Such is the philosophy fueling the second annual Model City Music Fest, which takes place Saturday, July 20 from 6-10 p.m. in Anniston’s Zinn Park. Last year’s event, which featured a Michael Jackson tribute band, exceeded the expectations of event organizer Larry May.
“Last year it really wasn’t intended to be a big thing,” May says with a laugh that belies the amount of work that’s gone into this year’s festival. “We just wanted to put on this [Michael Jackson] show and see what happened.”
What happened was that more than 2,500 people showed up for the free concert. And the dust had yet to settle in Zinn Park before May, working closely with the Anniston City Council, was able to convince future sponsors — including Sunny King, Alabama Power, Anniston Regional Medical Center and the Calhoun County Commission — that the inaugural festival only scratched the surface of Anniston’s potential for delivering stellar entertainment.
“We caught lightning in a bottle the first time,” May says, “and now we’re trying to do it again.”
With an increased budget, May has booked a pair of big-name acts for this year’s show. Jimmie Walker, iconic star of TV’s “Good Times,” will MC the festival and perform a 20-minute stand-up set.
“J.J. gives us that kitsch factor,” May explains, referring to J.J. Evans, the role Walker played on the ’70s hit show. “And he’s great. People know the name from ‘Good Times,’ but a lot of people don’t know just how good his stand-up is.”
At roughly 8 p.m., ’80s R&B/funk stalwarts Midnight Star will take the stage. With its string of hits, including “Freak-A-Zoid,” “No Parking (On the Dance Floor),” “Operator” and “Don’t Rock the Boat,” Midnight Star is sure to keep the audience on its feet.
“This is a great band with a huge catalogue of hits,” says May, who owns CD Cellar in Anniston. “The name recognition is there and that’s definitely something we want. We’re excited to have them. This is going to be a good thing for the city. I can’t ever remember there being a show of this caliber in Anniston.”
Formed in 1976 at Kentucky State University, Midnight Star was a staple on radio and on the charts with their unique brand of electro-funk that continues to resonate today as it continues to influence artists in both hip-hop and electronica. The band went on hiatus in 1990 but reunited in early 2000 with all its original members, save for trumpet player Reggie Calloway and his younger brother, trombonist Vincent Calloway.
“We went away for a while because the music was changing and dance groups were on the way out, so we thought it was good to take a break,” said guitarist/vocalist and founding member Melvin Gentry. “A few years later, we got back together with a new energy and appreciation for all we’ve done as a band.”
They’ve been touring the world ever since. About a month before headlining at Model City Music Fest, Midnight Star members were about to board a plane for France, where they were set to play a string of shows.
“We just love doing this,” Gentry said. “We never really get used to the effect this music has on people … what the songs mean to them, and that’s what keeps us going. We love giving the people a good time.”
In addition to the two headliners, this year’s music fest will feature a day-long record sale and swap, which will also include CDs, stickers and other music-related paraphernalia.
Vinyl has grown in popularity in recent years, particularly among those who weren't alive during it¹s heyday. The reason is a mystery, but for sellers and collectors like Atkins, the resurgence has been a blessing.
"I think that it is really a response to the misery that is the download process and a need to interact with physical product and actual people," he says. "A lot of what music is about is a shared experience amongst people. You don¹t get that with some crappy downloaded files on an iPod sitting in your beanbag all alone."
Given last year’s success coupled with the name-recognition in this year’s show, May believes the Model City Music Fest has a bright future. And it has the one thing going for it that no amount of promotion can duplicate — location.
“Anniston is a perfect storm when you’re talking about geography and musical entertainment,” May says. “You have to consider that we’re right in the middle between Birmingham and Atlanta. There are live acts passing through literally all the time. Why someone hasn’t capitalized on it by now is beyond me.”
May envisions a long future for not only the free Model City Music Fest but other concerts and festivals that could allow the city — though not himself, as May stresses he “doesn’t make a dime” — to generate revenue.
“We feel like we can change the landscape of Anniston,” he says. “It can be done. It’ll take a lot of work but there’s no reason it can’t be successful.”
Contact Brett Buckner at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO...
WHAT: Model City Music Fest
WHEN: Saturday, July 20, 6-10 p.m.
WHERE: Zinn Park, Anniston
COST: Admission is free
INFO: 256-452-3511 or www.facebook.com/ModelCityMusicFestival