagement.
Fans, that was "not by accident." Faron didn't just come by the show, though hundreds of fans thought he did. He and his manager had already turned me down two or three times after my personal invitation to Faron Young.
Here's the deal (who said that deal thing? Yes, I know). But Faron got through in Laurel and kept thinking, "If Ernest Tubb hears about this and I'm this close, E.T. will kill me!"
So, Faron got much much tighter and came rolling in to the show late and lit. Oh, that was our kick-off night and it was great.
Great shows
There were many great shows. I guess my topper was 1975 when three Country Music Hall of Fame members and Waylon Jennings were on the same JRMF show. WOW! There were many great ones for my friend, producer Ken Rainey, too. He had the "Hag" and Willie, Conway and Loretta, so many great ones. Ken, you have to love it, don't cha? Me, too, friend.
On the production end, I came back in the late '80s and or early '90s and did JRMF gospel shows. Those were some great celebrations. Then, my late friend Earl Aycock did some gospel productions for the foundation. What memories we have of those great days.
Listen up, festival folks. Your mixed-up schedule which ran in April and spilled over into May this year is not a good idea at all. You are letting those powerful management/talent agencies dictate your concert dates.
Get back on track. Set the anniversary date (last week in May) on the calendar and then seek your talent. You are running into dates on some other major events already scheduled year-round in this area, like the Ralph Morgan Rodeo.
You let this happen and it's not right. Mr. Morgan supports all community events and your changing dates to that degree goes against your neighbors. That was a foul ball for JRMF, don't you know.
Before closing the final part of my five-part series on Jimmie Rodgers, let me thank editor Buddy Bynum and his fine staff for letting me publish this series in The Star for the past five weeks.
I also want to thank all of you for the wonderful comments. If you readers want copies of all the articles, call The Meridian Star's Circulation Department at 693-1551. Sunday copies are $1.25 each for April 27, May 4, May 11 and May 18, 2003. Total $6.25 plus mailing/shipping. Add another $1.25 if you want an extra copy of today's paper.
I want to mention here that director of the Jimmie Rodgers Museum in Highland Park is Jean Dollar Bishop. She does a great job and has done so for a number of years. Call her for hours and admission prices, 485-1808. Hope you'll take your family, friends and visitors through the museum, soon. Very informative.
The way that much of the Rodgers legacy comes out of our local media, a Jimmie Rodgers fan would not know that our town has a Jimmie Rodgers Museum in Highland Park. The city should promote this. The state tourism office should publicize this. Meridian has the Father of Country Music as its native son. These different agencies, as well as the foundation, should tell the world.
There should be a major street or avenue, across town and through town, named Jimmie Rodgers Drive.
Years ago, we could have been a "little Nashville," anyway, Then Branson hit. Drew people from all over the U.S. to their small town. Where are we Meridian? No wonder, Jimmie moved to Texas to finish out his run. This should be Mississippi's biggest tourist-draw. It could have been. We dropped the ball.
Hey, new festival folks. The "blues" is good. Right on. What you've added is good. But don't take all the traditional country entertainers out. Those basics have to stay for JRMF to fly. I would touch on this further, but my space is more than filled.
May God bless Jimmie's memory on this May 26, 2003, tomorrow. Thanks, The Meridian Star, for letting me tell you about our "Jimmie."

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