Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest

Since the first Hwy 80 Songwriters fest in 2013,

which was made possible in part by an AT&T grant, the purpose and mission of the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest were to expand the songwriter’s platform and territory, provide education in the songwriting craft for songwriters of all ages and levels of expertise, to build and support the creative economy in West Alabama and East Mississippi and to ignite the public’s understanding and appreciation for songwriters and their craft. Venues this year have included City Hall lawn, Demopolis, AL, Hal & Mal’s Restaurant and the Arts Center of Mississippi in Jackson. Now, the Montgomery Institute invites you to enjoy the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest in Meridian from July 28-30, 2016.

The Fest, through The Montgomery Institute,

was awarded a $4,100.00 from the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC). This grant is a portion of the $1.5 million in grants the commission will award in the 2016-2017 and will be used for the 2016 Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest. The grants are made possible by continued funding from the Mississippi State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Organizations that support the arts play a pivotal role in growing Mississippi’s creative economy,” said Malcolm White, Executive Director of MAC. “The Mississippi Arts Commission is pleased to support their work, which reinforces the value of the arts for communities and for the economic development of our state.”

The Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency,

serves the residents of the state by providing grants that support programs to enhance communities; assist artists and arts organizations; promote the arts in education and celebrate Mississippi’s cultural heritage. Established in 1968, the Mississippi Arts Commission is funded by the Mississippi Legislature, the national Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Endowment for the Arts at the Community foundation of Greater Jackson and other private sources.  The agency serves as an active supporter and promoter of arts in community life and in arts education.

The mission of The Montgomery Institute

is to “upbuild the people and places of the East Mississippi and West Alabama region guided by the leadership legacy of G. V. ‘Sonny’ Montgomery.”  To accomplish its mission, TMI has undertaken initiatives in leadership development, rural place building, educational enhancement, workforce development, research and information dissemination, regional cooperation, and innovation.

On July 28, Squealer’s Restaurant and News Restaurant

in North Meridian welcome local and regional songwriters and with rounds beginning at 6:30 pm. On July 29, in downtown Meridian at 7 pm, Weidmann’s Restaurant, The Brickhaus Brewtique and The Echo Downtown welcome nine Mississippi/Alabama songwriters from outside the region. No matter what venue you choose, before the night is over, audiences will hear every songwriter come through their venue.  See the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest Facebook page for more details.

On July 30 at noon, the historical Soule Feed Steamworks

welcomes Tricia Walker, Grammy Award winning songwriter, Director of Delta Music Institute and a MAC Roster Artist, who will facilitate the pro songwriting workshop. At 2:30 pm Shawna P (Pierce), a finalist in The Voice, whose mentor was Shakira, will facilitate a vocal performance workshop for all ages interested in singing and performing. ShawnaP facilitates these vocal workshops all over Alabama, from Muscle Shoals to the FloraBama. At 4:45 pm, the Open-Mic session begins, which is open to all ages and levels. The Grand Finale begins at 7 pm with Tricia Walker, ShawnaP and MAC Roster Artist, three-time Blues Award Winner and eleven-time Blues nominee Eden Brent.

The Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest would not be possible without grant awards from The Meridian Council for the Arts, Community Foundation of East Mississippi, and the Mississippi Arts Commission. Financial sponsors include Mitchell Distributing, Structural Steel Services, Mississippi Main Street and Mississippi Writers Guild. In-kind support comes from Kabana Productions, Soule Steam Feed Works and Mississippi Public Broadcasting and Supertalk Meridian 103.3. Media support includes The Radio People, WMOX, WTOK, The Meridian Star, The Meridian Family of Stations, The Eagle. Other support includes the City Meridian, Lauderdale County, East Mississippi and West Alabama and the communities therein.

Please check the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest Facebook page for more details or call 601/880-1089



Columbus, Mississippi – Home of Tennessee

The 14th Annual Tennessee Williams Tribute & Tour of Victorian Homes

will take place from September 6-13, 2015 and pays tribute to one of the most important playwrights in American history, Tennessee Williams who was born in Columbus. Many of the struggles in Williams’ own life show are portrayed in A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Glass Menagerie.  He was awarded The Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955, both of which were successful as films.

This annual event celebrates the life and work of Mr. Williams. During the festival week, attendees will enjoy special performances, educational presentations, and a 5k race.








