By Edelia “Dr. Jay” Carthan,
and Jackie Hampton,
WABG Radio has hosted the Money Road Unity Festival in Greenwood, MS each year since the 2017 tragic death of Heather Heyer who was killed in Charlottesville, VA after a car crashed into demonstrators protesting a white supremacy rally. The purpose of the annual festival is to unite the world according to founder James Poe.
Poe, a graduate of Provine High School in Jackson, purchased the radio station in 2007, and has been running it ever since. The station is situated on a plantation just north of Greenwood on Money Road.
The official name for the 2020 festival, “The Money Road Festival – The Pandemic Session” was dedicated to the memory of the late Lingiam Odems Jr. who had made plans to come to the festival this year. Unfortunately, he died of cancer in February but Poe never forgot how connected he became with Odems after a good friend, Ben Sims, insisted the two should meet. They discovered they had similar roots growing up in Jackson and they both loved music. Based on this strong connection, he wanted to honor his friend by dedicating the festival to his memory.
Odems attended Lanier High School from 1967-1968 and was a proud member of the high school band. His wife, Michelle Odems, director of The Lingiam Odems Jr. Music in Mississippi Memorial Fund (LOJMMMF), said her husband’s band experience cemented his life-long love and appreciation of all types of music. Lingiam and Michelle founded Astonishing Expectations in Woodridge, VA, a 501©3 charity that is committed to creating a world where young people with big dreams may thrive. After learning of the festival being dedicated in her husband’s name, a decision was made to donate $2500 to the Lanier High School Band each year from 2020-2024.
Lanier High School band director Antonio Bratton was elated to receive the donation which will be used to purchase and repair instruments.He said its was a blessing.
Lanier High School principal Valerie Bradley was appreciative of the generous 4-year donation.
Though Lingiam left Mississippi for a military career and later settled in Virginia, he always felt a strong connection to his roots in Jackson. Prior to his passing, he brought his adult sons to Jackson to share his heritage and show them the two miles he walked daily from his home on W. Ridgeway Street to Lanier High School on Maple Street.
Money Road leads to the abandoned town that changed the nation and sparked the Civil Rights Movement. In 1955, fourteen year old Emmett Louis Till was kidnapped and murdered in Money, MS for allegedly flirting with a white woman. Some people believe this is a good place to start to bring all races together and to begin the healing process and learn how to live peacefully, as demonstrated in the festival’s diverse group of artists and attendees.
The Money Road Unity Festival was a free to the public event that started at noon Saturday, September 5. A variety of artists performed including the opening act, the New Gospel True Tones of Lexington, MS. Some of the other performers were Dorothy McClung Lewis, Mississippi Marshall, Terri Lynn and Thunder Blues, Groove Jackson, Ben Wiley Payton, Steve Kolbus, Randy Weeks, Burlap Rebellion, Amedee Frederick the Canjun Blues Man and Red Meat Rhetoric.
The Money Road Unity Festival was emceed by Randy “Wild Man” Brown, the 2020 Jackson Music Awards D J. of the Year. He also served as music director and stage manager.
Mayor Johnnie Neal of Sidon, MS spoke highly of the emcee. She said, “This was the first Unity Festival I have attended along with my 10 year old great granddaughter Deidra, who was visiting from Chicago. We enjoyed the festival. The event was filled with singers and music, most of which I had never heard of. Randy “Wild Man” Brown did a great job as master of ceremony,” she said. “He even had me on stage to address the crowd. I enjoyed spending time relaxing with people that I had never met before, but seemed like we had,” she said.
Terri Lynn, one of the performers said, “I have never felt so welcomed anywhere else I’ve traveled.” She continued,” Poe found our song BLUE STORM a few years back and reached out to me. We’ve grown to be very good friends since that day. Since then it continues to be in the top requested songs on the station. That’s why I have come here for the last three years and will continue to come.”
Steve Kolbus, a performer with Steve Kolbus and the Clarksdale Blues Review said, “The Unity Festival is one of my favorite festivals in part because Poe has been so good to me with airplay. His passion and enthusiasm for what he does and his genuine sincerity as a friend makes being here special to me on a personal level.” Kolbus continued, “Poe has done a great job putting together a very talented lineup pf musicians that are also really nice folks who are fun to spend time with and network with.”
This was the fourth annual festival and organizers are looking forward to next year’s festival. Some of the sponsors included Visit Mississippi, Ben Sims, Atsuko Shichiji and WABG Radio.
For more info, about the Money Unity Festival, contact James Poe at WABG Radio www.awesomeam.com or call 601 299-9150.
Story contributed to by Janice Adams.