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Stories Written by Sheena Barnett
By Sheena Barnett
TUPELO – A busy section of Tupelo’s downtown streets was closed Saturday and Sunday, and the details are still a bit of a mystery.
A section of Main Street, from Spring Street to Front Street, and sometimes as far west as Broadway Street or as far east as Commerce Street, was closed, and city officials simply said it was because of a Tupelo Film Commission project.
Some kind of film is being shot in Tupelo, but officials are keeping mum on who’s behind it or what it’s about, though the evidence suggests something Elvis-related.
On Sunday, a scene was filmed in front of Tupelo Hardware. It featured classic cars from the 1930s and 40s, and the actors wore vintage clothing.
Perhaps the movie’s focus is on Tupelo Hardware’s most famous young customer and the life-changing trip he made to the store with his mother? A young boy was seen carrying a guitar case during the filming Sunday.
One person involved with the arrangements who asked not to be identified said the film-making would continue today at the Elvis Presley birthplace.
City officials won’t give any details, but they said the filmmakers will speak with the media on Tuesday after today’s shooting.
Tupelo police officers kept an eye on the boundaries on Sunday, as handfuls of curious locals and visitors stopped by and asked what was going on. Satisfied with the generic “film shoot” answer, they’d stay a while and move on.
By Sheena Barnett
TUPELO – Eighteen years ago, a Tupelo police officer saved Hannah Davis’ life. Now, she’s ready to pay it forward.
Hannah and her hero, Buddy Irving, reunited this week in Tupelo, just a few weeks before Hannah starts her first year at Itawamba Community College.
“I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for him,” Hannah said.
Hannah and her mother, Amy Davis, had lunch at Sweet Pepper’s Deli with Irving and his wife, Carol, on Thursday.
Both Irving and Amy Davis have vivid memories of the spring day in 1996 when Hannah stopped breathing.
Hannah was born at 28 weeks and had spent the first six and a half weeks of her life in a newborn intensive care unit. She’d been home from the hospital for only about 10 days when she stopped breathing.
“I thought she’d gone to sleep,” Amy Davis said. “She had blood on her mouth and she couldn’t breathe. My mama called 911. I’m thankful he was right around the corner.”
Irving, who was a Tupelo officer for 25 years, had stopped at St. Luke United Methodist Church for a cup of coffee when he heard the call. The Davis family lived on Joyner Avenue, so Irving was the first responder.
“I couldn’t feel a heartbeat,” Irving said. “I asked (Hannah’s) mother and grandmother to step out of the room, because (infant CPR) is very delicate and very dangerous.”
Hannah weighed only four and a half pounds, so he was gentle when he breathed shallow breaths into her mouth and used two fingers to press gently on her heart.
“By the time the fire department got there, the baby had started breathing again and she was crying,” he said.
Irving performed CPR on adults plenty of times during his career, but never on a baby, especially one that size.
Irving retired from the police department several years ago and now lives in Vernon, Alabama. He’s reunited with Hannah a few times over the years, but hasn’t seen her since she was a middle-school student.
Amy Davis and Irving reunited over Facebook and set up the lunch this week.
Hannah just graduated from Tupelo High School and plans to major in pre-med. She hopes to become a medical missionary, especially in Nicaragua. She’s traveled there twice already.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the body,” she said. “I’m ready to spread my wings and fly.”
By Sheena Barnett
TUPELO – Singer-songwriter Lara Herscovitch doesn’t write songs just for the ears, but also for the heart and soul.
A former State Troubadour of Connecticut and a policy social worker, Herscovitch’s music makes statements, tells stories or just entertains. She’ll show off her tunes this Friday at the Link Centre’s Monthly Music Mix concert, where Tony Caldwell will open.
“Overall, my music is thematically about transformation, whether it’s personal, political or social,” she said in a phone interview with the Daily Journal. “Some songs are humorous. I like to offer a wide variety, a mix of storytelling through music and just a conversation with the audience.”
Herscovitch, who has been a guest on “A Prairie Home Companion,” has worked in the U.S., Latin America and Asia on behalf of the disadvantaged, and those experiences have helped her create many songs, both lyrically and musically.
“My songs are all over the map and include Cajun, blues, jazz, Latin,” she said. “I call my music modern folk.”