Jessie “The Blues Boss” Howell

Jessie “The Blues Boss” Howell might arguably be one of the hardest working musicians in the Hub City. There is hardly a weekend where he’s not playing either solo or with his band, The Cowboy Blues Band.

What bands do you perform with?

I am currently the lead singer of The Cowboy Blues Band, as well as, I perform a popular solo show.

When and why did you start playing?

I have been singing since I was three. I started out with my family’s gospel music group. I then switched to drums in the sixth grade and learned the basics and such. In my senior year of High School, I needed one more credit to graduate so I started taking guitar class with a borrowed guitar from my sister Becky. I liked the class. Since then I have worked to learn the Piano, Bass Guitar, and Cowbell.

Which instruments do you play?

My first love will always be the drums and guitar. I do play several other instruments.
What was the first tune(s) you learned? On drums the first tune I learned was “Wipeout” by the Surfaris. On guitar the first tune I learned was “ As Tears Go By “ by The Rolling Stones.

Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

So many musicians to choose from. I love music from a holistic standpoint. It depends on what particular mood I’m in. I love Buddy Rich, BB King, Albert King, Joe Bonnamassa, Jeff Healey, Glenn Miller, John Williams, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Drifters, Joss Stone, Nora Jones, the Neville Brothers, and on and on. During my younger years, I was all about Elvis.

Which famous musicians have you learned from?

I have had the fortune of working with some famous musicians in my life. I have been really good friends with Jeff Healy and had gotten to play drums with him a few times. We remained friends until he passed away. He gave me advice all the time. I have been fortunate to work with Al “Fish” Herring who is a three time Grammy award winner and he provides great support and great advice. I have also learned from some negative musicians on the proper way NOT to do things. I have had conversations with John Popper from Blues Traveler, Alanis Morissette, Chris Young, Charlie Daniels, and Joe Nichols. I also love having “Shop Talk” with local musicians on songwriters nights and performances. The Hattiesburg Community is a great support system.

Describe your first instrument.

Many people will be surprised to know that my first instrument was a trombone. I didn’t play it very well and moved to drums quickly. Most times our neighbors thought a cow was dying at our house.

What are your fondest musical memories?

In 1993 I had a farm accident and turned a John Deer tractor over on myself. Lots of things broken, horrific scene, and I almost died. I had a broken back, I had a punctured lung, and my arm was in a sling and needed physical therapy. I became really depressed. I thought that I would never play drums again. I was angry. I had been saving up to buy a used drum set from my friend and I had saved half of it. I thought for sure that My music days were done. My sister Lenae went and bought that drum set. She told me that I was going to play it and that I didn’t have a choice. I sat down behind it and started to play with one arm. As my arms and body got better so did my playing. She may never know how significant that one act of kindness was to my future as a musician, but I’ll always be grateful and love her for buying me that old and worn-out drum set. About a year later, I would start my first band and name it after one of my other sisters, Audrey and the rest is history.

Who are your favorite musicians?

Buddy Guy, BB King, Albert King, Freddy King, Jeff Healey, The Commitments, Johnny Cash, Ricky Van Shelton, George Jones, Tito Puente, Buddy Rich, Les Paul, Brad Miller, Johnny Glover, Al Herring, B.C. Dueitt, Joe Dueitt, Johnny Dickens, Lori Dickens, Elvis Presley, Merle Haggard, Eddie Van Halen, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, George Harrison, John Lennon, John Legend, Bruno Mars, and WAY too many others …

Do you get nervous before a performance?

I get very nervous at new venues. Every time I play a new place I get nervous. Older venues seem like family, so I don’t get quite as nervous. If I’m playing guitar and an awesome musician walks in to my show, like someone I really look up to, then I will get nervous, as well. I don’t want to mess up in front of someone I really admire. I’ve been playing a long time, but I still respect people who can really bring it.

What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?

Take a breath, learn the song, play the song, and know that you are going to mess up from time to time. I had a music teacher tell me one time that it’s not about how bad you mess up, but how well you recover. That has proven to be so true.

How often and for how long do you practice?

I try to practice guitar at least daily. I will also take two to three days a week to try to learn new material and words to a song. My goal is for you never to see the same show twice.

What do you practice – exercises, new tunes, hard tunes, etc.?

