published Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Survival of the Strut

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center's announcement this week that the Bessie Smith Strut will be held again this June at its usual place and usual date on Martin Luther Boulevard is not just a victory for supporters of the annual street bash. It's a larger victory for the city -- a triumph of hope over fear, of interracial unity and cultural sensitivity over cultural myopia and brute political force.

The struggle to keep the Strut alive and at home, to be sure, may now be measured by some by its success this June. Mayor Ron Littlefield raised that bar when he suddenly proposed just a month ago to move or cancel the Strut over concern for public safety from the possibility of gang violence, and then imposed unprecedented criteria to allow it to go forward.

But perfect safety would be an unfair measure: No public event can guarantee that.

What is more noteworthy, and of larger importance in the community, is the spirit and perseverance of supporters who stood up for the Strut and worked to keep it alive, and the resonance that effort elicited across the city.

Supporters were moved by personal values in behalf of cultural unity, community tradition and the worthiness of a fun-filled celebration of blues queen Bessie Smith, who rose from humble beginnings here to become a national star and then an international icon for one of this nation's most celebrated musical traditions.

The Strut needed to be staged on Martin Luther Boulevard, the street that was long the epicenter of this city's black community. That's where it has been held since the city inaugurated the Riverbend festival 30 years ago, and made the decision to leave the riverfront silent and shift the festival on its Monday night to its home street.

The changes occasioned this year by the mayor's conditions shift significant responsibility and new duties to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center and its board. Board members have agreed to temporarily erect a fenced perimeter for the Strut site behind the buildings on M.L. King Boulevard. That will route Strut attendees through three gates, and require a modest gate fee. A generous anonymous donor has agreed to help purchase liability insurance for the event, and city and county police will continue to provide security.

Friends of the Festival, the organization that has customarily organized the bands and sound stages, will continue to handle that work. The M.L. King Merchants Association will be responsible for vendor services.

The perceived need for such changes, of course, could and should have been raised and resolved before the mayor unilaterally decided to declare that the Strut would be moved to the Riverbend venue on the riverfront. That would have avoided the controversy that ensued, and some needlessly bad publicity for the city.

A successful, safe and fun Strut will be the best antidote to the fear raised by the mayor, and the most fitting tribute to Bessie Smith, and to those who join hands to keep the Strut alive.

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jesse said...

with all the uproar that has taken place along w/the fear and bad vibes,gonna build a fence around it, they have prob. killed the strut anyhow. just gonna take a little longer this way! they have prob. spooked all the talent and will be unable to book anybody to come and play here now! the strut wasn't broke until our mayor decided to fix it!

April 28, 2012 at 8:16 a.m.
chet123 said...


April 29, 2012 at 7:20 a.m.
timbo said...

Who cares? Prediction...the Strut will happen and there will be trouble. The Black community cannot face the problems they have with their youth culture. They just seem to accept it as a fact of life.

The Strut was the only source of any problem in the History of Riverbend. Not only that, these problems occurred when there was no perceived "gang problem." The chances of something happening this year are greater than ever. Anyone who insures this thing is nuts.

The problem is bigger than the Strut. Riverbend in general is a gathering place for thousands and thousands of drunks. These drunks have to drive to get there. They also have to drive to leave. That means that drunk driving is tolerated during this time because of "politics."

Now I don't care about drinking that much. Although it has caused society more problems than drugs ever have. Since the time of the Pharaohs it has caused trouble but in any event, that is not the point.

The point is that drunk driving is supposed to be a serious crime and law enforcement is supposed to be aggressive towards that enforcement. When you and I are subject to these laws every other day of the year and could be hassled or arrested for having three glasses of wine at dinner, I think it is unfair to the rest of us that they don't enforce drunk driving at Riverbend. Just think how easy it would be to catch thousands..that's right thousands of drunk drivers per night.

The bottom line is that if Riverbend get's a pass then it makes a mockery of the drunk driving laws being enforced at any other time.

If Riverbend is "just for the music" and you don't have to be drunk to enjoy it, then why don't they just serve soft drinks?

April 29, 2012 at 2:22 p.m.
chet123 said...

its a single mom problem......OLD SCHOOL HERE!

May 3, 2012 at 3:58 a.m.
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