Friday, July 12, 2013

Youth program strengthens tourist attractions

A pilot program that involves youth in tourism is underway in Brownsville. Through a partnership with Haywood High School and the West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center, students are evaluating local attractions and making suggestions for sustainable tourism.
The program is designed to strengthen local attractions by making them more appealing to a younger audience. At the same time,  students are learning the connection between tourism and economic development and how tourism can bring more jobs and people to the community.
To qualify for the Board, students in the high school's local government class were asked to write an essay entitled "Tourism: Do we need it?" The essays were evaluated and three students, Rebecca Pearson, Emily Pilant and Conner Coulston, were chosen to participate in the inaugural board.
Pictured, from left, Brownsville Mayor Jo Matherne, Rebecca Pearson, Emily Pilant, HHS Principal Dr. Jerry Pyron and Delta Heritage Center Director Sonia Outlaw-Clark.
Conner Coulston
The youth board was treated to guided tours of local attractions. Afterwards, students and curators sat down for frank round-table discussions about the students experience. Students asked questions and offered fresh perspectives and ideas about how to make a primarily history product more relevant to today's youth.
"It was very eye-opening to spend time with these students and to hear their ideas," says Delta Heritage Center Director Sonia Outlaw-Clark. "We came away with practical things we can do to better present our tourism products."
"You Are Here" signage to orientate visitors to their surroundings and give perspective to where historical events took place was among easily implemented suggestions. Other ideas included digital collections on websites and better use of social media.
"While we know we can't immediately implement all the ideas," says Clark, " we are confident that with fresh eyes looking at our attractions each year we will be able to strengthen our facilities and attract more visitors."
The program also has a hands-on element that gives students a chance to implement their idea or help with aspects of current programming. When a new board is chosen this fall, each will receive a t-shirt designed especially for the program by the inaugural group.
Special recognition was given to the students during Brownsville's May City Board meeting. Each student was presented a certificate of achievement from City Mayor Jo Matherne and HHS Principal Dr. Jerry Pyron. The certificates were also signed by Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Susan Whitaker.

July concert features the Blues

Brownsville will be celebrating the blues Saturday, July 20, when two of West Tennessee's most noted bluesmen take the stage at the Delta Heritage Center. Dr. David Evans, known as the "doctor of the Blues," and Elmo Lee Thomas, one of this region's top harmonica players, will perform live on the porch of the Sleepy John Estes home beginning at 7 p.m.  Brownsville's own 17-year-old Kelsey Byars will also perform during the summer music series "Concert on the Porch."
Elmo Lee Thomas and Dr. David Evans
Evans has been performing country blues since 1962, having learned directly from many of the old southern blues musicians. One of those musicians was Brownsville bluesman Hammie Nixon. Evans toured with Nixon for five years. He is currently Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of Memphis and is a specialist in American folk music, particularly the blues. In 2003, Evans won a Grammy Award for "Best Album Notes." He performs in Europe and South America, and can also be seen performing across the Mid-south with the Last Chance Jug Band.
Joining Evans on the porch will be Elmo Lee Thomas. Thomas is also a member of the Last Chance Jug Band and has been a driving force behind one of the Mid-South's most popular  band, Elmo and the Shades, for over 30 years. He is a Memphis native and attracts both young and old to his performances.
"We're excited to have Dr. David and Elmo back on the porch," says Center Director Sonia Outlaw-Clark. "Both were here a couple of years ago and it's magical to listen to them sitting on Sleepy's porch and singing some of the same songs that Sleepy would have performed."
Kelsey Byars
Following Evans and Thomas will be Brownsville's own Kelsey Byars. Seventeen year old Byars has a strong bluesy voice that is perfect for renditions of favorite rhythm and blues hits. Byars has performed at the Exit 56 Blues Fest as well as past Concerts on the Porch. She is a true Haywood County talent.

Bleacher seating is available or bring lawn chairs or blankets for the outdoor concert. Drinks and snacks will be on site. You are also welcome to bring a picnic or visit the surrounding restaurants.

Concerts are presented free to the public each month on the third Saturday, through September, at the Delta Heritage Center in Brownsville. For a complete schedule of upcoming concerts, visit