I practice all of those things. I work on easy tunes first, then work on a hard tune. I try to learn a new chord every week and then learn a song with that chord in it so that it forces me to use it.

How do you balance your music with other obligations?

It’s very hard to do that. Music is a cruel mistress. There are some things that get neglected, however, I take at least one to two days a week to spend doing whatever the family wants to do. I also try to take them to as many shows as I can.

If someone wanted to book you or your band how could they get in contact with you?

They can check out the website, find me on Facebook, find the Cowboy Blues Band on Facebook, or email us at cowboybluesband@hotmail.

Do you have a website? Our website is www.thecowboybluesband.com

  • Downtown Music Media

Interview by Downtown Music Media


Keith and Kathy Thibodeaux – Dancing and Playing in the Spirit

Though born in Memphis, Tennessee, Kathy Thibodeaux spent most of her life training and living in Jackson, MS.

In 1982, Kathy won a silver medal at the II USA International Ballet Competition. For the third contemporary round in that competition, Kathy expressed her faith in a dance to Sandi Patty’s “We Shall Behold Him.” Kathy was one of the first contracted dancers for the Jackson Ballet Company (Ballet Mississippi) and danced with the Company until 1986 when she and her husband Keith formed Ballet Magnificat! Tour Company.

Keith Thibodeaux is the former child entertainer best known as Little Ricky on the “I Love Lucy” television series and Johnny Paul on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

He was a drummer for the rock band David and the Giants, which later became a groundbreaking Christian rock band. Keith left the world of music in 1991 to join Kathy and Ballet Magnificat! and in 1993 became the Executive Director.

About forty years ago, Kathy and Keith met through a mutual friend who was related to a band member of David and the Giants.

“I was dancing with Ballet Mississippi,” said Kathy.

Keith was a musician, so from the outside looking in it didn’t look like a match made in heaven. When talks of marriage began, Keith told Kathy, “You know, let’s just pray about it.  God answers prayer and we’ll just see what He says about us getting married.”

According to Kathy, Keith told her to take the Bible, close her eyes, open up the Bible and point to a scripture. “We’ll just trust in God to give us an answer.”

Keith said a short little prayer and Kathy took a Living Bible and did as Keith said.  Her finger landed in the Book of Ruth where Boaz takes Ruth as his wife.

“That was a pretty clear answer and so we eloped,” said Kathy.

“Everybody thought we would never make it but, thank the Lord, here we are almost forty years later.”

On faith, Keith and Kathy married in October 1976, three months after they met, but how did faith drive them to create Ballet Magnificat!?

“I became a Christian not long after Keith and I were married,” said Kathy. “Ballet Magnificat! is all about faith and the Lord Jesus Christ because we know we wouldn’t be here without Him.”

Kathy was torn about whether or not to continue her dancing career after becoming a Christian because other Christians were telling her to give up dancing, that being Christian and being a dancer didn’t go together.

“But we saw in God’s word where He says to pray in His name with dancing.”

Thankfully, Kathy kept dancing and she and Keith kept praying about what the Lord wanted them to do. Seven years later, they started Ballet Magnificat!. People couldn’t believe she was giving up her career and told her that Ballet Magnificat! would never make it because they’d never find dancers or the support for a Christian Ballet Company.


“We really felt that God wanted us to do it so we knew that He would provide and take care of it,” said Kathy. And God has blessed and provided for them.  “We never thought we’d be dancing in Europe or Israel.  We have danced in over 30 countries.”

To Kathy and Keith, dance is important to a child’s physical and mental development.

“Dance is a great discipline and I think dance really helps children mentally. It also gives them poise and presence and helps them to know their bodies and how they move,” said Keith. “Mississippi has a rich cultural arts community. The [Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center] will be an eye opening place for so many to see the artists and gifted people from Mississippi that they have been unaware of.” 

This interview was first published in the Mississippi Arts & Entertainment newsletter and on its website, where you can read more interviews with Mississippi artists.

Find out more about David & the Giants, including their tour dates!