She’ll share stories in between her songs, as will Lt. Ronnie Partlow with the Lee County Juvenile Detention Center. Herscovitch’s last album, “Four Wise Monkeys,” deals a lot with the U.S. prison system, so her songs and Partlow’s storytelling will work well together.
“He’s doing such important work helping our kids heal and helping our children and our communities move in a positive direction,” she said.
Herscovitch is writing a new album, and said she knows she’ll be inspired by her trip to Mississippi.
“I’m always really sincerely moved, being in the Deep South, knowing that ground was at the heart of the Civil Rights movement. That’s such a transformation for this country. We’re facing so many challenges today, and I keep thinking how Americans can be good and I think we will be good again,” she said.
She hopes to make a connection with her audience in Tupelo this week – that is, after all, what music is all about, she said.
“What I love about touring and playing music is enjoying the people who are there and having a really unique, shared experience,” she said. “I would love for people to leave inspired to make a difference in their own way. I want people to leave feeling more connected, but also to each other.”
• What: Lara Herscovitch, Tony Caldwell and Lt. Ronnie Partlow
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
• Where: Link Centre Concert Hall
• Cost: $10/adults, $5/students
• Info: (662) 690-4011
By Sheena Barnett
OKOLONA – Archery, canoeing, horseback riding and zip-lining are creating smiles for kids of all ages and abilities this week.
Elizabeth Gwin Session for Special Children at Camp Tik-A-Witha has offered new experiences and accomplishments for 45 children. Girl Scouts of the Heart of the South Council spent June at the camp, but this week most of the children have developmental disabilities. Some non-disabled children also joined the camp as Let’s All Play campers.
This week they’ve all camped together, learning how to shoot a bow and arrow, swimming, cooking out and watching movies, among many other activities.
“It’s all about the smiles on their faces when they accomplish something they’ve never done before, and something they’ve never had the opportunity to do before,” said the camp’s director, Beth Moody.
The campers come from across the Heart of the South’s coverage area, which stretches across Northeast Mississippi, the Memphis area and into Arkansas.
Camper Austin Brown, 12, of Memphis, spent Wednesday afternoon in the pool.
“I love swimming; it’s my favorite sport,” said Brown, who is on the autism spectrum. “I bob in and out of the water and squirt water at people. I love doing that.”
Jeb Polatty, 8, from Memphis, was swimming with Anthony Morrison, a volunteer who’s been coming to the camp since he was 15. Now 44, both of his daughters attend camp during the Elizabeth Gwin Session as Let’s All Play campers.
Jeb, who has Down syndrome, thanked Morrison for diving after his goggles and jumped in and out of the water.
“Swimming is fun,” he said. “I rode horses.”
His older sister, Emlyn, who turns 11 on Friday, said Jeb has attended the camp for three years, but she’s there as a first-year Let’s All Play camper. She got to go zip-lining for the first time, which she said was “awesome.”
“I’ve learned about the other kids and how they like to do things,” she said. “Jeb loves camp. I’ll definitely be back next year.”
Abby Arnold, 15 and a junior camp counselor, is there with her grandmother and other family members for the week.
She’s had such a good time interacting with the other kids that she’s considered a career path that will allow her to work with people of all abilities.
“I walk with (the special campers), and we talk almost anything,” she said. “We give them choices instead of just telling them ‘No.’ I’ll read books to them so they’ll go to sleep at night. They have the best time here, and it’s fun to have fun with them.”
Girl Scouts Heart of the South Council’s board president, Kathy Webb, is volunteering at the camp this week with two service dogs, Daffney and Sadie.
“This is the most amazing experience I’ve ever been a part of,” she said. “It’s amazing to see a child who’s never ridden a horse, and they put on a helmet and ride. The dogs bring them out of their shell. This is the highlight of the summer.”
Casey Spradling seemed to be everywhere, all the time.
Since we met 13 years ago as college freshmen, we seemed to always bump into each other.
We had many of the same classes at Itawamba Community College and ran in similar circles while at Ole Miss.
After graduation, I never was surprised to run up on him anywhere, either just out about in Tupelo or while both of us were at work.
Casey was a behind-the-scenes guy for so many films, and in covering my beat, I often ran into him on a movie set, at a film festival or premiere of a locally made film.
