The 4th annual FestivalSouth opened in Hattiesburg June 8, launching a two-week calendar of events including a craft beer and food tasting, arts and crafts show, gallery opening featuring sculpture and painting, classical recitals by a variety of musicians, stage shows at the Saenger Theatre downtown and bluegrass shows. Venues will range from the Southern Miss Bennett Auditorium to churches to gallery halls to coffee shops and nightclubs.
The Blues Brotherhood road show opened the Festival, featuring homeboy Tom “Bones” Malone. It brought back many fun memories of Saturday Night Live shows with Dan Akroyd and Jim Belushi, not to mention the movies.
Every day for the next two weeks there will be two or three events until the festival closes with a production with Cirque performers and the University of Southern Mississippi Symphony. Artie Events, designed to involve kids in music and the visual arts, will be held at various locations.
Events such as FestivalSout are an example of what I especially like about living in Hattiesburg. We moved here from Houston, a major U.S. arts center, but I soon discovered that while Hattiesburg was missing many things I like about Houston and Texas, it did have great arts programs.
One thing I did shortly after moving here was sit in with the Southern Miss Symphony, playing bass. The early ‘80s was a period of struggle for the symphony, so I could keep up, even though I had no formal training beyond high school in Nebraska.
Not many years passed before the arrival of Jay Dean to lead the symphony and to take it way beyond the level of my playing. He also was a leader – mover and shaker if you will – who has brought numerous internationally known artists to perform with his students: Iztak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Myers, Placido Domingo, Doc Severinson, Ray Charles and many, many others.
Another factor in making Hattiesburg a music center is its status as the Hub City — on the routes between Memphis and New Orleans, Austin to Nashville or the Coast. Bands on the road create opportunities for the innovative club owners here to bring them in for a show.
Another university here also has an excellent music department and strong performance and visual arts events. Two art galleries are located on the William Carey University campus.
Growing up in Nebraska and attending junior high and high school in Kearney, I had opportunities to participate in music. I learned to play string bass as an 8th grader and subsequently played with the orchestra, jazz and concert bands. I competed in regional and state contests and competitions for honor orchestra performances. I did well with music to the point that the orchestra and band teachers recommended a career in music for me.
A couple years ago, I went to a local orchestra performance and then a recital by the world’s premier bass player, Francois Rabbath. Frank Proto was here, too, so now I’ve heard them AND Edgar Myers, the best bass players in the world, all in Hattiesburg.
Some folks may be connected to their growing up years by place, by people or by career. With me, it’s music.