Visit Ballet Magnificat for information on workshops, performances and the latest news

Topher Payne and The Perfect Arrangement

Topher Payne is the author of more than a dozen plays,

including Perfect ArrangementSwell PartyThe Only Light in Reno, and Tokens of Affection. The American Theatre Critics Association awarded him the 2014 Osborn Prize, which recognizes their choice for top emerging playwright in the country. He has been named Atlanta’s Best Playwright by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Creative Loafing, The GA Voice, and The Sunday Paper. David Magazine named him Atlanta’s Artist of the Year. He has also won the Metro Atlanta Theatre Award for Best Original Work and Best Play of the Year, the Essential Theatre Playwriting Prize, the Gene-Gabriel Moore Playwriting Award, and the National Newspaper Association Award for his column, Domestically Disturbed. He has been commissioned twice for original productions at The State Theatre of Georgia, The Springer Opera House, and in 2013 made his New York debut with a production of his play The Medicine Showdown in Manhattan.

A native of Kosciusko, Mississippi, Topher wrote his first play,

Beached Wails, while working as a scene shop intern at Jackson’s New Stage Theatre. His career as a playwright was launched, although he can still build a sturdy platform when called upon to do so. As an actor, Topher has appeared in the national tour of Greater Tuna and A Tuna Christmas, played David Frost in The Springer Opera House’s production of Frost/Nixon, and gave Melissa McCarthy a makeover in Universal Pictures’ blockbuster hit Identity Thief.

Were you active in drama as a child?

I was active in drama; all I was missing was a stage. Kosciusko didn’t include performing arts as part of their curriculum- I did have some opportunities through the Methodist church, but I didn’t have much of an outlet for those energies. Fortunately, my family had a video camera, and we had a back yard, so I’d write screenplays and force all of my cousins and friends to act them out. Last Christmas, my parents had all the VHS tapes transferred to DVD, so I got to experience those again for the first time in over twenty years. It was a humbling experience.

Do you think drama is important in schools?

Look, we were all teenagers once. That’s when you’re figuring yourself out, you don’t recognize your own body, the world is simultaneously too big and too small- it’s a very self-centered time. The beauty of having drama as an outlet is that it forces a young person to literally walk in someone else’s shoes. It reinforces empathy and compassion, helps them consider perspectives outside their own experience. And they learn to have confidence in their own voices and opinions before we send them out into the world, which I believe is particularly crucial for young women.

How does Topher Payne the actor differ from Topher Payne the playwright?

As a playwright, my job is to craft a road map for others to interpret and follow. As an actor, I’m part of the gang doing the interpretation. But both rise from the same impulse- I’m a storyteller. I believe the right words, said to the right people, at the right time, can change the world.

Has the 2014 Osborn New Play Award affected your life as a playwright?

There are so many undiscovered playwrights doing great work all over the country. It’s an uphill battle just getting your work noticed. So it’s an incredible gift when someone shines a spotlight on you for a little while, and people pay attention. That’s been the big change, I suppose. Right now, I’ve got people’s attention, and I’m just trying to make the most of it.

“I’m a Mississippian. My need to communicate with the world through stories is dug out of the same red dirt which inspired Tennessee Williams, Ida Bell Wells, Eudora Welty, Beth Henley, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Oprah Winfrey…people whose words shaped our culture and our country. The MAEC is so essential, because the people of Mississippi deserve to have a place where that heritage can be celebrated, and where the next generation of voices can go to be inspired.”  This was first published as a Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center interview. Visit the MAEC HERE



(in association with MARS Theatricals)

New York Premiere by TOPHER PAYNE

Directed by MICHAEL BARAKIVA September – November, 2015

In Topher Payne’s biting comedy, Perfect Arrangement, it’s the 1950s and the age of the Red Scare. The Martindales and the Baxters have manufactured a life as peppy as a sitcom, right down to the corny jokes and occasional product placement… but when a co-worker at the US State Department discovers their deepest secret, the worlds of “I Love Lucy” and Edward R. Murrow clash in hilarious, ironic, and genuinely moving ways. Read more HERE!



The Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest – Building Community and Economic Development

To learn about the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest, you must first learn about The Montgomery Institute (TMI).

