A fundamental principle of economic development for every community is to analyze its unique strengths and then determine how to capitalize on them.
For Tupelo, one of those strengths is clearly the Elvis Presley connection. One of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century, not just in America but across the globe, was born and lived his first 13 years in Tupelo. He returned for a long-remembered concert after he became famous and kept his Tupelo memories and relationships close at hand his entire life, even after Memphis became fixed in the public mind as Elvis’ home. That local legacy helps define the history and character of the community.
Tupelo for many years was unable or reluctant to take full advantage of the connection. Then gradually, with a mixture of justifiable pride in a native son and realization of the economic potential attached, Tupelo began to embrace more fully its Elvis roots.
Dedicated and persistent supporters mapped out and executed plans for improving Elvis’ birthplace as a tourist attraction and marketing it more effectively. Local tourism officials began to link Tupelo and Elvis more frequently.
Then in 1999, the first Elvis Presley Festival was held in Tupelo. The 11th annual festival concluded Sunday after an upbeat weekend of near-perfect weather.
The festival has changed and evolved through the years, adapting where necessary to survive and thrive. It started in August, then shifted to June when the oppressive late summer heat seemed to be hindering attendance. It has seen years of big names and lesser knowns. It has had financially successful years and years where it ran a deficit.
Through it all, the festival has helped solidify Tupelo’s importance in the Elvis pantheon for his devoted fans – young, old and in-between – across the country and beyond.
This past weekend’s festival drew crowds that included a group of 25 visitors from Germany along with many other international guests. They were here for the music, of course, but as much as anything, they were here to feel that they were experiencing what Elvis experienced in the ambiance of his hometown, to walk the streets that he walked as a youth. The Elvis Presley Festival gave them an impetus for being here.
The Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association and the public and private sector sponsors have recognized a unique Tupelo asset with the festival, and the question in the future should not be whether the festival continues, but how it can improve and grow. The Elvis connection is too important to Tupelo not to use every means of enhancing it.
NEMS Daily Journal