Looking ahead to a possible return of more concerts, museums, festivals

Mac Gordon
·3 min read

Certainly much jeopardy remains due to the pandemic’s risks, but a recent event in McComb signals hope for a renewal of Mississippi’s cultural arts community in 2022.

The arts have suffered immeasurably during the deadly pandemic. The list of events casualties is long and includes shuttered museums, cancelled concerts and arts fests and a Broadway shutdown.

The arts come in myriad forms. And what you consider art, I might or might not.

For example, I consider the New Year’s Eve bash I attended at the “new” Palace Theater on Main Street in McComb to be a quintessentially American art form. There was music by inarguably one of this state’s premier showbands, the Bluz Boys Band from Jackson — and a true diversity of citizenry oscillating to the band’s rhythms on a dance floor.

This was art — the form I have always treasured the most. Some folk might well consider dancing coltishly to the gyrations of a musical ensemble of 11, shall we say, veteran rock-and-rollers something other than art. I, as did Sir Winston Churchill, believe such entertainment/art is primordial to the human existence in the amount of sheer exhilaration delivered.

In my years of adolescence, I became a self-nominated expert on this type of enterprise. My comrades and I, all of 1960s persuasion, would drive 100 miles or more to listen and vibrate to the sounds of the Gants from Greenwood, Joe Frank Carollo and the Knights from Leland, Tim Whitsett and the Imperials from Jackson or George White and the Weejuns from Gulfport, among numerous other 50s-and-60s garage bands of wide renown.

The mise-en-scene of this recent gala was a McComb theater that has undergone a monumental reinvention. I and thousands of other McComb youths spent seemingly half of our youth in the Palace watching western shoot-‘em-ups, Bogart romance films, religious-themed classics such as the Ten Commandments and anthropological works by masters of the genre like John Steinbeck with his “East of Eden” starring the lovable, complicated James Dean.

We all cherish the memory of the legendary manager of the Palace, one Johnny Bethea, who spent nights trolling the aisles with a swinging flashlight looking for scoundrels who might either be secretly smoking cigarettes or, worse, smooching with a first love. Mr. Bethea also was one of McComb’s most active patrons of its civic activities.

The Palace was shuttered for several decades along with some other former McComb business powerhouses. Then along came entrepreneurs Jamey Hewitt and Jason Vann, along with a host of volunteers who backed their project, and turned the old Palace into a shiny new Palace that will be the centerpiece for years to come of a hoped-for arts revival in the city.

What they have produced is stunning. Except for the sturdy brick walls, they tore out the building’s old guts, constructed a brilliant stage with lighting to rival Broadway, leveled the former slanted floor and seating area, added restrooms and remodeled adjoining spaces. It’s still early in the year, but this resurrection just may be Mississippi’s finest in 2022.

The Bluz Boys Band was appropriately contracted for the shindig. Two singing front men and a pair of female crooners, three brass players — including my friend Bob Davidson, an expert on legislative law-writing and parliamentary debate — two guitarists, a percussionist, a keyboardist who served up a sizzling plateful of “Green Onions” and a soundman comprise this dynamic assemblage of musical talent.

Champagne glasses were fittingly raised — to 2022 and the arts — at the midnight hour.

Mac Gordon is a native of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at macmarygordon@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: COVID-19 cancelled concerts and shut venues. Here's hoping they return

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