I always smiled when I caught his name in movie credits.
I never spent hours upon hours with him. Our encounters were usually relatively brief, but always memorable.
He never minced words, but wasn’t brash. He wasn’t a social butterfly, yet seemed to know – and be friendly with – literally every person he met. He could break your heart and make you laugh at the same time. That was just Casey.
This past February, I ran into him at the Oxford Film Festival. It had been a long while since I’d last seen him, but catching up with Casey was always easy.
As soon as you ran into him, he made you feel like you’d just hung out with him the day before.
We had a while to wait before the first film began, so we caught up on each other’s lives, and before I knew it, our discussion became deep. We both had many of the same fears and anxieties about our lives and our jobs, our goals and our potential downfalls.
It wasn’t long after the festival that Casey sent me a Facebook message, checking in. And there for a while, we kept up regularly. We’d just check in to see if the other had a good day, and if the other hadn’t, we were there to listen.
One particularly low day, all I could say was that it had been a bad day. Casey wrote back immediately, offering to do anything he could to make things better.
It was such a simple and sweet gesture, but I knew he meant it. It meant the world to me, and I told him so.
A few weeks ago, he told me he had some big film jobs lined up, and he was excited. I don’t think I’d ever heard him talk so happily, and hopefully, about his future.
But then, last week, Casey collapsed while working on a film in Jackson.
After he went into the hospital, his Facebook page blew up with friends and colleagues from all over the world wishing him a speedy recovery that, unfortunately, wouldn’t happen.
He died on Friday.
He was 31.
It’s been incredible to see how many lives he touched.
So many people had stories like mine, that Casey had been there for them when they needed him most.
And truly, I think that’s what Casey did best.
He was so caring. He gave without asking for anything in return.
He taught me a lot of things, most importantly, how to care for someone.
This world lost a true gentleman. I lost a good friend.
It feels so weird to know I’ll never run into him again on a set or at the movies. My heart breaks when I log into Facebook and know I’ll never again have a surprise message from him, wishing me a good day or simply asking if I’m OK. I wasn’t ready to be done talking; I still had more to say, and I know he did, too.
I keep trying to tell myself our conversations aren’t over, and that we’ll talk again some day.
But in the meantime, I am sure going to miss him.
Sheena Barnett writes about entertainment and the arts for the Daily Journal. Contact her at (662) 678-1580 or email@example.com.
TUPELO – At just a year old, Tupelo Community Theatre’s Off Broadway already has earned a national award.
Off Broadway took home the Twink Lynch Organizational Achievement Award from the American Association of Community Theatre at the AACT International Theatre Festival in June.
The organizational achievement award recognizes theaters for “successfully completing major steps in new directions, expanding services to their community or moving to the next level of organizational development.”
TCT opened its new location, Off Broadway, in late 2013. The alternative venue hosts smaller, often more adult-themed shows that don’t fit in with TCT’s regular five-show season.
It’s production of the David Sedaris Christmas show “The SantaLand Diaries” won several awards at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in March.
TCT Off Broadway “is something we’re doing that’s different,” said Tupelo Community Theatre’s executive director, Tom Booth. “It’s exceeded our expectations of what we thought we’d do.”
Besides hosting other productions, the space also is used for auditions, workshops and rehearsals.
The next show at TCT Off Broadway is “A Southern Belle Primer,” set for Aug. 21-23.
Season tickets are on sale now for TCT’s regular season, and it includes “The Spitfire Grill,” “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” “Father of the Bride,” “The Trip to Bountiful” and “Les Miserables.”
By Sheena Barnett
HOLLY SPRINGS – Paul McLeod has at least one thing in common with his idol, Elvis Presley: people will be talking about him for years to come.
McLeod, who was found dead Thursday morning less than two days after fatally shooting an intruder, owned Graceland Too – part- tourist attraction, part-college students’ rite of passage, part novelty experience – in Holly Springs.
The entire inside of the 19th century house was covered, floor to ceiling, in all things Elvis. There were Elvis rugs, Elvis curtains, Elvis photos, Elvis Christmas trees, Elvis plates, Elvis phones, Elvis cut-outs.
But Graceland Too wasn’t about Elvis, not really. McLeod gave visitors house tours – sometimes spanning hours, depending on how much he wanted to show off – but really, when you visited Graceland Too, you were touring the psyche of McLeod.
