Marty Party Rocks

This appeared in The Neshoba Democrat - October 6, 2010

Dolly Parton sang a pre-recorded rendition of "Happy Birthday" during the Marty Party Thursday night in the Ellis Theatre, while Merle Haggard had some kind words for his old friend Marty Stuart.

Country music artists and others, including Stuart's mother, Hilda, surprised him in a "This is Your Life"-style production that was intertwined with what more or less what turned into an impromptu jam session and tent revival meeting before a packed house at the Ellis.

Stuart, born at the old hospital in downtown Philadelphia on Sept. 30, 1958, spoke of prayer around the family table at Arlington, being out of gas emotionally and coming home.

He was in town to formally dedicate his Mississippi Country Music Trail marker downtown not far from where he bought his first guitar.

Country Music Star Travis Tritt was among the well-wishers as was Mrs. Lester Flatt.

Joe Vines, co-owner of local radio stations WHOC-WWSL, was the master of ceremonies for the event billed as the Marty Party.

"You are the best ambassador Philadelphia could ever have and we are all proud that you still call Philadelphia home," Vines said.

Stuart's mother recounted how her son was given a music box as a baby and would cry every time the music stopped playing.

Tobe Gill was welcomed onto the stage with a standing ovation and offered a passionate prayer for Stuart after some coercion to step to the microphone.

Several pre-recorded messages to Stuart were played, including one by Tritt.

"Nobody deserves this more," Tritt said. "I have treasured our friendship and you are always in my heart and in my thoughts."

Parton expressed her excitement for Stuart on his big day.

"Happy birthday dear Marty and I will always love you," sang Parton. "Thank God the world was blessed with you all those years ago."

Stuart told the audience he was proud to be from Philadelphia and honored for everything that the people of Mississippi have done for him.

Haggard was among those that recorded a message, saying that he has always been a fan.

"He's a guy that deserves it and he's been a close friend to me," Haggard said. "What a lucky guy he is to have all the talent that he's got to be able to do what he's trying to do," Haggard said.

The "This is Your Life" production was dotted with performances by Stuart.

One song he performed, "Far Away," came to him while sitting at his grandfather's dining room table.

Stuart said he realized that the table had gone through wars, tears, prayers and hurricanes. He realized that it represented God's bounty. The song, he said, was about Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Musical Performances

Southbound and the Billy Hardy Band, rising star Danielle Reed, Evelyn Hubbard of Commerce Christian Church and even a few songs from Stuart himself were among the musical performances during the more than two-hour event.

Southbound started off the festivities and later ended the night by covering one of Stuart's top singles, "The Whiskey Ain't Working."

Danielle Reed performed twice: once with her manager, Jennifer Stuart, Stuart's sister, and a second time with a song off Stuart's latest release, "Ghost Train."

Members of the very first band which performed with Stuart were also on hand for the reunion.

When Stuart was 10 he played "Wildwood Flower" with Butch and Ricky Hodgins during the Neshoba County Fair.

The group got back together to play the same song one more time.

The pastor at Commerce Christian Church near Tunica, Evelyn Hubbard, surprised Stuart with a cake and a rousing, hand-clapping rendition of "Precious Lord."

Stuart got to know Hubbard after stopping at her church in Robinsonville one Sunday morning.

Commerce Christian Church is the home of the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart's acclaimed band.

Some of the more popular points of the evening were when Stuart performed. He played "I Met My Baby at the Choctaw Fair" and even performed a fast-paced solo on his mandolin.

Country music artist and wife Connie Smith was singing "Amazing Grace" when Stuart motioned for the band members to come back out onto the stage and then asked the audience to stand and sing along for the finale.

Tickets to the event were sold for $10 a person. Stuart's one stipulation was that all proceeds go towards the restoration of the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Performing Arts Theatre. This includes tickets sales, funds received from auctioning off two signed posters from the event and future DVD sales.

Members of the local Arts Council said that Stuart made the show what is was. Without his participation the night could have been just a musical event, instead it turned into a full-blown Marty Party, they said.

Arts Council President Tim Moore said nearly 500 people packed the Ellis Theatre for the Marty Party.

"We can seat 501 people and there were only a few vacant seats," Moore said.

He expressed appreciation for the support the event received.

"On behalf of the Arts Council, I would like to thank everybody who showed up for Marty Party and for showing interest in the Ellis Theatre," he said.

Moore said there were about 20 people on the committee which planned the event including about 10 from the Arts Council.

By Steven Thomas

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