Celebrating Community Accomplishment

With the completion of the John A. Lomax Amphitheater, Meridian Parks & Rec will hold dedication ceremony Sept. 19

MERIDIAN – It has been a long haul and plenty of hard work from numerous devoted volunteers. But finally, phase one of the Meridian Master Parks Plan has been prepared for a grand opening and presentation to the public.

As the dedication ceremony of the John A. Lomax Amphitheater in Meridian nears, the Meridian Parks & Recreation Board can only be excited about what lies ahead and beyond. The dedication ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 19 will serve as the festive culmination of months of preparation and a multitude of volunteer hours, while celebrating what the future will bring.

“Lomax is a very important name in the music industry history, and it is significant that we were able to secure the name and honor his legacy with the amphitheater,” Meridian Parks & Recreation board member and Bosque Farmer’s Market member Jack Cameron said during a meeting planning the dedication event. Cameron spearheaded the amphitheater project from start to finish.

In choosing a name for the striking structure, Cameron wanted to tie in local history with the location. Meridian sat on a Chisholm Trail feeder trail, and with it came the authentic cowboy. Those cowboys would sit around the campfire at night, eating their beans and bacon, as one of them sang. Besides entertaining the crew, the melodies would soothe the restless cattle.

A young Meridian lad was captured by these cowboy chansons, and started writing them down, preserving them for future generations what had been passed only by word of mouth.

It was the start of a lifelong preserving and promoting of American folk songs by “The Ballad Hunter” John Avery Lomax. Besides Texas cowboy country, his travels took him to the Mississippi Delta, recording the slaves chanting in the fields, and the development of the Blues.

Consequently, Lomax discovered many musicians, who were to become famous, like Lead Belly and Muddy Waters. Lomax’ work played a crucial role in the evolution of contemporary American music. As many as 10,000 songs, varying from cowboy ballads to Southern blues which “Ballad Hunter” Lomax gathered are part of the Library of Congress collection. The best known songs preserved by Lomax are “Home on the Range,” “Red River Valley” and “Goodbye Old Paint, I’m leaving Cheyenne.

A historic marker at the roadside park just outside Meridian on Highway 144 commemorates this special Bosque County citizen. With the approval of Meridian City Council July 13, the exquisite limestone block amphitheater will also bear his name, ensuring the Lomax legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of his town folk.

“All branches [of the Lomax family] have checked in and we are unanimously in favor,” John Lomax III replied to the request to use his great-grandfather’s name for the amphitheater. “It is a significant honor for a man who led the way to preserving thousands of pieces of our nation's cultural expression and awakening Americans to our common heritage.

"His son Alan and daughter Bess Lomax Hawes are both winners of the Presidential Medal of Arts, and three generations of John Lomaxes have also made significant contributions to American music. Again, thanks very much for thinking of John Avery Lomax for this fitting honor!”

Besides speeches by local and state dignitaries, Pat and Suzy Makins will present a musical interlude in honor of Lomax’ legacy. The duo started performing the works of Suzy’s great-uncle “The Ballad Hunter” at gatherings, and they were present for most of the Meridian Lomax festivals in the 1990s. Suzy was born in Meridian and is the daughter of John and late Ann Lomax-Campbell.

In keeping with the songs Lomax fell in love with as a young boy, Bosque County sculptor and former real-deal cowboy Jack Walker will present a cowboy poem selected for the occasion – or he might write a new one. And there will be a retrospective video by Will Godby highlighting the John A. Lomax legacy and his importance to American music.

Because of the festive occasion, Pokey O’s Cookies & Ice Cream truck out of Waco will be on site offering their delicious ice cream sandwiches – two freshly baked cookies with a big ole scoop of Blue Bell ice cream in the middle. Not a cookie person? No worries, they also have delicious waffle cones.

The public is invited to attend and celebrate Meridian’s amphitheater accomplishment and the legacy of John A. Lomax. Bring lawn chairs in case the amphitheater fills up.

Like all major projects, this one too started at the drawing board. Back in 2017, with Meridian Economic Development Corporation funding and Texas AgriLife connections, the process of possible park extension and town connectivity were researched with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Urban and Municipal Parks development department.

After presenting different plans to City Council, many months of back-and-forth and discussion followed with the Bosque County judge and commissioners regarding relinquishing of the old jail site. Then the step by step demolition of the old jail interior, and a spectacular bringing down of the walls with heavy equipment – dust clouds exploding as the wall slabs hit the ground.

Finally, the much-anticipated groundwork for the amphitheater and placement of the limestone blocks started. As the structure took form, nestled in the natural incline, it was already inviting, welcoming people to come and sit and enjoy some serenity.

With the laying of grass sod – in the pouring rain by many volunteer hands, young and old – and the irrigation to ensure the grass took hold in the hot August month, it finally dawned on the Parks and Recreation crew – Meridian has a first-class, beautiful, inviting park facility, for all to use and enjoy.

Further beautification is in the works, with ornamental trash cans, additional shade trees and a natural holly shrub barrier to the eastern park boundary. The intention is to offer monthly movie nights, schedule classical music evenings and acoustic folk music events. And the structure is the perfect place for a family picnic, a reunion or even a vow renewal.

Since donations towards the financing of the amphitheater are still sought, there will be a donation jar present at the dedication. The organizers hope that when people experience the natural, yet elegant beauty of the structure, they will want to become a part of it, by offering some financial support.

What makes the amphitheater more special though and quite the accomplishment is that the it came into being thanks to uncountable hours from a very committed group of volunteers, wholehearted city support and generous private donations.

Which brings the country song “Together anything is possible” by Darius Rucker to mind:

I hear the cry of the wind, Calling me to this place again; When I hear the music play and I hear the children sing; I know together anything is possible. Time would not slip away; We will get through all that life can bring, And I know together anything is possible

Together (anything), Right now I know, (anything), I know that (anything) is possible. Come on, I know now, (anything), Anything is possible (anything); Together anything (anything) is possible. Yeah!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKsJF2fW4R0

With the amphitheater and innate beauty being an important, very visual step, it seems that with “Our Town, Our Tomorrow” and the enthusiastic citizens coming together to make things work, anything is possible with regards to improving the quality of life in Meridian.

In an area that once harbored an eyesore, a jewel in Meridian’s crown now resides, right next to the crown jewel, the Bosque County Courthouse.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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