Arts Council announces: No Great Pretenders show this year

The 39th W.C. Handy Festival in the Shoals this year will be different because of the coronavirus – and those differences will trickle over to Franklin County.

According to the W.C. Handy officials, much planning has gone into ways to offer activities that are as safe as possible for everyone to enjoy during these unprecedented times. Although many of the familiar Handy events will not take place this year, some safe activities will be offered throughout this year’s festival dates of July 17-26.

Because of Gov. Kay Ivey’s Safer at Home restrictions, theaters across Alabama have not been allowed to open. Accordingly, the Franklin County Arts Council is following a recommendation by state health authorities not to hold The Roxy’s Great Pretenders Show this year during the W.C. Handy Festival.

This would have marked the 20th year for The Great Pretenders Show at the Roxy. The performance has always been a big success and contributed to the economy of Russellville. It is with regret this event has been canceled, but it is the Franklin County Arts Council Board’s desire to protect the health of our supporters and to control the spread of COVID-19.

The festival’s T-shirt design this year is a throwback retro style with red, blue and yellow colors. It features a doctor and nurse doing a swing-style dance, a tribute to those on the frontline of the coronavirus fight. Among them are landmark theater/entertainment venues that support Handy events and use neon in their signage – including the Roxy. Other venues featured are Shoals Theatre in Florence, Ritz Theatre in Sheffield, Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia and FAME recording in Muscle Shoals. Carl Brackin Jr., a local artist, designed the T-shirt.

W.C. Handy Music Festival brochures will not be printed for distribution this year, but people can visit the festival website for events planned for each day. Handy T-shirts, posters and face coverings can be purchased at the Counts Brothers Music in Muscle Shoals, Colbert County Tourism in Tuscumbia and the Florence Lauderdale Tourism.

A tribute will be given to honor Edsel Holden, the Handy Festival’s godfather, for his service and dedication to the original Music Preservation Society Board of Directors. Mayor John Blackwell and myself recruited Edsel Holden to work with us in getting the Historic Roxy involved in the Handy Festival. Holden assisted the Arts Council in scheduling jazz trios, quartets and jazz musicians, as well as himself along with the UNA Jazz Band, to perform at the Roxy during the early days of the W.C. Handy Music Festival. Holden was supportive of the restoration of the Historic Roxy Theatre.

You might miss some of your favorite Handy events this year, but hopefully next year those events will be available for the 40th festival!

Enjoying music and more from a distance is a new experience for us as we continue to pay tribute to the legacy and contributions of Shoals area music while honoring the memory of the one and only “Father of the Blues,” William Christopher “W.C.” Handy.

Malone is president of the Franklin County Arts Council.