Forget the average birthday party.
The state’s southernmost counties are coming together to celebrate their culture and contributions to Mississippi’s 200 year history with a two-day-long festival. This is one of three primary celebrations scheduled around the state. The Mississippi Bicentennial Concert Celebration North will take place June 24 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Oxford. And the final celebration is set for Dec. 9 in Central Mississippi, culminating in the opening of the new Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson.
South Mississippi’s Bicentennial Celebration kicks off Friday, March 31, in Gulfport’s Centennial Plaza, coincidentally at 200 E. Beach Blvd.
“We have big plans for this property,” said City of Gulfport Public Information Officer Chris Vignes. “We’re on this huge plot of land with oak trees facing the Gulf of Mexico. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Tickets are free to the public and grant access to two days’ worth of coastal cuisine, historical exhibits and musical performances from some of today’s biggest names in Mississippi music.
The capacity for Day 2’s Governor’s Concert, the festival’s closing event, was initially set by Vignes and his team at 12,500. There have been approximately 10,000 free tickets claimed through pre-online registration. Coastal Wal-Marts are collecting canned goods in exchange for tickets. Although tickets are still available, Vignes expects the event to reach maximum capacity before next weekend.
The party starts Friday morning with a “Salute to Mississippi” in the form of exhibits highlighting the state’s arts, history, culture, education and military. Heads up. Look out for the roaming stilt walkers.
The plaza will be an outdoor classroom for approximately 1,000 fourth graders as they participate in an educational component of the U.S. Postal Service Mississippi Commemorative Stamp Unveiling.
Although “Coasties” will be the obvious majority on the plaza, event coordinators welcome all who want to contribute to next weekend’s celebration.
“I talked to a gentleman that’s flying in from Dallas, and there’s people coming in from Shreveport, Slidell, Meridian, Jackson and the Mississippi Delta,” said Vignes. “We like to say the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a cultural gumbo. This event has something for everybody.”
Speaking of gumbo, during both days, festival-goers are encouraged to take a “Taste of Mississippi” and indulge in coastal cuisine and Mississippi craft beer.
In addition to food, local music remains true to its Mississippi roots. And with more than 25 scheduled performances, there will be no trouble finding it.
The Band Perry, Vasti Jackson, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band and Paul Thorn all have Mississippi ties and are just a few of the acts invited to perform in the plaza for a Governor’s Concert.
“They have a lot of appreciation for back home,” said Vignes as he talked about the concert’s headlining act, The Band Perry. “One minute they’re on the Gulf Coast, and one minute they’re in the mountains in Colorado. They are internationally known and are always giving a new spotlight to Mississippi.”
There is a wide range of musical acts set to perform leading up to the concert. One band whose origins aren’t as deeply rooted in the state will be making their Mississippi debut.
Amanda Cook and Kennesaw Ridge, a bluegrass band that originated in Florida, are the festival’s first musical performance.
“This is an exciting time – 200 years,” said Cook. “I’m honored that we were invited to perform. We’re really looking forward to breaking into the state of Mississippi.”
Although this will be the first time the band is performing in Mississippi, this will not be the first time a Mississippian is performing in the band. Gulfport resident George Mason fiddled his way into Kennesaw Ridge 18 months ago.
“He’s well known. Everybody over there knows George,” said Cook. “We talked about having him take us out after our set and maybe having some seafood.”
Cook is among thousands who have gladly accepted the invitation to explore the Gulf Coast and soak up the southern Mississippi sun while celebrating the bicentennial year.
“There’s so much that will truly make this an event that will be talked about for centuries,” Vignes said. “There’s so much for the state to be proud about. We just want people to take it all in.”
For tickets, a complete schedule, parking information, lodging packages, volunteer opportunities and more visit ms200south.org.