Reprinted from Where Y’at? Magazine
Emily Hingle – 4/26/23
When tourists are asked why they chose to visit New Orleans, music is often the answer or one of the answers. Our jazz is world-famous, and we have a vibrant live music scene that has every genre one can think of inviting listeners in every single night. Music tourism is a big business for New Orleans and for cities with their own wonderful music scenes.
In order to discuss how to develop and encourage music tourism, visitor bureau representatives, museum staffers, journalists, and more descended upon the Mississippi Delta town of Cleveland, Mississippi for the Music Tourism Convention hosted at the Lyric Hotel. Though informative panels, presentations, and lively after-convention events, the attendees learned about how other cities and organizations are promoting music tourism.
One of the most interesting historical talks was the presentation of the upcoming documentary “Rock N’ Roll Island – The Birthplace of Blues Across the Pond” from Cheryl Robinson, Director of Aurora Metro. Through her exhaustive work, she uncovered the exciting history of a small island in England that held a legendary venue where American bluesmen like John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf would entertain young British kids and start a musical revolution. The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, even heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath performed some of their very first shows on Eel Pie Island. Cheryl hopes to use the documentary to spur interest in tourism in the smaller towns of just west of London that have immense musical history.
The next two panels explored how musicians and tourism bureaus can work together to increase music tourism for mutual benefits. “Deep South – Collaborating with Artists” presented by the Recording Academy Memphis Chapter saw New Orleans Mayor Cantrell’s Director Office of Cultural Economy Lisa Alexis discussing involving musicians in campaigns with Pat Mitchell Worley, CEO of Soulsville Foundation, Sheretha Bell, Vice President of Brand of Atlanta CVB, Amber Hamilton, Executive Director of Memphis Music Initiative, and Shelley Ritter, Director of the Delta Blues Museum. Indeed it was a diverse group of women who gave concrete examples of their initiatives and how successful they’ve been. Lisa Alexis explained the NOLA x NOLA campaign that granted $4000 to 50 venues that would be paid to bands they scheduled to perform during a special week of concerts. 300 bands benefitted from the promotion and countless fans (as well as locals) came to the shows. Amber discussed how she specifically asked musicians for information about their income from performances over certain time periods so that she could use that information to discuss with city officials how to better serve local musicians because the city should not be promoting music culture if the musicians aren’t being cared for properly.
“The Future of Music Tourism” was an internationally-focused panel featuring Craig Ray, Director of Visit Mississippi, Aubrey Preston, Founder of Americana Music Triangle, Marjorie Fort-Dees, Founder and Principal Travel Advisor Black Soul Rhythms Travel, Asa Dyradottir, Director and Project Manager of Reykjavik Music City, and Alvaro Bolanos, General Manager of Jazz & Rhythms Fest in Mexico. I think that the biggest takeaway from this panel was the power of branding and authenticity in that branding. An example of Mississippi going from the Feels Like Going Home campaign to a music-focused campaign has increased music tourism, something that can clearly be seen in Cleveland. This small city has one of two GRAMMY Museums in the country.
This evening’s reception was held at Dockery Farms which has a fascinating music history of its own. The massive farm once boomed with activity beginning the late 1800s. The swampy areas of northern Mississippi became arable land once levees were built, and work was abundant. People flocked to Dockery Farms for work as well as to build a life; the massive farm had its own stores and even its own currency. In the evenings when the work was done, people would gather to recreate, dance, and play music. Bluesman Charley Patton was one of the most famous musicians to come out of Dockery Farms, and his music inspired others to pursue the blues leading to an endless number of people who have been indirectly affected by his music. We were treated to some live blues while we overlooked the Sunflower River and toured the antiquated cotton gin on the intriguing property.
The following day featured several informative panels including two that focused on music-centric museums and how music tourism can help a city in many ways. Deana McCloud, Owner of The Museum Collective, Malika Polk-Lee, Executive Director of the B.B. King Museum, Emily Havens, Executive Director of the nearby GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, and Anneliese Martinez, Senior Director of The Pop District and The Andy Warhol Museum talked about how to ensure the longevity of their institutions in “Music Museums: How to Ensure They’re Successful.” The ladies discussed their various strategies but agreed that having a clear mission, providing services to the community, and operating small businesses within your museum (like providing classes) can diversify your income and lead to longer term success.
The next panel revealed information about a music festival I attended in the past and how the addition of a certain event helped bring the locals around to it. In “Revitalizing Your City Through Music Tourism,” Jill Hamlin, Founder of Appalachian Arts & Entertainment Awards, Bo Mitchell, Producer, Engineer, & Chief Manager of Royal Studios, Roger Stolle, Blues Tourism Entrepreneur of the Cathead Delta Blues & Folk Art, and Lisa La Rocca, Director of Operations of Sonic Unyon Records, discussed how they were able to start and scale their various projects. Questions were raised about how locals in their area appreciated their events or institutions. While most said that their communities were mostly amenable, it was revealed that the people of Clarksdale, Mississippi, were not initially pleased about starting up the Juke Joint Festival highlighting the city’s Delta Blues history. In order to make the locals want to participate in the music festival, the organizers added a pig race which worked to entice the locals to the fest. The pig race was successful, and now the Juke Joint Festival is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
It was amazing to see so many people from the world over coming to this small town in Mississippi with the goal of helping connect tourists to music scenes. It’s a worthy endeavor that not only helps people appreciate hard-working musicians, but feeds entire economies and the soul.