With a mission to “upbuild the people and places of the East Mississippi and West Alabama region guided by the leadership legacy of G. V. ‘Sonny’ Montgomery” TMI undertakes initiatives in leadership development, rural place building, educational enhancement, workforce development, research and information dissemination, regional cooperation, and innovation. Working with partners to engage citizens, identify place building champions, and create regional networks of place builders, TMI seeks out resources and opportunities for innovation that will help partners do better, for the benefit of the people and places in West Alabama and East Mississippi.  Twice, in 2003 and 2010, the 13-state Southern Growth Policies Board presented TMI its “Innovator Award” in recognition of its innovative approaches to region and place building. The Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest was born out of one of these initiatives, namely the West Alabama East Mississippi (WAEM) Mayors Network.  http://tmi.ms/

The seed of the Fest was planted during a WAEM luncheon facilitated by TMI.

The inaugural 2013 Hwy Songwriters Fest began as two “Musical Appetizers,” one in Demopolis, Alabama on July 6 and one in Meridian, Mississippi on September 17. The Demopolis event hosted 19 songwriters from Alabama and Mississippi in three rounds on the Demopolis courthouse lawn. The Meridian event hosted 13 songwriters in Dumont Plaza in downtown Meridian. All but one were from outside Lauderdale County. From the first fest in 2013, the goals and outcomes were to expand the songwriter’s platform and territory, provide education in the songwriting craft for songwriters of all ages and levels of expertise, to build and support the creative economy in West Alabama and East Mississippi, and to ignite the public’s understanding and appreciation for songwriters and their craft. Songwriter rounds in Mississippi/Alabama venues, the Grand Finale, the professional songwriting workshop and songwriting in the schools accomplished these goals. In fact, several Mississippi songwriters were invited to perform in other Alabama venues and Alabama artists were invited to play in Mississippi venues.

With the 2014 Fest, the committee moved into the expansion and progression phase, adding the educational component with songwriters going into Poplar Springs School and Northeast Elementary School in Meridian to work the students on the craft of songwriting and writing their own song. The activities helped students improve reading, writing, comprehension and critical thinking skills. Also offered was a two-hour songwriting workshop at Rhythm & Brews, Downtown Meridian on October 25 from 2 – 4 p.m. Facilitated by Marty Gamblin, Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center and the world-renown Ralph Murphy, Vice President of ASCAP and author of Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting. James Walton “Walt” Aldridge, Jr., an American musician, singer, songwriter, engineer and record producer, also helped facilitate the workshop. He has written dozens of hit country songs including the Number One hits “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” by Ronnie Milsap (1981), “Holding Her and Loving You” by Earl Thomas Conley (1982), “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde” by Travis Tritt (2000), and “I Loved Her First” (2006) – recorded by Heartland. He is listed as a “Music Achiever” by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which is a precursor to future induction, and has been awarded a star on their Walk of Fame. Also involved in the workshop was Bob Regan, a Grammy and Dove Award nominated songwriter based in Nashville Tennessee, participated in the workshop round with Ralph and Walt.  Bob has had over 200 songs recorded by such contemporary artists as Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Jake Owen and Rodney Atkins as well as legendary artists ranging from Don Williams to Hank Williams Jr. to Andy Williams, from Kenny Rogers to cowboy legend Roy Rogers. In 2009, Bob’s song “Dig Two Graves”, by Randy Travis, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Song. 2, 3, 4. This extensive workshop covered how to write songs and the business of songwriting.

The 2014 fest rounds began in Demopolis on the courthouse lawn.

