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COMMENTARY: Rey Flemings Gets Lucky



New Orleans’ misfortune may have served as Rey Flemings’ Christmas present. Because of hurricane Katrina, the Voodoo Festival of New Orleans needed an emergency location for their festival at the end of October and chose Memphis out of convenience and necessity.

And Flemings needed an emergency fix for his unimpressive two-and-a-half year run, first as head of the Memphis Music Commission and now as the head of the new Memphis Music Foundation funded by Memphis Tomorrow. Regardless of how Flemings has performed, the hurricane may have saved his job.

Much in the way that Flemings took public credit last July for the filming of an MTV Memphis Block Party episode about Hustle and Flow (he seemed not to know that MTV financed the now celebrated film and was putting all of its marketing muscle into ensuring its success – to the point of filming a promotional hip-hop show locally!), Flemings will no doubt be parading the Voodoo Festival as the plum the music commission and foundation have desperately been seeking for years with their public funds. For its part, the foundation may be tempted to see this one-time event as proof of Flemings’ stellar work, as a reason to keep him around for at least another year or two.

Of course, the foundation was seemingly enamored of Flemings even before New Orleans, or else they would surely not have selected him to spearhead their end-around of the Music Commission. Before this festival, Flemings had failed to accomplish much on behalf of Memphis music. He struck out on his two major initiatives -- getting MTV to host its video awards in Memphis and staging a major concert in Memphis so as to celebrate fifty years of rock ‘n roll in the city. The only major coup Flemings has achieved has been in leapfrogging from the moribund Music Commission to the less accountable and more Byzantine structure of the Memphis Music Foundation

Almost a year ago, Flemings, who was originally touted as a technology whiz, told me the Music Commission’s Web site would be operating by January, 2005. Today, the site remains unchanged, and in the same uninformative and useless state it has been in for almost four years. The site’s one and only page informs us boldly: “We’re re-establishing Memphis’ Music Industry” Yes, and apparently in the same manner and with the same pace that Bush and Brownie have been saving Katrina victims. Does the Memphis Music Commission, in any real sense, still exist?.

New Orleans’ Voodoo Festival had to land somewhere. Much as was the case with the Grizzlies’ stay at the Pyramid, the financial rewards for the city could be modest at best, given the city’s historical largesse in comping security, rent, and various other amenities for out-of-town corporations. There will probably be a few production jobs that week for locals, and a few Memphis acts will be added on the venue, but the long-term Memphis music impact of this festival will be negligible. Its real long-term impact on the Memphis music world could be that Rey Flemings gets a new lease on life locally.

Unless and until Flemings can get a true Web site going, develop an indigenous Memphis music festival on a par with the Voodoo Festival, or build some other equally needed quality music platform for Memphis, then he should count himself lucky that he is still employed. What Memphis music really needs, though, is a person who can block and tackle -- not merely dream up high-sounding schemes that never quite come to fruition.

After two and a half years of minimal results (added on to the previous ineptitude of former Music Commission head Jerry Schilling), Memphis musicians, music businesses, and taxpayers deserve better. As they say, it’s better to be lucky than good – and surely better to be lucky than unlucky.

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