McAnally's "Southbound" keeps Hub City entities front and center

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The story behind Mac McAnally’s 16th album is legendary in the Hub City because it involves two legendary people – McAnally of songwriting and performing fame and Hattiesburg’s Robert St. John, the enterprising chef who oversees the Extra Table food program in the state.

Toss in the University of Southern Mississippi’s music program, and there’s 16 tracks of McAnally’s first album to feature songs that are arranged for a symphony. Other components featured in the album are the FestivalSouth orchestra conducted by Jay Dean and a rhythm section from Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band.

McAnally spotlights the FestivalSouth music offerings this week when the nine-time Country Music Association’s Musician-of-the-Year returns to perform music from “Southbound,” his latest CD release that features the FestivalSouth Orchestra. McAnally will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at the Mannoni Performing Arts Center Auditorium, 107 Southern Drive.

Adult tickets are $35; children (12 and under) are $10 with adult ticket purchase. VIP seating for the McAnally Concert includes a reserved seat at Mannoni Performing Arts Center and signature Cathead cocktails at Branch Cocktail Bar and a Meet-and-Greet with McAnally from 6-7 p.m. at Branch Cocktail Bar, 3810 Hardy St.

Tickets are available from www.festivalsouth.org; 800.844.TICK; 601.266.5418 and at the door, while supplies last.

The production serves two worthy causes – Extra Table and the University of Southern Mississippi's music program.

McAnally joined the production about five years ago when he and St. John both attended a charity fundraiser.

"While we were stuck in a dressing room while they were doing their silent auction, Robert started telling me about Extra Table, which he founded in my home state for underprivileged kids, of which we have many," McAnally said. "Mississippi has always been one of the three poorest states in the union – usually the poorest. I said, 'If there's anything you ever need, let me know.' And he said, 'Oh, I'm about to.'"

McAnally, who was born in Belmont, is using the proceeds from the album sales to feed less fortunate Mississippians.

"One hundred percent of the artist and producer portions of ‘Southbound’ go to the music program at the University of Southern Mississippi and to Extra Table," he said. "For every dollar that Extra Table gets, Robert St. John buys and distributes two dollars’ worth of food directly to kids who need it most. Some of them only eat what they get from school; they don't really get fed over the weekend."

McAnally is one of the most respected musicians of our time, elected to the Nashville Songwriters Halls of Fame, the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame and the Alabama Musicians Hall of Fame. 

The son of a high school principal, McAnally didn’t stickaround to finish his education. His mother, the church pianist, put music in his mind and he ran away with it, writing his first song when he was 15 years old.

His life is about his two families and the friends who have helped him along his 40-plus years in the music business. While the scenery may have changed for McAnally, the heart and soul of that Tishomingo County boy still remains.

“I haven’t ever changed the way I think about anything,” he said. “I have covered a lot of ground that I never expected to cover and I’m going to today. But, I’m still pretty much trying to do what my mama told me to do when I would walk out the door in the morning, which was ‘Make some use of yourself.’”

McAnally is fortunate that as a member of the Coral Reefer Band, he tours with fellow Mississippian and Southern Miss alum Jimmy Buffett.

“It’s like a second family, and they say if (Buffett) wasn’t overqualified, he’d be the CEO of a company because he’s really good at identifying talented people,” he said. “It’s an amazing group that we run with, he treats everybody well and we get along like a second family. We see so much of one another that it makes it that much more of a blessing. I honestly am around my second family more than I am around my first family, being so busy and going all over the world.

“I don’t want to trade places with anybody.”

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