Stuart Kicks Off Old Time Fest

This appeared in the Hattiesburg American - May 14, 2005

Margie Nobles of Petal received a late Mother's Day gift Friday when she and her daughter met country music star Marty Stuart.

"That's why we came here, to let Marty know we enjoy what he does," Nobles said.

But the experience was just as thrilling for her daughter, Kim Merritt of Petal, who is a member of Stuart's fan club. The Friday night show at the Saenger Theatre was Merritt's fifth time seeing the star.

"He's an exciting performer," she said. "He just makes everything look so fun."

Hundreds of fans from all across the Pine Belt turned out to see the Mississippi native's show in the Hub City - the kickoff to the annual Old Time Festival.

"This was just plain awesome," Sandi Walker of Petal said. "I came just to look at him. He's such a cutie."

Born in Philadelphia, Stuart, 46, said being back in the state is always a reward.

"Some of my favorite things about Mississippi are that it's constantly evolving, but on a deeper level it's staying the same," he said before the show. "Our heritage and tradition are still here with us in the present. It makes me realize that no matter where I'm at on the planet Earth, I have a place that is home."

He said playing at a smaller venue like the Saenger Theatre allows him to be more intimate with the crowd and explore his creativity.

"I love these sorts of theaters," he said. "I can sing story songs and play the mandolin and bring it right back down to where it all started."

That creativity inspires fans like Stan Anderson of Purvis.

"He's one of the few people I've heard that can play blues music on a mandolin," Anderson said. "That's typically considered a bluegrass instrument, but he works it in perfectly."

Richard Jones, chairman of the Area Development Partnership, which is hosting the weekend Old Time Festival, said the crowd was good Friday and he expects a good turnout at today's events.

"We're excited about the crowd we have thus far and we're looking forward to tomorrow night," he said. "But we're also looking to the next festival. We hope to learn from what we have done this year and build on that for next year."

While the Old Time Festival is in its 20th year, this is the first time the event has featured national performers, said Layla Essary of the ADP.

By Reuben Hees

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