He scared some people, but most found him hilarious.
He spit out Elvis facts so fast his dentures would slip. If you weren’t paying attention on tour, he’d whistle and yell “Yo” until you were looking at him.
He shared personal details about his life, and though they seemed embellished, he always told visitors the same information.
He claimed to live on only a case of Coca-Cola a day, and that allowed him to stay awake to give tours 24/7. (He also claimed it helped him in other ways, but it isn’t appropriate to be printed in a family newspaper. McLeod often made crude sexual jokes on tours).
He claimed his ex-wife gave him an ultimatum: her or Elvis.
“I gave her a million dollars and told her bye,” he said on a tour in 2010.
No one has ever officially talked to his ex-wife to confirm that story.
McLeod, who alternately used MacLeod as a spelling for his name, has a son, Elvis Aaron Presley McLeod.
He’d collected Elvis memorabilia for 60 years, but wouldn’t give his real age.
“When I dye my hair, I look 21,” was his only answer.
Police gave his age Thursday as 70.
McLeod hosted celebrities at Graceland Too, like Ashton Kutcher and Chris O’Donnell.
McLeod showed off his Elvis collection to thousands of fans from all over the world.
“People ask me what we do around here,” McLeod said on tours. “We eat, sleep and breathe Elvis.”
A famous part of Graceland Too was his TV room, which was filled, floor to ceiling, with TVs, VCRs and thousands of VHS tapes. He kept the TVs and VCRs running constantly, either showing or recording a TV show or movie that featured Elvis.
He often showed off a gun or two on the tours, saying Elvis loved guns, too.
His backyard featured what he claimed was a working electric chair as a reference to “Jailhouse Rock.”
A few walls in the winding maze of the house were dedicated to lifetime members, those who’d visited at least three times. At your third visit, you’d have your picture made in a black Elvis jacket, and you’d never have to pay the $5 entry fee again.
Paul McLeod was a true Mississippi legend.
He was part man, part myth, but more than anything else, he was a fan of Elvis Presley.
“If I could die right now – right now,” McLeod often said on tours, “I’d die to bring that guy back.”
By Sheena Barnett
TUPELO – The Band Together benefit concert raised $48,462.38 for Tupelo’s tornado relief efforts.
Money was raised at the concert, which took place June 5 at Fairpark, through donations and T-shirt and poster sales. The proceeds have been deposited in the tornado relief account at CREATE.
“We had a wonderful evening that night,” said Debbie Brangenberg, executive director of Tupelo’s Downtown Main Street Association. “It was very successful.”
Paul Thorn, Aaron Hall, Chris Chew, Jimbo Mathus, Cary Hudson and The Red Thangs performed at the show, and all of them donated their performances. That allowed the Band Together concert to happen with very little expense, Brangenberg said.
“On behalf of the city, thank you for helping us when we needed it the most,” Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton told the Band Together organizers at a press conference Thursday morning at City Hall.
The benefit show was the brainchild of several citizens who help organize events like the Tupelo Elvis Festival, Down on Main and the Mustache Bash.
“The city opened their arms and gave what they could,” said Meredith Martin, who helped organize Band Together.
By Sheena Barnett
OXFORD – The Oxford Blues Festival allows fans to be as serious about the blues as they want.
Fans can sit in the shade and enjoy three days of blues music, or they can delve a little deeper into the music with three panels about the music and its artists.
“It’s a great community event,” said the festival’s organizer, Darryl Parker. “You can come out and hear some awesome music that you’ve probably never heard before. You’ll be entertained.”
The festival kicks off tonight with the Jeff Jensen Band.
There will be barbecue and catfish plates sold all three days of the festival, but tonight the VIP section will feature a menu with food mentioned in blues songs.
The blues panels kick off the festival at noon Friday, and all three of the panels are free.
The blues visual artist panel is at noon, followed by the blues scholars panel at 1:15 p.m. and the blues musicians panel at 2:30 p.m.
Anyone with a blues festival ticket also gets free admission to artist H.C. Porter’s “Blues @ Home” exhibit at the University Museum, where the festival is hosted.
Taking the festival stage that night are Tas Cru, Redd Velvet, Eric Hughes Band and Libby Rae Watson.
