As president of the Historic Downtown Anniston Business Association, James developed Super Saturdays, a food and music festival held on Noble Street on the third Saturday of each month. In July, James and his organization held an inaugural blues and barbecue festival where several live bands played and residents submitted their recipes to be judged by local celebrities.
James saw the biggest crowd yet at that Super Saturday, perhaps thanks to a performance by Benny Anderson and the Sounds of the Drifters. Whatever got people there — be it the souped-up car engines, rock bands or hometown cuisine — it pleased James, who thinks the event can only grow from here. But he still thinks the arts community could improve and become something truly significant, especially if more residents involve themselves in the planning process.
James talks to The Star about his own efforts and what it will take to continue Anniston's growth in the arts.
Are you pleased with Super Saturdays' performance so far?
I'm absolutely pleased. They continue to grow. We had the biggest crowd ever on the streets of (July's) Super Saturday. As a matter of fact, prior to the concert, I was going to take my wife and drive her through to see all of the vendors and the cars. We finally had to turn around because there were so many people and we couldn't get through. So I'm very pleased.
Why is it important that events like these succeed in Anniston?
We have some great things going on, like Music at McClellan and things of that nature. But there's not something going on anywhere really on a consistent basis other than an annual type of event. So we feel that if we could just keep doing this and growing it, there could be the opportunity for several thousand people to be downtown at least once a month. It's destination. It's free. You can go down there and have a great time, eat some great food, see some awesome cars. There are a lot of kids activities and some great music.
Where does Anniston stand in terms of what it has to offer arts and entertainment-wise?
I think we're lacking. We've definitely got room for more. We've got some great museums. Music at McClellan is awesome, but there's not much else that people can go to. That's another reason we want Super Saturdays to be successful. CAST is doing a great job out there with the plays and all. That's always great entertainment. But there's just not a lot.
How can it improve?
More people getting involved. I think more businesses getting involved. More volunteers, people willing to step up and make things happen.
Other than Super Saturdays, what ways does the HDABA contribute to this area's cultural offerings?
As far as cultural, I don't know, other than the music, that we are. But I guess if you look at what we're doing with Super Saturdays, we are giving back to the community. With the HDABA, we're here to promote each other's businesses. We do a lot of free advertising for them. We help them get discounts with other companies, as far as like radio, TV and newspapers. It's a great organization. I don't know that we're limited to just Super Saturday. I think if we can get it to where it needs to be, and it's pretty much running itself with the manpower, there's no telling what we could do, especially if we continue to grow in our membership. If we continue to be successful, we could possibly even take on another project to bring more bands.
How difficult is it to find performers, like The Drifters, that the town can afford and that will hopefully appeal to the majority of people who attend?
The cost of that was shouldered by the HDABA. We wanted to provide a free concert, so we sold corporate tables and individual memberships to cover the cost of that. We've got people like Thomas Van Dyke on our board that are very tied to the music community. We ask them to take charge of that. Just having the right people that know the right people has contributed to our success. That frees me up to work on something else like raising money and things of that nature. The Drifters were a good group to bring in. I hope we can equal that or better.
This story is the sixth in a series that will examine Calhoun County's arts and entertainment scene. The Anniston Star surveyed members of the community who play prominent roles in delivering residents with high-quality entertainment options about their craft and how they feel about the local entertainment scene. The series will feature local musicians, fine artists, filmmakers, arts educators and public figures who make entertainment decisions in the county. The mission of the series is to offer an introspective look at this area as a cultural attraction in Alabama and the Southeast. The Star takes a look at local entertainment's past, present and what it could and should be, seen through the eyes of the entertainers.
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