Photo by Michael Barrett
Business as usual was joyfully interrupted with the sounds of bluegrass strings on Dec. 21 in what is said to be the newest Christmas tradition at the Mississippi State Capitol – an old fashioned Christmas concert.
Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Jess Dickinson and his band, Bluegrass Appeal, accompanied by former senator and Gov. Haley Barbour staffer Charles Pittman on guitar and vocals, entertained a crowd in the rotunda of the New Capitol building in what will be a tradition for years to come. Sid Salter of SuperTalk Mississippi’s “On Deadline” acted as master of ceremonies, while his 7-year-old grandson, Rowan Russell of Forest, played the bells.
“Justice Dickinson and I were on Sid’s talk radio show earlier in the month and we played some Christmas carols,” Pittman said. “It came up in general conversation that those string instruments would really sound good in that rotunda; it’s solid marble.”
Pittman and Dickinson are not new to the music scene. Pittman founded Mississippi’s Original Singing Senators and has played in the senate chamber numerous times, though never in the rotunda. In 2009, he recorded “Six Decades of Music” and donated 100 percent of the proceeds to Palmer Home for Children and the Mississippi Sheriffs Boys and Girls Ranch.
Before he became an attorney, Dickinson was a studio musician, performing with national acts such as B.J. Thomas. He plays the hammered dulcimer for Bluegrass Appeal, alongside Janet Dickinson (vocals), Joe Thornton (fiddle), Coleman Stewart (guitar), James Stewart (mandolin) and Steve Thornton (bass).
Bluegrass Appeal performed instrumental versions of classic hymns such as “O Holy Night” and “What Child is This?” while Salter narrated the Christmas story. Pittman sang “White Christmas,” “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’ ” and “Blue Christmas.”
“What’s Christmas in Mississippi without one Elvis song, right?” Pittman said.
Next year, the Old Fashioned Mississippi Christmas String Concert might take place during the candlelight tour of the Capitol or at the Old Capitol building, he said.
“We had a crowd,” Pittman said. “When we started playing, people emptied out of their offices and started leaning over the rotunda, watching us.”