Dr. Daniel Barnard said it was the intention to create a big buzz with the opening of the Ellis Theater in Philadelphia.
The mission was accomplished.
The first phase of the $40 million project that will eventually house Marty Stuart’s incredible collection of country music artifacts opened its doors in December with a four-night grand reopening weekend.
“Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs and Bill Gather in four days was quite a scene,” said Barnard, executive director of the Country Music Congress. “There were a lot of people in town who came all week. I think we created the splash we were aiming for.”
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Ellis is a 100-year-old venue that has been restored and is once again serving the community.
The Ellis Theater was originally built as a silent movie theater in 1926 by the late Henry Bell Hutchison. In recent years it has served as a performance space for the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Arts Council.
“Right now, it’s more of a long-term situation as we expect to see the impact on the community as we go forward,” Barnard said.
The long-term impact appears to be in good stead as a new restaurant is opening just steps away from the Ellis Theater on the Square in Philadelphia. Barnard also says that David Vowell and the Philadelphia Community Development Partnership is in negotiations with multiple hotel chains to build and open a hotel in the downtown footprint.
“A lot of the people who came for the grand opening stayed at the Golden Moon reservation, and that’s good,” Barnard said. “But there really is a need for a hotel in Philadelphia, and this seems to be the tipping point for that and many other economic development opportunities.”
Barnard said it’s an even bigger sign for the Country Music Congress because once this project is fully open, it will be a regional draw.
“People will come from all over to see the collection and see the shows here,” he said.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony featured three invocations delivered by Philadelphia Mayor James Young, Choctaw Chief Cyrus Ben and State Senator Jennifer Branning. Marty Stuart and Connie Smith, along with other VIP attendees, joined the Choctaw Dancers for a special performance on the streets of downtown Philadelphia, and Mayor Young, Chief Ben, Marty Stuart and others gave speeches to honor the momentous occasion .
The opening night performance was headlined by Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives with special performances by Connie Smith and Jontavious Willis. The weekend continued with Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill and Bill Gaither highlighting the star-studded season for the Ellis Theater in downtown Philadelphia.
As for the opening weekend, Barnard said returns have been positive with an eye on the future.
“We had a great briefing on this. There’s always one or two things you can do better, but overall we accomplished what we wanted,” he said. “Our goal was to be as inclusive as possible for everyone. We feel like we did that and that we’re going to we will continue to do so in the future.”
The Ellis Theater will continue its inaugural season with a variety of shows, including Mississippi native HARDY. Shows at the historic Ellis Theater offer an intimate setting, creating a spiritual home for country music in the Magnolia State, promoters said.
Barnard said the mission of the Country Music Congress is to restore, redefine and reintroduce the true heart and soul of country music.
“As country music’s preeminent ambassador and the culture’s foremost archetypal crusader, Marty Stuart’s mission is to preserve and carry the authenticity of country music culture to future generations,” he said.
They claim that the Congress of Country Music is home to the largest private collection of country music artifacts in the world.
Next up for Ellis is the Old Crow Medicine Show on January 8th, followed by Dervish on February 24th. The North Mississippi All Stars will perform on April 14th.
Phase 2 of the Marty Stuart Country Music Convention will see the construction of a new community center and meeting space on the north side of the theater. With a giant arched cathedral-style window at a focal point at the top, the building will pay homage to the legendary Ryman Auditorium, home of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974.
Then, in the final phase, a museum and educational building will be completed in the rear that will serve as an exhibition space for Stuart’s personal collection of more than 20,000 pieces of country music memorabilia.
Included are boots, hats and other clothing items, personal items, handwritten manuscripts, vehicles and vintage guitars owned by musicians including Charley Pride, Pop Staples, Johnny Cash, Jimmie Rogers and others. Some of these artifacts are currently on display in Jackson through December as part of “The World of Marty Stuart” exhibit at the Two Mississippi Museums.
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