This is a portion of an email I sent to Mayor Jerry Mays of Phil Campbell. I wanted to propose to him a way the town can keep the Phil Campbells coming back to Phil Campbell every year (does that sound too much like the swallows returning to Capistrano?). Anyway, the idea was accepted by folks in the town, including the Hoedown organizer Rita Barton, so it looks like I’ve helped start a brand-new tradition in the town of Phil Campbell, Alabama!
WHAT HAPPENS LATER?
After the “I”m with Phil” documentary coverage is over, it’ll be hard to keep attention on Phil Campbell, AL in the same way as before. That’s to be expected. But it brings me to another idea I had, have had for quite some time. I am proposing that the town of Phil Campbell begin a new tradition during its Hoedown.
Seventeen years ago, when I organized the first Phil Campbell Convention, the mayor at that time approached me and asked me to keep organizing PC Conventions every year. I told him I wasn’t interested, mostly because I didn’t think it would work. You just wouldn’t be able to convince two dozen Phil Campbells to return to Phil Campbell every single year. For one, people are busy, and Phil Campbell isn’t the easiest place in the world to get to if you live outside the South. For another, there just aren’t enough Phil Campbells in America (much less the world) to guarantee that you could attract ‘new’ Phil Campbells to your town every year for a big local event. But the mayor at that time ignored my advice and went ahead anyway; he tried to keep inviting Phil Campbells back. And some came, but not many. And after a few years, the idea died, for the reasons I just stated, and the town decided instead to throw a town festival for itself every year, without the Phil Campbells. Thus the town’s Hoedown was born.
OK, so we’re now in the year 2012. And clearly there are more Phil Campbells to invite for another Phil Campbell Convention, but by my estimation there are still not enough to hold an annual Phil Campbell Convention of a decent size. The PCs who came in 2011 can’t all come back — not even I can come back this year! And yet – the town has formed some solid bonds with Phil Campbells around the world. And unlike back in the ‘90s, the town has an annual Hoedown to celebrate. It would be good to keep getting Phil Campbells to come back to Phil Campbell — but how?
Here’s my idea. Starting for the 2013 Hoedown, a year after the “I’m with Phil” documentary is done and two years after the tornado, the town begins a new tradition. In this tradition, one, and only ONE, Phil Campbell is specially invited to Phil Campbell, Alabama. This Phil Campbell is picked by lottery, or some other relatively fair or random system. This Phil Campbell becomes THE Phil Campbell for the Hoedown. He is “Mayor Phil” or “King Phil” or something. He (or she, as I don’t think you should exclude Phyllises or Fils or what-not) is put at the head of the Hoedown Parade, placed in importance above everyone else. This Phil Campbell is treated well, with all kinds of additional, even silly, traditions and rituals added to make this Phil Campbell feel like a king. If the Phil you’ve invited can’t afford to make the trip, you buy his/her plane ticket. You offer him/her a place to stay in town. There should be an over-the-top feel to the whole thing, because this is a tradition that will help people remember the town. It’s a tradition that would end up in tourism guidebooks, which would write, “If you’re in NW Alabama in June, be sure to stop by Phil Campbell, Alabama during their Hoedown, where a visiting person named Phil Campbell is treated like Southern royalty…” The event itself gains the kind of funny legitimacy as the Corn Palace Festival in Mitchell, South Dakota or – dare I say?—Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pa (Matter of fact, why not have that random Phil always be quoted in the local papers to give a competing prediction as Punxsutawney Phil? Why not? We Phil Campbells are smarter than a groundhog!).
The thing is, this kind of event would have to be taken with a lot of silly seriousness. You have to repeat the same rites and traditions to turn them into real annual traditions. Make sure the local and state papers always cover who this new Phil Campbell is, where he/she hails from, along with a Groundhog-Day like question. I can help with the media attention after the documentary is all done (committed to DVD, etc.).
It would be a LOT of fun for everyone in town, who will help make up the rituals and traditions that surrounded the event, to give Phil Campbell Day its own Alabama flavor.
This isn’t to exclude other Phil Campbells on that day. Any and all Phil Campbells are invited. The ones who come on their own to see what the fuss is all about would get special hats or sashes or something, to separate them out from the townspeople, and maybe they would get special consideration in the lottery for the following few years of Hoedowns. But THE Phil Campbell who is really chosen would get all the extra perks that the town can imagine (a small gift from every participating resident? I’m just throwing out ideas!).
OK. That’s my idea. I hope I’m not coming across as arrogant or presumptuous by “telling everyone what to do,” but at this point I can’t really help myself – people in town have made me feel most welcome, as if I have a say like a voting resident. And I really do want to see the town of Phil Campbell prosper like it never has before. And I think a tradition like the one I’ve outlined about, while silly, could be one of those civic events that would help the town’s morale as well as bring it some lasting attention, all of which are positive things in these times.