Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tupelo Still Inspiring Artists Today

It isn’t breaking news that Elvis Presley changed the landscape of music history. Artists have been influenced by Elvis’ voice, charisma, and style for the better part of five decades. It’s well noted that much of Elvis’ musical influence has been credited to his upbringings in Tupelo, Mississippi. The rich artistic community he was surrounded by may not have been nationally acclaimed but it shaped the material he built his legacy upon.

Greg Dillard performing live.
That spirit hasn’t left Tupelo as artists are still finding inspiration here.  Greg Dillard, a Tupelo High School teacher, was born and raised in the Tupelo area and is making a name for himself playing his music here. When Dillard began creating music he had a Caribbean style, but decided to make it a little more “radio-friendly.” He began creating trop-rock, a style that he said he is often compared to Jimmy Buffett meets Jack Johnson. The Trop-Rock Music Association has even nominated the title track of his latest album, “Trapped In Paradise Again,” for Trop-Rock Song of the Year.

Trop-rock grooves may seem out of place in Tupelo, a town several hours from a beach, but to Dillard it is a very diverse genre that explores everything from R&B, rock, soul, and country. The teacher/rocker said he believes the northeast region of Mississippi, specifically Tupelo, is so uncommonly blessed when it comes to music and creativity that to be surrounded by talented musicians and artists who are pursuing their dreams is an inspiration to be creative in and of itself.

Brandon Bennett, an Elvis Tribute Artist and rising country musician, can attest to the inspiration from collaboration of artists in Tupelo. Bennett, a lifelong country fan, was performing his Elvis tribute act at the BancorpSouth Arena when he met Paul Overstreet, a country singer-songwriter. Desiring to take his career to the next level and record his own album, Bennett piqued Overstreet’s expertise on the country music business. The two began working together on an Elvis project, but Overstreet saw the potential in Bennett and since then, the two have been preparing songs to record for Bennett’s first country album.

Brandon Bennett performing his country
act at the 2014 Tupelo Elvis Festival.
Although not a native of Mississippi, Bennett, a Louisiana boy, has developed a fondness of Tupelo and said if given the opportunity he’d own a house in the town in a heartbeat. “I just wish I could find the word to describe how I feel about Mississippi – it just feels like home,” he said with a smile. “There’s something about when you’re at home that just allows you to relax and be yourself. That enables you to just allow whatever it is that allows that creativity to come out easily.”

As Bennett has been preparing his debut album, he said he’s been channeling that love for the Magnolia State as a source for his inspiration. “You drive along some of these areas and the pine trees and the rolling hills and being just a beautiful state for nature – all of that connects what I feel like is my country roots,” Bennett said.

To Greg Dillard, it’s those very same roots and emotions that cause people from the South to have a unique experience that they can’t get anywhere else. “I think that in the South we have a very unique and simple way of life,” he said. “Of course, not everyone lives it, but if they’re from the South they can relate to the experiences of it. Not everyone can say they went mud-riding in pickups, but they can appreciate it because it is a Southern thing.”

The South may often be nationally perceived as a genre defining country or blues but towns like Tupelo are looking to break the mold and inspire artists on a genre-spanning platform. When asked what Tupelo’s sound is, Dillard said the greatest metaphor for Tupelo’s music scene is Elvis himself, because he was such a melting pot of genres.  “You have the blues and R&B influence, you definitely have your country influences and there are some rock/Americana styles now,” Dillard said. “All of those are highly represented in Tupelo, and I don’t see there being any one genre because it’s all widely represented.”

Tupelo has positioned itself as a town with a history to find inspiration for searching artists, but it also opens its doors to those just coming for an experience. “When you come here, you experience the true generosity of everyone and the downhome feel of the history of Elvis and the blues,” Bennett said. “I just can’t explain what it is but it’s just a feeling you have when you’re in Tupelo that makes it a really special place.”

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Top 10 Free Things to do in Tupelo This Summer


1.) Walk in the footsteps of the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll at the Elvis Presley Birthplace. Eleven of the fourteen exhibits on the grounds are free of charge.

2.) Participate in the largest 4th of July celebration in Northeast Mississippi at the All-America City Family Picnic in Fairpark. Enjoy entertainment, activities for the kids, and a performance by the Northeast Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, all culminating in a huge fireworks display. 

