Meridian Star

October 27, 2012

Film festival celebrates state as home of American music

By Steve Gillespie / Managing Editor
Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —

    Three documentary films illustrating Mississippi's claim as the birthplace of American music will be shown at the Temple Theater Sunday.

    The Mississippi Roots Music Film Festival & Symposium will feature a film about Jimmie Rodgers presented by Folk Alliance International, a film documenting Elvis Presley's early years with "Homecoming: Tupelo Welcomes Elvis," and "We Juke Up In Here: Mississippi's Juke Joint Culture At The Crossroads."

    The festival begins at 2:30 p.m., and will follow with a symposium featuring some of the film makers.

    Among those scheduled to attend are Roy Turner and Jim Palmer who did "Homecoming: Tupelo Welcomes Elvis." The film focuses on two events early in Elvis Presley's life that Turner said he feels have been glossed over with all the other material that focuses on the King of Rock and Roll's history.

    The first event happened in 1945, when Presley was 10 years old, and he placed fifth in a talent show contest singing "Old Shep."

    The second event the film focuses on was the "Homecoming" concert in Tupelo that Presley performed in 1956, at the age of 21, to some 20,000 fans, "the hottest property in America," as Turner said, on the same stage he performed on when he was 10.

    "We found some interesting people," Turner said in a telephone interview this week. The film makers tracked down people who remembered both events, were present at the time or participated in the events, and they use images and footage from the time in their documentary.

    "It's a great human interest story," Turner said. "Elvis was a very determined kid. He was drawn to music. When he heard music he had to stop and hear it. He couldn't go on about his business."

    That determination and fascination with music even led to a music-lovers dream meeting between a young Elvis Presley and blues icon Muddy Waters at a barber shop in the Shake Rag district of Tupelo.

    "Elvis' main musical influences growing up was Pentecostal gospel, The Grand Ol' Opry, black gospel, and blues," Turner said. "Once they got in him it came out some sort of homogenized version of a little bit of everything."

    Turner also said he will have signed copies of Allyson Adams' book "The Rebel & The King" available for purchase at the festival. Adams is the daughter of the late actor Nick Adams, who accompanied Presley during his homecoming tour. Nick Adams wrote a 56-page manuscript about the trip with Presley. Allyson Adams published it this year. An interview with her about the book was published Sept. 26 by The Star titled "Allyson Adams shares a last glimpse of innocence." It can be found on The Star's website at meridianstar.com.

    According to Ken Flynt, with Legends Magazine, which is sponsoring Sunday's film festival, Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel also will be part of the symposium. Stolle and Konkel co-produced "We Juke Up In Here: Mississippi's Juke Joint Culture at the Crossroads."

    The documentary is described as a look at the Mississippi Delta's century-long tradition of down-home, quasi-legal blues clubs known as juke joints, with interviews of juke owners and musical performances captured on film.

    While Jimmie Rodgers, who grew up in Meridian, has gone down in history as the Father of Country Music, his influence actually spans all genres. Rodgers was the first inductee of the Country Hall of Fame, but he also has a place in the Blues Hall of Fame and Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

    Like Elvis Presley, Rodgers was drawn to music in the beginning, and like all the old bluesmen, the road was irresistible to him. As the promotional material for the film on Rodgers states: "By age 13, he had twice organized and begun traveling shows, only to be brought home by his father."

    "We get people from other countries here a lot," said Roger Smith, owner of the Temple. Sunday's film festival draws the Mississippi origins of country, blues and rock music — American music — together in a highly visible package.

    "We need to make Meridian a weekend destination for people in Mississippi," Smith said.

    "These films are reflective of the roots of music that began here, and spread through America," said Marianne Todd, publisher of Legends Magazine. "We have the corner on the market for all music. If any other state could lay claim to that they would promote it at any expense."

    She said the significance of showing the films is because it is the our history, and it also doesn't hurt to sell ourselves on the rich artistic heritage Mississippi offers that draws people from all over the world.

    Admission for the three films, and the symposium that will follow, is $5. For more information call the Temple at (601) 693-5353.