By SHEENA BARNETT / NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – What Elvis Presley started in Tupelo, Chris Root hopes to continue.
If Tupelo is the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, the city should be known as a music haven, said Root, one of the organizers of the Down on Main concert series. Because of that series, hundreds of music fans have flocked to Fairpark to hear original music for the last two summers – and that’s exactly what Root wanted to happen.
“Our No. 1 goal for doing this is just that we wanted more – more music, and great music, not just any music, because that’s the thing we should focus on a lot. The thing we tout the most is Elvis, and I think that if that’s the route we’re going in, then our focus should be on music,” Root sad.
“And I say the focus should be on music as it relates to attracting visitors and families and young professionals, and growing Tupelo as a city, and likewise improving downtown.”
The Down on Main concert series brings at least two acts to the Fairpark stage, once a month for three months during the summer.
The 2009 season focused on roots music by acts like Paul Thorn, the Kudzu Kings and Blue Mountain, while the 2010 season diversified with blues bands like Hill Country Revue, New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band and bluegrass group The Infamous Stringdusters.
All of the concerts are free, and the bands are paid through sponsorships.
That diverse lineup was deliberate, Root said.
“We tried to mix some things that would be really comfortable for people to listen to, but we also tried to bring in some stuff that has never been played around here,” he said. “We tried to push people’s limits a little.”
It’s been interesting to see what bands really hit a chord with Tupelo, he said, especially in planning for future events, like the Tupelo Elvis Presley Festival. The Stringdusters were huge at Down on Main this year, and rockabilly band John Paul Keith amp& the 145s were another hit.
“Tupelo is wildly supportive of bluegrass music, and what that means, I’m not quite sure. I think there’s an opportunity to learn from that information,” he said.
This season hit a few snags, though. Attendance just slightly down, especially for the September show, and that show’s headliner, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, had a scheduling conflict and had to drop out of the Down on Main show weeks before the concert date.
Still, Root considers the season a success.
“The people that came out to the events all had a great time, and we think it was just as successful in that way,” Root said.
Planning and executing the trio of shows was also easier this year than last, especially with logistics help from the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and the city’s Department of Public Works, Root said.
Another success for this year was the addition of the Artists’ Alley, where artists could display and sell their work. Artists sold everything from paintings to clothing to jewelry at Down on Main.
Downtown Main Street Association Director Debbie Brangenberg said Down on Main fits in perfectly with the goals the association hopes to achieve. Feedback, she said, “has been extremely positive.”
“We’ve just seen great interest from the region, bringing people from outside Tupelo to downtown with the different kinds of music. It’s something that has been appreciated by the young people, especially,” she said.
John Oxford, chairman of the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency, which oversees the downtown Fairpark District, said Down on Main’s presence is powerful.
“One of the biggest complaints I hear … is that there’s not a lot of things to do in Tupelo. Down on Main gives them something fun to do. It’s something unique,” he said.
Down on Main will continue in 2011, but no plans have been made yet, Root said.
Oxford said Down on Main was an idea he and Root created several years ago as a way to better Tupelo, and he’s proud the series has succeeded and grown.
“The more we get involved in our city, the bigger and faster the change will happen,” Root said. “Everybody talks about what Tupelo can be, and what it might be, and what it will be, but I think ultimately we can’t all sit around and wait for it to happen. We all have to pitch in and make it happen.”
Contact Sheena Barnett at (662) 678-1580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.