By STEVE SWOGETINSKY
About 50 members of the state legislature traveled to Philadelphia last week to visit Marty Stuart’s Country Music Congress at the newly renovated Ellis Theater.
State Representative C. Scott Bounds and State Senator Jenifer Branning, both of Philadelphia, co-hosted the event. Stuart was in attendance and gave a solo concert for the lawmakers. Members of the Congressional Board of Directors were there along with Mayor James Young, Chief Cyrus Ben of the Choctaw Indian Band of Mississippi and other local leaders.
“We had arranged a trip of lawmakers just to see the Ellis,” Bounds said. “The Legislature appropriated the money for the renovation of the Ellis. This was done with government bond funds. We wanted to give members a chance to see what their money was doing for them.
“About 45 members came by bus. They visited the Ellis Theater. Marty happened to be in town and gave a solo performance. And then we went back to Jackson.
Senator Branning said that since around 2014, the state has invested about $8 million in the project in different tranches. Branning and Bounds said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“They loved it,” Branning said. “They were blown away by the progress we made in Philadelphia. They think the Ellis is going to be a great asset and they were very happy for us.
“Those who saw it for the first time were really put off by its appearance, design and beauty,” Bounds said. “We also explained the economic development things that were happening because of the renovation. It all plays into the project and all the things it can be.
The historic Ellis Theater reopened in early December 2022 as part of the first phase of the Marty Stuart Country Music Congress. Stuart along with fellow Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill headlined opening weekend to sold-out crowds.
With the reopening of the Ellis Theater, Phase 1 of the Country Music Congress is complete and fundraising for Phase 2 of the $40 million project has begun. When the money is in hand, work will begin on a three-story building located on the north side of the Ellis Theater behind the Main Street entrance, which will house Stuart’s large collection of country music artifacts and a music center. ‘education. This will fit into the Ellis Theater which draws sold-out crowds for every performance.
“The crowds for the shows have been exceptional,” Branning said. “Everyone (the visiting legislators) spoke about the quality of the construction of the building and the artistic touch in the details inside the building which tells the story of country music and the history that unites the community for this purpose.
“But not only that, it’s the economic boom that we see among downtown merchants. Sales tax collections for the city of Philadelphia were higher than ever before.
Mayor Young said it was a great day for Philadelphia.
“We had a great turnout from lawmakers,” Young said. “It was a great opportunity for them to see their investments in our city.”