Host Post: Ghosts of Neshoba


by Jim Dees – The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour returns to The Neshoba County Fair outside Philadelphia, MS this Saturday, July 28 at 8 pm. Our house band, the Yalobushwhackers, and I will tread on an old wooden stage at the Fair pavilion that dates to 1914 and has thus bore witness to a century-plus of shenanigans in music and politics. It was here avowed segregationists Jimmy Swan and Governor Ross Barnett put hate to music. During these same years, a black prison band from Parchman would tear through a set of blazing soul music that included Temptations-like dance moves.

1960s country sweetheart, Jeannie C. Reilly of “Harper Valley PTA” fame, performed her smash hit here on the Pavilion stage so crowded with fans, she had to stand in one spot.

Everyday folks strut their stuff here too. To this day, every Wednesday night of the Fair, fairgoers gather around a piano onstage (at 1 am) and sing old favorites (“My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”) from printed lyric sheets, the A.J. Yates Memorial Late Night Sing.
Thacker’s 2008 Neshoba show stays in my heart because Duff Dorrough and Jim Dickinson sang, Down In Mississippi, with my dad in the audience.

Dickinson (you can just see him peeking through on the far right of this pic) and my father would die the next year within the same month. So much history – family and otherwise – makes the Pavilion a touchstone. Indeed, when I look down on that stage, the numbered boxes for cake-walking are still legible. I remember cakewalking in the early 1960s with my grandmother whom we called “Ma Dees.”

There are all kinds of spirits and mojo – some good, some not so – swirling around this old space and it’s our job to stir ‘em up a little and add more memories to the mix. This year we’ll hear some down-in-the-dirt stories (and maybe recipes) from the “Debutante Farmer,” cookbook author Elizabeth Heiskell, plus some scalding north Mississippi blues with Lightnin Malcolm and country music with an edge from up-and-comers, Young Valley. Our aforementioned house band will open and close the show with their own funky brand of hoo-doo. This ain’t their first ghost rodeo.

We revere Fair officials who have kept this stage going through decades of world wars, extreme heat and tornadoes and we especially thank the anonymous patron who recently paid for the installation of five (5!) ceiling fans. Cool!

See ya in the red dirt!

The Neshoba County Fair is located at 16800 Hwy 21 South, Philadelphia, MS 39350.
Ticket and parking information:
NOTE: No live broadcast. This program will be recorded for air on Saturday, August 4 at 7 pm on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The Thacker Mountain Radio Hour is heard in Neshoba County every Saturday at 7 pm on WMAW 88.1 FM.