In Meridian, three venues, Faces Lounge, The Brickhaus Bar & Grill and Weidmann’s Restaurant became the stages for the 19 songwriters Friday and Saturday night. The 2014 Hwy Fest Meridian rounds included Dexter Allen toured with Bobby Rush for 3 years as lead guitarist, was inducted into the Mississippi Artist Roster and devotes time conducting Blues in School workshops sponsored by The Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in area schools throughout Mississippi. Cary Hudson made Gibson guitar’s “Top 10 Alt Country Guitarists” list in 2008. Steve Deaton recorded and performed with Buffalo Nickel and has shared the stage with the likes of Wilco, Maroon 5, Junior Brown, and Leon Russell. Scott Albert Johnson, accompanied by Chalmers Davis, was one of the “Hot 100” Harmonica Players worldwide by The Harmonica Company (U.K.); He also received a 2013-2014 Performing Arts Fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Bob Ray, an award winning singer-songwriter from the hills of north Mississippi, has twice been named a Kerrville Folk Festival – New Folk Songwriting Finalist. He has been a finalist in both the Ozark Folk Festival Songwriters Festival and the Gum Tree Song Festival. Christina Christian, an indie/country artist and songwriter from Foley, Ala., picked up the guitar at 12 years old, and began writing her own music at 16. Taylor Craven began writing songs as a hobby and soon was performing in songwriting festivals across the south, including the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival and winning contests, including recently both a 3rd place and honorable mention award in American Songwriters Magazine. He was selected to play in the first ever Gulf Coast Songwriters Shootout in 2014. He’s a 2014 top ten contestant in the Texas Troubadour Songwriter Classic, judged and selected by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Taylor is also a co-founder and current member of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Songwriters Festival, which was established in 2010. Sydney Beaumont began writing and producing her own music early in 2009 and formed Sydney Beaumont Band as a vehicle to showcase songs and also with goal to license and sell music. Sydney performed for Nashville “Play for Publishers” workshop and with other writers at Richards Café and also performed at the famous Bluebird Café. Alphonso Sanders is the Chair of Fine Arts and Director of the BB King Recording Studio at Mississippi Valley State University.  He has performed with such artist as Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry, Mulgrew Miller, Rhonda Richmond, Cassandra Wilson, Paula West, Debra Brown, Bobby Rush, David Lee Durham, The Four Tops, and David “Honey Boy” Edwards among others. He is recipient of the 2010 MAC Folk Arts Fellowship; the 2011 Mississippi Humanities Award and is published in Big City Rhythm & Blues magazine 2011 (UK); the book “Musicians Up and the Delta”; and “Down in the Woods” a documentary of the legendary bluesman Willie King.  He is also an award winner in the 2009 and 2010 International Blues Challenge and was selected by the Delta Blues Society as the 2013 Blues Musician of the Year. These are the caliber of songwriters you discover at the Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest!

The 2015 Fest, after careful evaluation of the past two years changed its date to coincide with the Demopolis venue,

which connects to its annual Freedom on the River July 4th weekend. However, before the rounds began, on June 22, songwriters worked students at The Meridian Freedom Project in Meridian. In October, they will conduct songwriting workshops with the 4th and 5th grades in October 2015 at Poplar Springs School.

The Mississippi rounds began with a new round at Hal & Mal’s (see round list below) in Jackson on Wednesday July 8 and in Newton on July 11 (see round list below. The night of July 16 local songwriter rounds were held at News and Squealers Restaurants (see round list below) in North Meridian. On July 17, rounds with Mississippi/Alabama songwriters from outside of Lauderdale County returned to Weidmann’s and Brickhaus Bar and Grill (see round list below).

Saturday, July 18, the songwriting workshop facilitated by Alphonso Sanders and Marty Gamblin was at Meridian’s historic Soule Steam Feed Works Museum.  Open Mic started at 5:00 p.m. and welcomed all ages, all levels and all genres to stage.  Alphonso backed up every songwriter with either Sax, trumpet, flute or harmonica. The Grand Finale of professional songwriters started at 7:30 and included Scott Albert John and Tony Sant’Angelo, Ron Etheridge, Thomas Jackson, K. D. Brosia and Alphonso Sanders. The caliber of the 2015 songwriters remained as high as the 2014 Songwriters with some of the same songwriters returning this year.  All rounds will bring more business into popular community venues. The Grand Finale location in Meridian showcased the beautiful historic buildings of Soule and most songwriters plan to return for the Soule Steamfest in November.

The Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest gathered communities, cultures, social groups and all ages together in one setting where music spoke a universal language and stories touched the deepest place within us all. The Fest was made possible through the generous contributions of these sponsors and grantees:

The Mississippi Arts Commission

Visit Meridian

The Mississippi Writers Guild

The Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Center

Mitchell Distributing

Meridian Main Street


WTOK TV, The CW, My-TOK2, Bounce TV, Cozi TV

The Radio People, The Meridian Family of Stations, New South Radio, SuperTalk Mississippi, 106.9 the Eagle, WMOX 1010

The Meridian Star, Lamar Outdoor Advertising, Premier Outdoor Advertising


The 2015 Rounds

Demopolis, AL Courthouse lawn, July 3

Derek Norsworthy

Cristina Christian

Alan Hartzel

Britt Gully

Mel Knapp

Shawn Pfaffman

Melissa Joiner

Megan McMillan

Steve Wilkerson

July 8 Hal & Mal’s, Jackson, MS

David Vincent/Richelle Putnam

The Stonewalls

Zac Clarke

July 11  Newton, MS Church Street Market

Jacky Jack White

John Marshall/Terry Cherry

Chuck Luke

Local Songwriters – Meridian – July 16


A’keela Hudnall

Earl Aycock, Jr.

