- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) - The Mid-South Marching Band Festival got its start 50 years ago for a simple reason - there were no marching band competitions anywhere near here, and Emma Sansom High Band Director Rip Reagan wanted to change that.

When bands from across Alabama and Georgia take the field Saturday at Titan Stadium, they will mark the 50th anniversary of the competition Reagan started in 1964, which continues today under the direction of his son, Steve Reagan, band director at Gadsden City High School.

“Who would have thought that 50 years later, Mid-South would be going strong?” Steve Reagan asked.

The festival is scheduled from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $5.

The deadline for registering hasn’t passed, Steve Reagan said, but already more than 25 bands have signed up to square off Saturday.

“It’s going to be a super day,” he said. For the most part, it will be business as usual, but there will be some special recognitions.

Steve Reagan said there would be special recognition for the Arab High School band, which has participated in every Mid-South since 1964. He said he hopes his dad will be able to be involved, but is not sure if his health will permit it.

Looking back to 1964, Steve Reagan said when his father began to organize the festival, Chattanooga music store owner Bob Rush supported it financially, making a guarantee that nobody was going to lose money on the festival. Without that guarantee, he said, the festival might never had happened.

Rush’s wife, Willene, has been invited to attend this year’s festival.

In the early years, Mid-South would draw as many as 40 bands from across the Southeast, even from Kentucky and Virginia.

“There weren’t enough motels in town for everyone,” Steve Reagan recalled. He said band families would take in students from bands from out of town or state. “They would be calling around: ‘Can you take two? I can take four,’” he said.

There was a parade through town as the bands had street competition, then returned to the football stadium - then Murphree Stadium - to compete there.

“There were times Daddy and I would be leaving the stadium as the sun came up,” Steve Reagan said.

The number of bands coming to Gadsden isn’t as great as it was decades ago, because people have done just what Rip Reagan did 50 years ago - organized competitions closer to home.

Steve Reagan said his father and Rush settled on having the competition on the third Saturday in September by an unusual method, but one that seems to have worked over the years.

“They looked at the Farmer’s Almanac and found that for fall weekends, the third one in September is the least likely to have rain,” he recalled.

Over the years, there has only been one time that Mid-South didn’t go on because of weather - in a year when the weather service was issuing warnings for the day.

“We’ve had a few ‘Mud-Souths,’” Steve Reagan said, when there was rain during on competition day, but not enough or occurring at a time that it kept the bands off the field.

The long-range forecast predicts temperatures in the low 80s with partly cloudy skies for Mid-South on Saturday - with an excellent chance of great entertainment.

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Information from: The Gadsden Times, https://www.gadsdentimes.com

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