Saturday’s performers include Silas Reed N’ Da Books, Cadillac Funk, The Blues Doctors, Big Joe Shelton and Mr. Sipp.
“Cadillac Funk is a great musician,” Parker said. “He sounds great.”
Mr. Sipp, known as the “Mississippi Blues Child,” just took home the grand prize at the International Blues Challenge.
“He puts on a great show,” Parker said. “He’s an entertainer.”
The festival is rain or shine. Lawn chairs and blankets are welcome, and sunscreen, bug spray and sunglasses are suggested.
“It’s the only blues festival in the shade,” Parker said. “We call ourselves the biggest tiniest blues festival in the South. We just want to have a good time.”
CHECK IT OUT
• What: 5th annual Oxford Blues Festival
• When: today-Saturday
• Where: the grounds of the Walton-Young House at University Museums, Oxford
• Cost: $10/day pass, $25/weekend pass, $75/VIP pass. Tickets are $5 more day of show. Free for 12 and under. The panels are free.
• Info: oxfordbluesfest.com
OXFORD BLUES FESTIVAL SCHEDULE
6 p.m. – Jeff Jensen meet and greet
7:15 p.m. – The Jeff Jensen Band
Noon – Blues Visual Artist panel
1:15 p.m. – Blues scholars panel
2:30 p.m. – Blues artists panel
4:15 p.m. – Libby Rae Watson
5:30 p.m. – Eric Hughes Band
7:15 p.m. – Redd Velvet
9 p.m. – Tas Cru
Noon – The Blues Boys f/ Effie Burt
1 p.m. – The Zediker Boys
2 p.m. – Silas Reed N’ Da Books
3:15 p.m. – Zach Tilotson and Cameron Kimbrough Duo
4:30 p.m. – The Blues Doctors
5:45 p.m. – Cadillac Funk
7 p.m. – Big Joe Shelton
8:15 p.m. – Mr. Sipp
By Sheena Barnett
BALDWYN – Enter the world of Mowgli and his animal kingdom in Baldwyn Main Street Players’ summer youth production of “The Jungle Book.”
It’s a play version based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories. You wont’ hear “Bear Necessities,” but you’ll still be entertained by Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Baloo.
“It’s very funny,” said Seth Bratton, 10, who plays Mowgli. “We’ve been working hard, and it’s finally about to pay off.”
“The Jungle Book” is funny, but dramatic, too, as Mowgli has to defeat the tiger Shere Khan.
Director Tina Velasquez and her daughter, Channing Lomax, who is a theater major at Ole Miss, have constructed an elaborate set on the theater’s small stage.
They’ve also made colorful and fuzzy costumes for the animals.
Katie-Rae Carmichael, 12, plays the intelligent panther Bagheera, who teaches Mowgli and tries to keep him out of trouble.
“It’s fun because you get to be different and be an animal,” she said. “It’s fun, but it’s hard work.”
Katie-Rae and Seth said they’ve made a lot of friends on the set of “The Jungle Book,” and they can’t wait to put on the show, which opens tonight.
“There are a lot of funny scenes,” Katie-Rae said. “They’ll enjoy it.”
“We’ve put in a lot of effort,” he said. “It’s going to be a good show, no doubt.”
• What: Baldwyn Main Street Players present “Jungle Book”
• When: 7 p.m. tonight and Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Claude Gentry Theatre, Baldwyn
• Cost: $12/adults, $6/students
• Info: (662) 706-1219
• “Jungle Book” cast: Seth Bratton (Mowgli); Abby Magill (Nyra); Emilee Hill (Chitra); Tanner Palmer (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi); Scott Bratton (Baloo); Katie-Rae Carmichael (Bagheera); Mollie Tucker (Father Wolf); Mika Underwood (Mother Wolf); Maddux Richey (Tabaqui); Rustin Roberts (Kaa); Lilly Tucker (Mang); Abby Hannon (Mor); Kristian Hill, Amelia Nelson, Jonathan Harper (Wolves); Cheyenne Etheridge (Queen Monkey); Tess Parker and Jalyn Bean (Monkeys); Haley Cockrell (Shere Khan); Michaela Harper (Mowgli’s Mother); Joseph Harper (Village Elder); Brooke Morris (Cobra)