Red Bird

Chad Fuller


Richelle Putnam

Terry Cherry

John Paul Dove

Josh Burton

July 17 Weidmann’s, Meridian, MS

Robert Daniels

Stephen Lee Veal

Bob Ray

Brickhaus, Meridian, MS

Sydney Beaumont

Michael Hughes

Taylor Craven


Soule Steamworks, Meridian, MS

Master of Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest Saturday Ceremonies – MAEC Executive Marty Gamblin

Hwy 80 Songwriters Fest Workshop Facilitator – Dr. Alphonso Sanders, Chair of Fine Arts and Director of the BB King Recording Studio at Mississippi Valley State University.

Open Mic:

4:30 – 6:30 p.m. (All songwriter/musicians, all ages, all levels welcome  to participate. Sign-up, play two songs, sign-up and play again, if time permits!


Soule Steamworks, Meridian, MS

Scott Albert Johnson

Thomas Jackson

Ron Etheredge

K. D. Brosia


Alphonso Sanders


The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center – The Dream

When the Mississippi State Legislature enacted Senate Bill #2666 in 2001 establishing the Southern Arts and Entertainment Center, Inc., d/b/a The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center (MAEC), there was no warning of what was to come in 2005 when Katrina’s fury struck Mississippi and hurled her into years of disaster relief and recovery. Neither was there warning of a downswing economy and soaring gas prices. Life is that way. It changes every moment. The saying, “Only the strong survive,” has nothing to do with physical strength, but everything to do with perseverance and carrying on with a dream in spite of adversity. The journey for the MAEC has been a long, difficult struggle, but then again…we’re talking about Mississippi.TheWorld

And when you talk Mississippi, you’re talking rich soil that grows anything and the Mighty Mississippi that stretches beyond all other rivers in the country.

You’re talking Elvis Presley, Sela Ward, William Faulkner, Morgan Freeman, Jim Henson, Tennessee Williams, Mac McAnnally, B. B. King, Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones, John Grisham, Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, LeAnn Rimes, Eudora Welty, Leontyne Price, Walter Anderson, Faith Hill, Jimmy Buffett, Robin Roberts, and, yes, the list goes on because we’re talking about Mississippi. Factories and businesses come and go. And have. But Mississippi’s legacies will never leave the ground from which they were birthed. In fact, these legacies continue rising to infinite glory through stories, music and photographs, creating histories for generations to come.

This is the dream the MAEC refused to surrender.

In 2009, MAEC’s Walk of Fame began its bronze legacy pathway from the historical MSU Riley Center for the Performing Arts toward the MAEC building site and will continue its trek as the MAEC moves toward constructing its state-of-the-art museum on the corner of 22nd Avenue and Front Street in Meridian, Mississippi, the birthplace of Jimmie Rodgers.

ThePlaceSupport of this museum helps the MAEC accomplish its mission in recognizing and honoring legendary artists through a hands-on Hall of Fame and other exhibit halls that visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically educate, inform, and entertain every visitor. In addition, the museum will steer these visitors to other museums throughout the state, forming a partnership that benefits all Mississippi regions and their legacies, from Tupelo’s Elvis, to Indianola’s B. B. King, to Pascagoula’s Jimmy Buffett, to Jackson’s Eudora Welty, to Ocean Springs’ Walter Anderson, and…well, you know the rest.

This is Mississippi,

where stories pass from generation to generation and where legends are made; where visitors from all over the world come to walk upon its soil and to drink the water in hopes of becoming a part of Mississippi and making Mississippi a part of them.

Join the MAEC Newsletter to stay updated about the progress of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center and step into conversations about the Mississippi artists who made history and who are making history. But be prepared to pull up a chair and sit a spell because here in Mississippi, you just can’t rush a good story.


