Depot Days preserves early history of rock ’n’ roll

By Kayla Baugh Published September 21, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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W.S. Holland is shown onstage at last year’s Depot Days music festival in Newport. Holland was Johnny Cash’s drummer for 37 years, Henry Boyce said, and will return to perform at Depot Days on Sept. 30.

— Dust off your blue suede shoes, swing your hips and immerse yourself in the rich rock ’n’ roll history of Jackson County at Depot Days.

The 20th annual music festival will take place Sept. 29 and 30 on Front Street in downtown Newport.

Henry Boyce, chairman of the Depot Days Committee, said the festival isn’t “just another local picnic.”

“Depot Days was conceived and fostered to feature and preserve the musical history of Jackson County, specifically the role Jackson County played in the early history of rock ’n’ roll from the late 1940s to the mid-’60s,” he said.

This year’s festival will be dedicated to the memory of Sonny Burgess, who died in August. Burgess was scheduled to perform at the event, Boyce said.

Burgess, an Arkansas native, was recording with Sun Records and lived in Newport at the time the festival began, Boyce said.

Burgess’ band, The Legendary Pacers, will still perform at the event in Burgess’ honor at 5:15 Sept. 30.

“Friday night is dedicated to the blues, and Saturday is dedicated to the more traditional sounds you would have heard back in the ’50s,” Boyce said. “There weren’t strictly a lot of blues performers coming through in this area, but the performers who were playing here were inspired and influenced by blues players.

“Blues is a major factor in the soup, if you will, that is rock ’n’ roll. You throw a little country in there, a little western swing, a little blues, and turn it all up. … What comes out is rock ’n’ roll.”

Boyce said U.S. 67, which runs through Jackson County, was once a hotbed of musical venues, where musicians such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash performed in their younger years.

“It’s a pretty safe bet, given the fact that all of these musicians were just beginning their careers — cutting their teeth, if you will, on their musical ambitions — that they were probably not the polished performers they eventually became. But the venues and clubs in Jackson County offered them the opportunity to play for audiences on a normal basis while rock ’n’ roll was still in its infancy,” Boyce said.

The Arkansas Rock ’n’ Roll Highway 67 Museum will be open for the festival from noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 30, he said.

Performers will be available at that time for photographs and autographs at the museum, 201 Hazel Street in downtown Newport.

Boyce said the museum has rare photographs, musical instruments, clothing and equipment on display.

Julie Allen, executive director of the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce, said the festival will also feature a wide variety of vendors, food and children’s activities, including inflatables and pony rides.

Allen said vendors will sell soap, art, clothing, jellies, crafts and jewelry, among other items.

Barbecue, burgers, corn dogs, nachos, cupcakes, seafood and po’boys are a few of the classic temptations festivalgoers will have to choose from, she said.

“We are nearing completion of the new downtown entertainment park and veterans memorial. Depot Days will be the first event featuring the new permanent stage, which means the festival will have an all-new layout and look,” Allen said.

“Depot Days brings lots of visitors to our community,” she said, “and boy, do they love to dance!”

On Sept. 29, a reception will kick off the festival from 5:30-8 p.m. at the historic Iron Mountain Depot in Newport for $25 per person, she said.

Beer, wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served at the reception, she said, and the Zyndall Raney Band will provide entertainment.

According to a press release from Henry Boyce, The Deltatones will perform at 6 p.m., Larry McCray at 7:20 p.m., The Memphis All-Stars at 8:40 p.m. and the North Mississippi AllStars at 10 p.m. On Sept. 30, a Lion’s Club auction will take place at 9:30 a.m.

on the Heritage Stage, followed by opening ceremonies at 12:30 p.m.

Musical entertainment will commence with The Jimmy Dunham Family’s performance at 1 p.m., J.R. Rogers and the All Stars at 2 p.m., the Zyndall Raney Band at 3 p.m., Ace Cannon at 4:15 p.m., a Sonny Burgess Tribute at 5 p.m., The Legendary Pacers at 5:15 p.m., the W.S. Holland Band at 6:15 p.m.,

Travis Wammack at 7:30 p.m. and The Matte Gray Band at 8:45 p.m., the press release states.

“What I like to say is, if Memphis was the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll, then Highway 67 and Jackson County were certainly the nursery where these young, budding stars became better performers and honed their skills,” Boyce said.

Staff writer Kayla Baugh can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or

None Kayla Baugh can be reached at 501-244-4307 or

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