3.) Beat the heat this summer with a trip to one of Tupelo’s parks. Get soaked at the Veterans Park Splash Pad. Dance in the fountain at Fairpark.
4.) Stand in the spot where musical history was made at Tupelo Hardware. Listen to the tale of how Elvis Presley’s mother, Gladys, bought his first guitar instead of the rifle that he really wanted. Strum on one of the guitars that are still sold at the store today.

5.) Travel the road forged 8,000 years ago by natives to this area on one of the many trails along the Natchez Trace Parkway. Headquartered in Tupelo, take a trip to the visitor’s center at milepost 266 where you can view a film, experience interactive exhibits, and see what life was like for the first travelers on this infamous road.

6.) Boogie through the King of Rock & Roll Guitar tour in Downtown Tupelo, featuring over 30 hand-painted steel guitars crafted by students in the Tupelo Public School District.

7.) Get Down on Main for the free summer concert series in Fairpark July 10 featuring Hot Buttered Rum and Howlin Brothers, August 14 with Bobby Rush and Homemade Jamz, and September 11 including the North Mississippi All Stars and Water Liars.

8.) Walk through history at the Mississippi’s Final Stands Interpretive Center and Brice’s Crossroads National Battlefield. Learn about Northeast Mississippi’s important role in General William T. Sherman’s “March to Atlanta” and walk the 1,600 acre hallowed ground where General Nathan Bedford Forest’s small mounted cavalry secured a decisive victory over the much larger Union army.

9.) Pack a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon at Ballard Park. Enjoy the skate park, disc golf course, two playgrounds, sand volleyball courts, and picnic pavilion. Just don’t forget to pack a snack for the ducks that inhabit the park’s three-acre lake.

10.) Take a stroll down the Music Bend Nature Trail. This 2.5 mile path runs parallel to Mud Creek in east Tupelo, where Elvis Presley was known to skinny dip with his buddies back in the day. Take a break and cool down at the overlook and read the marker on the Elvis Presley Driving Tour to learn more about his antics growing up in Tupelo.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Final Stand Weekend Schedule

150th anniversary living history and reenactments
June 13-15, 2014

Friday, June 13-Children’s Civil War Discovery Day- 10 a.m.
-Children ages 7-15
-Register at the Mississippi’s Final Stands Visitor’s and Interpretive Center; Parents welcome.
-$5 fee. 
-Shuttle to battlefield, visit camps and stations; meet re-enactors and learn about civil war music, weapons & campfire meal.
-Concludes at 1:45 p.m.

Saturday, June 14 Camps open at 9 a.m.- 1 p.m. and 3:30 until 5 p.m.
-Bethany A. R. P. church will offer a tour and history of the church from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
-Self-guided or docent-guided tours Bethany Historic Cemetery 9 -2
-Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and Gen. U. S. Grant will be portrayed all day at their tents
-Park Rangers from the Natchez Trace Parkway will have children’s dress-up stations at the NPS site and    Interpretation at the Tishomingo Creek site.
-Patrick Shell will portray a United States Colored Troops soldier all day at his tent
-8 p.m. Period ball and dance, visitors welcome
**2 p.m. Battle of Brice’s Crossroads reenactment fought on the original battlefield

  Historians and Authors’ Presentations:
-9-10 a.m. Author Ken Knopp, “Horses in the Civil War”
-10 a.m.-12 p.m. Ladies Social and Program by Beverly Simpson, “Why am I dressed        like this?”
-12-1 p.m. “Battle of Brice’s Crossroads”- Walking tour Dr. Stewart Bennett
-3:30-4:30 Roger Hansen- firearms used at Brice’s Crossroads and Tupelo battles 1864
-4:30-5:30 Chickasaw Chief Tishomingo and his home near Bethany- Carmon Horner

Sunday, June 15- Camps open 9:00-1:00 p.m.
-9-10 a.m. Period Church Service at Activity Tent
-10 a.m.- 11 a.m. Dedication of interpretive panel describing action of 12th KY and Capt. Henry A. Tyler by Kennesaw, GA Civil War Center, Dr. Brian Steel Wills
-11-12 p.m. Brent Lokey, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and Streight’s Raid
-12-1 p.m. Battle of Tupelo/Harrisburg, Old Town Creek –Author Tom Parson
-**2 p.m. Battle of Tupelo reenactment

**The Mississippi’s Final Stands Interpretive Center will be open Friday and Saturday 9-6 p.m. and Sunday 9-5 p.m. Fee for reenactment is $10 for ages 14 and up.