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Music Museum back open, will be part of Oxford American event

Illustration by Ben Hillyer
Illustration by Ben Hillyer

The Delta Music Museum knows the blues.

This time last year, the fate of the museum hung in the balance of the Louisiana Senate, as it considered shutting down 15 state-run museums because of budget cuts.

The Ferriday museum was only open three days a week, and the museum’s staff had been cut.

But through several fundraisers organized by the Friends of the Delta Museum Foundation, the museum is now open five days a week and has been seeing a record number of visitors.

“We’ve had as many visitors as 74 in one day,” Director Judith Bingham said. “Before, we would hear that people were coming to the museum and there was no one there to receive them, so they would leave.

“We’re just excited as all to be back open.”

The busiest week since the museum reopened to five days a week saw 1,300 visitors, Delta Music Museum Foundation Director Rena Pitts said.

“People don’t consider the economic development when people come visit the museum, but it helps everybody,” Pitts said.

In 2002, the museum changed its name from the Ferriday Museum to the Delta Music Museum and moved to its current location on Louisiana Avenue.

With that move the museum also began to fall under the umbrella of the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office to fund operating and maintenance costs.

A decade later, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget proposals were forcing Secretary of State Tom Schedler to consider closing several museums as a cost cutting measure.

Reopening the museum’s doors with the help of private money, however, is only one part of Bingham and Pitts’ priority list. The two museum lovers also hope to revive the once-annual Delta Music Festival.

The festival, which began in 2002, offered a lineup of local musicians and the introduction of another member to the Delta Music Hall of Fame.

The festival occurred at the beginning of April except in 2011, when it was moved to the fall because of funding woes.

Funding for the festival had previously come through a grant that the festival didn’t receive that year, so the museum reached out its hands looking for support. The festival went on for one more year through donations by several Concordia Parish businesses.

Last year the museum hosted a hall of fame induction ceremony, but no festival.

Bingham said the induction ceremony will continue this year, but hosting a festival is unlikely for 2013.

“I hope that we could start the festival back up because it was a great thing that we felt was a great asset,” Bingham said. “But because of funding and budget cuts, we just can’t see that right now.”

Details regarding the induction ceremony are still being finalized.

The steps necessary to raise enough money to consider hosting another festival, as well as expanding museum offerings, involve spreading the word about Ferriday, Bingham said.

Bingham and Pitts will host Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne May 7 when officials from the Louisiana Office of Tourism will be stopping in the area for tourism awareness week.

On Aug. 3, Dardenne, tourism officials and members of The Oxford American magazine staff will return to Ferriday to host an event titled, “Great Balls of Fire: Delta Blues and Rock & Roll in Jerry Lee’s Hometown.”

The event is one of five events planned around the state to showcase Louisiana’s musical heritage. Similar events were in Shreveport, Natchitoches, Lafayette and New Orleans.

The Ferriday event, which is free and open to the public, aims to explore the state’s literature, music, films and food.

It will include a pre-concert party with free Louisiana-centric food, an evening concert featuring well-known and emerging musicians, moderated discussions and a screening of “Sunshine by the Stars,” a made-for-TV movie produced by Harry Connick Jr. that features 13 Louisiana performers singing the Jimmie Davis song “You are my sunshine.”

“We’re really looking forward to that event and hearing them discuss the importance of music in this area and along the delta,” Bingham said. “We’re really excited about it.”

The event will be at the Arcade Theater, 216 Louisiana Ave.