EDITORIAL: Favorable Festival

The figures aren’t officially tallied yet, but by all indications this year’s Elvis Presley Festival in Tupelo will be considered a success.
Crowds were good for last weekend’s musical performances as well as the “Elvis events” like the tribute artist competition. Getting area native Paul Thorn – whose post-performance thoughts are in today’s Forum elsewhere on this page – was a good choice for the festival’s headliner.
Downtown businesses reported steady traffic and solid sales.
The Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, principal sponsor of the event, seems to have hit on a formula that will assure that the festival can be sustained and perhaps grow.
That wasn’t certain a couple of years back. Questions abounded about the festival’s financial sustainability.
Those who have worked hard to keep the festival viable in the period since – including scores of volunteers and multiple corporate sponsors – deserve plaudits for their efforts. They’ve done the community a service.
Every community has its unique characteristics that, if properly cultivated, can be turned into advantages. Few communities have a distinct connection as marketable as Elvis Presley. The name is known worldwide, and the legend is unmatched in popular culture.
For many years Tupelo was reticent to take full advantage of its Elvis connection. That has changed in recent years, and hooray for it.
There is only one Elvis birthplace – only one town where the man who changed American music forever was born. Like so many other communities, Tupelo – in spite of pockets of rabid Elvis devotees through the years – was slow to recognize the significance of a unique attribute, both economically and culturally, to the city.
Now, of course, the Elvis brand is a big part of how the city markets itself. The Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum has undergone significant improvements in recent years, and its board is aggressively seeking funds to do more. Much more can be done to enhance the “Elvis experience.”
There are still no doubt people who believe that all the fuss about Elvis is not befitting a town that wants to be taken seriously. But in spite of the elements of goofiness that surround certain Elvis events – dogs dressed to look like The King, for example – the man was a figure of enduring significance. He both symbolized and accelerated a cultural shift in this country, and his musical heritage is not just as the patriarch of rock ‘n’ roll but as the synthesizer of many strains of musical tradition, including those that crossed the racial taboos of his time.
The Elvis Presley Festival, then, should be a signature event in Tupelo. It has the potential over time, because of who it’s about and where it is, to become much bigger and more widely known. That ultimately will benefit Tupelo beyond the weekend surge of tourist dollars that accompany it.
A city that is known for lively, distinctive community events and the offshoots from them is a place more likely to attract newcomers and to retain the young people it has reared and nurtured. It’s what Mayor Jack Reed Jr. has termed the “cool city” calling for Tupelo, and it will be a priority for any community that wants to compete for people and dollars in the coming years.
Elvis is a big ticket for Tupelo. The community should continue to find new and better ways to punch it.

NEMS Daily Journal