Before The Deluge, The Americana Music Triangle Made A Pilgrimage Impression
Before last weekend’s Pilgrimage Festival was wiped out by heavy rains, for a bustling six hours on Saturday, the Americana Music Triangle Experience told its story in a variety of ways under its own tent. Joanne Cash spoke about growing up with her older brother Johnny in rural Arkansas. Natchez, MS band Bishop Gunn offered an acoustic set. And booths around the perimiter, set up by music cities and towns across the deep south, beckoned music lovers to future travels.
“We had participation in the tent from all five states,” said Aubrey Preston, referring to Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana. The Triangle, which Preston spearheaded, is a voluntary marketing alliance of music destinations in and near the wedge of the south defined by New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville.
“It’s the only organization in the world that ties these musical sites together,” Preston said. “And it’s not just about Nashville, New Orleans, Memphis and all the places in between. It’s actually all the tributaries in from Texas and Kentucky and Georgia and all these other places where the music came from. . . The triangle just happens to be the place where it fused together.”
That musical and social fusion produced blues, jazz, country, rock and roll, soul, and other distinct, world-changing, American roots genres.
The non profit was officially launched with an event at the Franklin Theatre in May 2015. It has no full time staff or budget. Instead it is based around a travel guide web site and a lot of behind the scenes relationship building among tourism and economic development officials. It took a while to get local visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce to coordinate efforts and internalize the counter-intuitive idea of promoting other towns, not just their own.
“Now we’re at a point where everybody is kind of a believer,” Preston said. “It’s kind of like starting a band. Nobody’s a believer until everybody’s a believer.”
The belief and the cooperation comes from communities as disparate as Dyess, AR, home of Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, Clarksdale, MS, a center of the blues, Elvis’s home town of Tupelo and recording center Muscle Shoals, AL. Debbie Wilson, executive director of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, says they were among a dozen or so exhibitors at Pilgrimage because festival attendees are their target market - people who travel for culture and music.
“That’s what they want. They want to know about music history,” she said. “And we’ve got past, present and future and we’re two hours down the road.”
Wilson and Preston say they’re seeing vibrant interest in Triangle towns from Lafayette, LA to Tupelo, MS to Franklin itself, especially from European tourists who tend to stay for weeks at a time, making musical pilgrimages of their own.