Third annual Rockabilly Revival rocks Selmer
By Emily Pitts
When Arts in McNairy first conceived the idea for the Rockabilly Highway Revival in 2008 in conjunction with the planning for new public art in Selmer, no one could have imagined just how far the festival would go in years to come.
“We are very proud of the success of the event,” said Arts in McNairy founder and Rockabilly Committee member Shawn Pitts, “and very grateful for the support of our partners to make it possible each year. Rockabilly was a cultural phenomenon started in this area, and the festival goes a long way to preserving the cultural heritage of McNairy County.”
Every year, the Rockabilly festival has included something for everyone, and this year was no exception. The day began with an antique car show headed up by Rockabilly Committee member Melanie King. The show had 122 participants (exactly the same number as last year’s festival), according to King. Each member of the car show received a participation plaque, and 20 cars were selected to receive trophies sponsored by local businesses.
“They were mostly from out of town,” said King of the car show participants. “The farthest away was from Jacksonville, Florida. We had several from the Shelby County area and some from around Clarksville.”
According to King, after all expenses, the car show made more than $1,400, all of which will go into an account for next year’s festival.
The Faith Riders, who sponsored a motorcycle ride and show, and other bikers from the surrounding area met at the courthouse the morning of the festival. Forty-two riders were given a police escort to Jackson, where they visited the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and were given a tour by museum curator Henry Harrison, according to event organizer, Randy Fowler. They were also featured on WBBJ.
They then returned to Selmer for the motorcycle show, which began at 2 p.m. At 4 p.m. Justin Atkinson was awarded a trophy for Best in Show, and all were given participation plaques.
There were 25 vendors set up in downtown Selmer the day of the festival, 17 of which were local. There were 14 food vendors and 3 artisans who set up booths.
The vendor turnout was only about half of what it was last year, according to McNairy Regional Alliance (MRA) representative and Rockabilly Committee member Tracy Helmuth. It is suspected that the low turnout this year was due in part to the heat of last year’s festival, as well as the fact that many of last year’s vendors felt that the length of the festival was too short.
There were also eight homemade craft vendors set up at the “Green Market” in Rockabilly Park, according to Selmer Parks and Recreation Director, Sybil Dancer. She plans to begin setting up the “Green Market” on the third Saturday of every month at Rockabilly Park.
Also according to Dancer, the carnival would not come to this year’s festival claiming that the space allotted for them, the site of the old Dixie Café at the South Y, was not large enough, so the events surrounding the carnival had to be cancelled.
A 5k run was also planned for the festival, but, according to Dancer, was cancelled because it competed with another run that takes place every year in Pickwick. Next year, the 5k run will be back but will hopefully be moved to the Saturday before the festival.
There was music and entertainment throughout the day at the Farmer’s Market, “Pick-N at Pat’s” stage by Pat’s Café and the main stage constructed by Harold Knight and Jack Martin.
The winners of Selmer Idol performed at the Farmer’s Market at 10 a.m. Next year, Dancer hopes to make Selmer Idol part of the festival and have the whole competition take place on festival day.
The Pick-N-at Pat’s stage saw performances from many local favorites, including Maggie Whitaker, Mary Logan Yancy, Russell Elliot, and Bo Jack Killingsworth, who is in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, according to Pat Knight, owner of Pat’s Cafe. Also performing was James Smith, from Huntsville, Ala. and his group, collectively called The Autoharp Man from Alabam and his Backup Cousins.
“We had a good time at the porch,” said Harold Knight.
Later in the day, the winners of the Rockabilly Beauty Pageant were announced, and Miss Walking Tall, Sarah Stonier, sang a selection that she plans to perform in the Miss Tennessee pageant this week. The cast of Bye Bye, Birdie also performed a few selections from the show which opened Friday, June 10 and ran through Tuesday, June 14. Awards for the car and motorcycle shows were then presented.
Last year, the headlining musical acts wrapped up late in the afternoon. This year, the Rockabilly Committee scheduled the acts to begin at 4:30 p.m. and last until about 8:30, in an effort to avoid the afternoon heat.
According to Russell Ingle, MRA Director of Chamber Programs and Rockabilly Committee member, the crowd seemed, unlike in past years, smaller throughout the day and larger during the headlining musical acts, although there is no way to accurately gage crowd size. He attributes this in part to the scheduling.
“I also think it helped that we really tried to take it up a notch with the level of entertainment this year,” he stated. “Our partners worked really hard to promote the event.”
Opening up for the headliners was original Sun Records recording artist and living legend Rayburn Anthony. Phil Hummer and the White Falcons, who returned to Selmer’s Rockabilly Revival for the third time, were the next to play. Phil Hummer is featured on the rockabilly mural by Brian Tull downtown.
Finally Brandon Giles and the Tricky Two took the stage. Giles is a self-taught pianist out of Nashville, where his musical ability and wild, charismatic stage presence have made him immensely popular. He always puts on a good show, and his Selmer performance was no exception.
According to Ingle, Giles’ statement that he couldn’t wait to get to Selmer and “blow the limbs off the trees” turned out to be strangely prophetic. Towards the end of his performance, the wind picked up and blew the tarp covering off the main stage.
Because of the weather, organizers were forced to end the festival a little early, and the fireworks had to be cancelled because of impending rain. However, representatives of the Rockabilly Committee admit that the event was once again a big success.
The Rockabilly Committee, who plans and organizes the festival, is made up of approximately 15 representatives from McNairy Regional Alliance, Arts in McNairy, Selmer Business Alliance, the City of Selmer, and various individuals who volunteer to head up specific portions of the festival.
When asked about what the future goals for the festival are, Ingle stated “To grow it. In the future, we want to grow this into an event that’s not just contained to one day.”
The Rockabilly Committee will hold a follow-up meeting next week to discuss this year’s festival and make plans for next year’s event.