Lending a Hand to Local Talent: W.C. Handy Music Festival

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Posted At: April 17, 2013 2:12 P.M.
by Claudia Calhoun

As the semester comes to an end and the Alabama heat begins rolling in, I start counting down the days until my favorite event of the summer: W.C. Handy Music Festival. My childhood was spent in Florence, Ala., going to dance classes, music lessons and University of North Alabama sporting events; yet in recent years, Florence has become an even bigger music capital.

I grew up knowing about the legendary Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and all the popular artists who have recorded there, such as Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Jerry Lee Lewis and Alabama. Young musicians in the Shoals grow up hoping to one day record at Fame just like one of the greats before them. Getting their music exposed is the first step, and the best way to introduce music to the right ears is in late July.

The W.C. Handy Music Festival is the pinnacle of summer vacation. Starting around the third week of July, the festival lasts for 10 days and showcases the range of talent that abounds in the area. This year marks the 32nd anniversary of the music festival. The event is put on each year by the Music Preservation Society, which was established to “preserve, present and promote the musical heritage of Northwest Alabama.”

While the festival draws a wide range of artists to the city of Florence, it has also become one of the biggest tourist events in the area. In 2007, the W.C. Handy Festival was named Alabama’s Event of the Year at the Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism. Then in 2011 it was named one of the Top 100 Events by the American Business Association. Not only is this festival a perk for the city’s hotels, but also almost every restaurant in the city has at least one musician play each night. Personally, I meet friends and family multiple times during the week to watch friends play or just to see a show.

Although the festival may be small in comparison to others like the Hangout, Bonnaroo and Warped Tour, for Northwest Alabama, Handy Week is our Hangout. We support local artists and the artists who return year after year showcase their talent. Local businesses and many nonprofit organizations’ events that take place during the week also benefit from the influx of tourists and residents. Last year, I was fortunate to work at Helen and the Blues, the Helen Keller Hospital Foundation fundraiser that kicks off Handy Week featured a local band director and his trio this past year.

Even if it is still months away, my calendar already has a countdown until Handy Week. How do you support the local talent in your community?

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