Visit MAEC

The Blues: Bridging Cultures, Generations, Communities

Our Southern Roots Delta Neighbors. It’s more than just Bridging the Blues

From the words of Sterling D. Plumpp’s Blues Narratives:


got laughter from sunrise

all day, every day

even the setting sun

tell you


The Mississippi Delta is generally considered to be the birthplace of the blues, with the new musical form emerging around the turn of the 19th century. But the story of the blues dates back before the Civil War and to the West coast of Africa where countless men, women and children were captured by slave traders and shipped across the Atlantic for forced labor on Southern plantations. ~ PBS – Blues Road Trip

Culturally, the Delta has been home to large cotton plantations worked by black slaves and later, sharecroppers. Much of the Delta was cleared after the Civil War when large levees were built on either side of the Mississippi River. Life in the levee and sawmill camps had a frontier aspect, with men working in gangs, protecting themselves with weapons, and spending their hard-earned money on gambling, women, and itinerant musicians. By the turn of the twentieth century, railroad gangs began laying track to connect the Delta with larger cities. The river promoted trade with New Orleans by providing a means of transporting cotton to market. ~ United States National Park Service

The blues and Mississippi are synonymous to music lovers. The repertoire of any blues or rock band is full of songs, guitar licks, and vocal inflections borrowed from Mississippi bluesmen – from Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, and Son House to Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, and Furry Lewis – just to mention some of the early ones. A couple of generations later, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, James Cotton, and many others were still making Mississippi blues and sending it out all over the world. ~ Mississippi History Now

The Blues: it thrills us, moves us, angers us, saddens us and entertains us.  And it never dies, taking root in almost every genre of music, sprouting in places you least expect. Its history is tragic and magical at the same time. Through emotional content,whining slides, wailing harmonica riffs, we don’t just hear the Blues, we experience the Blues. 

The Mississippi Blues Trail markers tell the stories and share the images of bluesmen and women, the places they lived, the times they endured, and how all inspired and affected the music they wrote. Marker sites are found in city streets, cotton fields, cemeteries, on rural roads, and at clubs and churches.

Bridging the Blues (BTB) is a series of blues events taking place over several consecutive weeks and aims to maximize the opportunities for visitors to discover the richness of the blues tradition in the Mississippi Delta region.

Sponsored by organizations in three states—Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee—BTB serves as an umbrella organization to promote a wide variety of blues-related activities, according to the BTB website.

Music festivals that anchor BTB include the internationally renowned King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, The Mighty Mississippi Music Festival in Greenville, Mississippi, and the Highway 61 Blues Festival in Leland. Other festivals include the annual Pinetop Perkins Homecoming at the Hopson Plantation outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi.
In addition to these festivals a multitude of events will take place at venues including blues museums, juke joints, casinos, and town squares. Explore the Blues by attending Bridging the Blues music events, tracking down the gravesites of blues legends and visiting the 175 markers of the Mississippi Blues Trail.


The Blues Foundation

PBS Blues

United States National Park Service

Mississippi History Now

The Mississippi Blues Trail

Bridging the Blues

Blues Narratives by Sterling D. Plump; Tia Chucha Press, Chicago, IL

St. Paul’s Music Series — Revitalized

St. Paul’s Music Series swings into its 2014-15 season with jazz, piano, Christmas brass and a new look.

The revitalized series includes two concerts that start at 5:15 p.m. for after-work enjoyment, complete with hors d’oeuvres and libations. All of the concerts are held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Meridian.

e first concert of the series kicks off Sept. 25 at 5:15 p.m. featuring Allison Jenkins and Swing Station. Vocalist Jenkins, with Tim Avalon and Jimmy Jarratt, bring old favorites and new jazz to listeners. This concert is sponsored by Magnolia Steel Co., Inc.

The rest of the season includes:

October 16, 2014

John Christopher Adams — From Opera to Broadway

November 20, 2014

Ian Hominick — Pianist

This concert in Memory of Tom Johnson

December 18, 2014

Capital Brass Christmas Concert

January 15, 2015

Marta Szlubowska — Ensemble Polonaise

February 12, 2015

Impromptu Piano Quartet

April 25, 2015

Carey Smith & Friends

The first and last concerts are at 5:15 p.m. The other concerts are at 12:05 — perfect for a lunch getaway and listeners are encouraged to bring their favorite eats.

Please visit the St. Paul’s Music Series Facebook page.