A Celebration of Mississippi’s Musical Heritage was presented by the Jimmie Rodgers Foundation and the Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts in partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority Tourism Division on August 20 and 21 at the MSU Riley Arts Center in Meridian, MS. Marty Stuart’s traveling Sparkle and Twang exhibit was also on display and will be there until September 18, 2010.
The event began Friday night with the Songwriters In the Round concert by Meridian native Don Poythress, Steve Dean from Little Rock, Arkansas (now in Nashville) and Walt Aldridge from the musically famous Muscle Shoals, Alabama. All three are amazing songwriters, as well as very talented musicians. They played many of their hit songs, but here are a few of my favorites. Don Poythress’ “You Remain” recorded in 2002 by Willie Nelson and Cheryl Crow (what poetry! I absolutely love this), “Wash Away,” and the soon to be released cowboy/Christian song “That’s Where Jesus Is.” Of course, “A Little More Country than That,” Easton Corbin, brought the house down. Steve Dean’s songs included “Southern Star,” Alabama, “Round About Way,” George Strait, and a song even children know, “Watching You,” Rodney Atkins. For more of Steve’s songs, visit his myspace page. Walt Aldridge contributed greatly to the concert with an awesome collection of his hit songs including “I Loved her First,” (which made me cry), Heartland, “Holding Her and Loving You,” Earl Thomas Conley, “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde,” Travis Tritt, and “There’s No Gettin’ Over Me,” Ronnie Milsaps. Walt also interjected humor during his songs and stories about songwriting. I loved every minute and every song. What a treat!
Saturday’s Symposium featured discussions with a panel composed of Barry Mazor, author of Meeting Jimmie Rodgers, Scott Barretta, host of Highway 61 Blues Show on Mississippi Public Radio who also teaches at Ole Miss, Elliott Thomas from MDA and Doctor Edgar Smith who is a member of the Blues Commission. There was an explanation of the Mississippi Blues Trail, how they tried to spread it across the state and how they couldn’t put a marker for every name because there are so many artists and only so much funding. The Mississippi Country Music Trail has already been launched with the first marker in Meridian for Jimmie Rodgers. Scott Barretta interviewed Chris Ethridge, bass and songwriter legend. Someone stated that there wasn’t anyone in the music business that Chris hadn’t played with, wrote with or personally knew. People are always trying to get him to write a book because he has a lot of stories about them, but he doesn’t want to disrespect their privacy. Chris admitted it really wasn’t him that brought the country sound to The Flying Burrito Brothers; he was always more of a rock fan, but he likes all music.
The highlight of the day, in my opinion, was 81-year-old L.C. Ulmer who actually met Jimmie Rodgers. L.C. is played blues, country, gospel and square dance. He was also spellbinding with his humorous tales of growing up in Stringer, MS. He had 7 brothers and 7 sisters, and his father “whipped him good” with a razor strap quite often… especially if he lied. But it did him good, he said. He learned to tell the truth and to respect women, and, he says, neither he or any of his siblings wound up in jail. He did have a close call once, though. Some cotton pickers ganged up on him, and everyone told him he had to defend himself. And so he did. The law arrested him, but his white friends that he grew up with came to his defense and he was released. He said there was no black and white in his community, even back then. Just people. He told me that his guitar is a Bible, that there used to be 12 disciples (frets) and then Jesus came along to be number 13 and it went from there. He also called the Bible a “poor box.” While he played, with young Jake Fussell of Oxford sometimes accompanying him on guitar, he had his foot tapping and even got up to dance on one number. The most amazing thing he did, however, was sing and play an entire song with the guitar behind his head. Then he put it back in front and said, in his serious, musical voice, “That’s how I got the ladies when I was in California!” I asked him what was his favorite song to play. He said his daddy told him not to have a favorite because somebody might not like it. Then he said, well you know that song, “Some Glad Morning…” I said, “I’ll Fly Away!” He said, that was my mama’s favorite song. I played it for her every time I’d visit, so I guess I’d say that would be it.