Phil Campbell festival unites friends for food, fun, music

The Phil Campbell Hoedown, a well-loved yearly festival, brought lots of music, food and fun to town this weekend. The event also featured a variety of vendors as well as door prizes donated by local businesses.

The festivities kicked off Friday with a welcome from Phil Campbell Mayor Mike McQuary, followed by an evening of gospel music and a cruise-in at the Phil Campbell High School parking lot.

“Friday we had probably the biggest crowd we’ve had in the history of the festival,” noted Phil Campbell Councilman Phillip King.

Southern Image took the stage first, followed by Resound, Purpose and Gold City.

“There was a lot of great gospel music,” said King. “We had a huge turnout. The temperature dropped, and the weather was so nice. It really brought the people out. We had a good crowd Saturday, too.”

Throughout the day Saturday, festival-goers had the opportunity to take part in contests, including bubblegum blowing, hotdog eating and dancing. Others played cornhole just for fun. A variety of local talents performed, including the LA Outlaws, Tremayne and The Midnighters.

“We had another great turnout for our festival,” said McQuary. “Wonderful entertainment and vendors. Everything went smoothly, and everybody had a good time. The Hoedown is always a lot of fun.”

King said the Council provided barbecue for the Phil Campbells who came to the festival, and Ronald Fretwell furnished watermelons for dessert.

“We really appreciate that,” said King. “They enjoyed the meal, music and fellowship.”

This year, four Phil Campbells – Brooklyn Phil, Birmingham Phil, Tuscaloosa Phil and Springfield Phil – came into town for the festival. The convening of those sharing the town’s name is a tradition that’s been going on for a number of years.

Saturday morning the Council installed new signs marking all the known people named Phil Campbell who have visited the town. Each sign notes where that person is from. Among the places are Scotland, England and Australia.

“My first visit to Phil Campbell was in 1994,” explained Brooklyn Phil Campbell, the one who started and organizes the Phil Campbell gatherings, the first of which took place in 1995. “We’ve known each other for years now.”

He said there were up to 12 commitments from Phil Campbells to come this year, but the rest were unable to make it because of a COVID scare, canceled flights and conflicting schedules.

“It’s just a fun thing to do. I like seeing folks come from far away,” said Brooklyn Phil. “One year there was somebody from Idaho. We’ve also gotten to know a lot of people from the town of Phil Campbell, as well as Phil Campbells from all over the world.”

Brooklyn Phil explained the original wooden signposts were painted and installed by Birmingham and Tuscaloosa Phil Campbells. “A few months ago, I saw a photo and realized the signs had started to fade,” said Brooklyn Phil, “and we decided it would be good to have something more permanent to help the town keep the tradition going.”

Phil Campbell City Councilwoman Lynn Landers said the old signs have been saved until such time as the Phil Campbell Arts and Historical Society gets a building to display local memorabilia.

Brooklyn Phil designed all but one of the new signs himself. “There are 32 signs now, and there are two poles,” he said. “Each side has a sign explaining what those signs are about and welcoming Phil Campbells to Phil Campbell.”

One side has the 20 who came in June 2011 after the devastating April 27, 2011, tornadoes hit the town. The Phils had originally planned to come during the Hoedown to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the town, but they had to re-think after tragedy struck.

In the end, the Phils decided to come anyway, opting to help with fundraising in the aftermath of the tornadoes. “It was such a positive experience for us coming to help with that,” said Brooklyn Phil. “It just means a lot having this kind of place to come to and be welcome.”

The signs on the other side contain more Phil Campbells.

“As long as we know they have come to Phil Campbell, we include them,” explained Brooklyn Phil. “My sign says Brooklyn because that’s where I lived when I first came to visit. The signs have a little information about the place each Phil Campbell comes from.”

He said it was “really fun” to design the signs. “I’ve got 15 more to make. We still have the old list from 1995 from the first Phil Campbell convention.”

The new signs, not counting the 15 still to be added, represent Phils from Liverpoo, England; Webster, N.Y.; Quantico, Va.; Easthampton, Mass.; Howell, Mich.; Chesapeake Beach, Md.; Grass Lake, Mich.; Springdale, Ark.; Ucon, Idaho; Bendigo, Victoria, Australia; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Tuscaloosa; Birmingham; Glasgow, Scotland; Bowral NSW, Australia; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Juneau, Alaska; London, England; and Round Rock, Texas.

The rest of the signs represent Lafarge, Wis.; Schoolcraft, Mich.; Palo Alto, Calif.; Adelaide, Australia; Fayetteville, Ga.; Louisville, Ky.; Pooler, Ga.; Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia; Nottingham, England; and Franklin, Tenn.

Tuscaloosa Phil said none of the Phils knew each other until they met in Phil Campbell.

“We’ve become pretty good friends,” he said. “Growing up, I knew about the town of Phil Campbell, and my parents and I would come through while traveling, and they would take my photo by the town sign. That was always a lot of fun.”

Birmingham Phil said he has been every year since the tornado, noting his father was also a Phil Campbell.

“He passed away, and this weekend is Father’s Day, so it’s nice how that worked out, and it means a lot to me from that respect,” said Birmingham Phil. “We all enjoy traveling and have learned more about each other over the years, such as who has what hobbies.”

Springfield Phil said his first trip was also after the tornado, noting he came with his wife and daughter for the Hoedown that year.

He said the town holds a special place in his heart. “I always end up getting more from the town than I give,” he said. “People make me feel so welcome, and some even thank me for coming. It’s a great feeling.”

As for having so many Phils, he agreed with the others that it’s special having so many.

“All we shared in the beginning was a name, but we’ve learned we have a lot more in common than we ever imagined.”