A music award ceremony honoring Mississippi musicians drew a record crowd at this year’s event.
Mississippi Music Foundation founder Peter Whitham said over 400 people paid to attend the 2023 Mississippi Music Awards show, which was held last weekend at the Landers Center.
“We had a huge crowd,” Whitham said. “Last time we held it, which was two years ago, we filled the theater at the Landers Center which seats 300.”
This year’s event was held in the ballroom. Whitham turned production of the show over to T.J. Cates and his wife, Jill Santibanez, who own a local video production company and have co-hosted red carpet events in Nashville and Hollywood.
“T.J. and Jill were magnificent,” Whitham said. “And of course all of our volunteers did an unbelievable job.”
He credits several changes to this year’s format for boosting attendance, one of which was the addition of the red carpet carpet walk where attendees could pose with musicians for pictures and experience what it is like to be at a major awards show.
“The red carpet was very successful,” Whitham said. “We had people lining up around the corner. There were a ton of people.”
Whitlam said moving the awards to the ballroom and adding food and drinks this year was also a big plus.
“We like the table idea rather than having it in a theater,” Whitham said. “People were able to move around and mingle with the musicians, which is what this is all about.”
The show featured over 40 musical acts who performed live on stage. Presenters handed out awards in a number of categories and musical genres recognizing homegrown talent in areas ranging from the blues to alternative rock. Musical celebrities Steve Azar, Jeannie Seely, and Ricky Medlocke were given Lifetime Achievement Awards.
“We had a huge list,” Whitham said. “And the presenters were excellent. We had most of the mayors, some state senators, aldermen, county supervisors, and they all did a great job. It gave it a nice local flavor.”
Cates said they already have headliners and artists calling them asking if they can perform at next year’s awards.
“We have one really big headliner lined up to entertain and are talking to a lot of other big names,” Cates said.
He said they learned a lot this year and plan to make some changes next year to make the show run even smoother.
“We might cut it back to 20 performers,” Cates said. “And I would like to see us cut it down to two hours and make the first half a nice sit down dinner before the show. So we are already thinking ahead for next year.”
Cates said he was thrilled by the turnout, noting that it was a chance for DeSoto County to experience the glamour and fun of being at an award show.
“Since this was our first year running it, I was a little worried when I walked into the ballroom and saw all those tables and chairs,” Cates said. “But as soon as the event began and people were coming in off the red carpet, I didn’t think we would have enough. But it worked out perfectly. This was something that DeSoto County has never seen. We have a lot of political events and charity events with one or two bands, but nobody has ever brought this kind of a mix of music or this level here before. It made you feel like you were at the CMT Awards.”
Whitham did not have figures available yet of how much money was raised, but said all of the proceeds go right back to the Mississippi Music Foundation for educational programs. The foundation provides free seminars, conferences, workshops, internships, musical training, songwriting collaborations, and performing opportunities to help musicians develop their talent and learn about Mississippi’s music history.
“It will go towards our music programs and next year’s awards show,” Whitham said. “These awards really help our musicians. They were thrilled to be recognized. Pictures of them holding their awards are all over social media. This is all for the artists and it helps the foundation and other musicians.”