Honoring A Music Trailblazer

John A. Lomax Amphitheater dedication ceremony remembers the legendary “ballad hunter” & celebrates community

MERIDIAN – Slowly people came up over the knoll, alone or in groups, and placed themselves on the cool, limestone blocks, or in the lawn chairs they brought. As they waited for the ceremony to begin, they conversed softly amongst themselves, taking in the beautiful surroundings and the Meridian Park with its monumental pecan trees in the background.

The beautiful fall evening, with a faint breeze and the slowly setting hazy sun, was the perfect backdrop for the festive but dignified dedication ceremony of the John A. Lomax Amphitheater in Meridian on Saturday, Sept. 19.

There was one common, totally unscripted thread that tied the variety of speakers together. They all congratulated and celebrated a community that came together to complete an amazing project aimed to enhancing the quality of live in the place they call home. Those many volunteers and committed community members have a passion for “Our Town & Our Tomorrow” in Meridian, Texas

In his welcome and benediction, Justice of the Peace Jeff Hightower was led to cite the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus offers the most important commandments.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, Jesus Christ said. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In Meridian, neighborly love moves mountains. And in the case of the amphitheater build, it was demolishing the old jail and bringing a dream to life.

It all began when the Meridian Economic Development Corporation commissioned the study and development of a Master Parks Plan for Meridian. The Master Parks Plan took shape with the formation of the Meridian Parks and Recreation Department to oversee it. And when Bosque County Judge Don Pool and the County Commissioners deeded the old county jail site to the City of Meridian, the plans started to become a reality.

Bosque County Commissioner Ronny Liardon was at the dedication ceremony representing the county.

“Nothing is as strong as the heart of a volunteer,” Liardon said, quoting World War II General Jimmy Dolittle. “We see that same spirit here. They never asked for anything but an opportunity, and look what a spectacular thing they made with sweat and hard-earned, raised monies and a bunch of good ol’ dogged determination.”

Liardon went on to commend the organizers for putting up a fitting monument for John A. Lomax in times when so many monuments are being torn down.

“Not one penny of tax payers’ money was spent to contract this facility,” Meridian Major Johnnie Hauerland said. “It all came together with donations and volunteer help.

“These are a progressive type of people with something in mind all the time, and there is no stumbling block they can’t overcome, even feral hogs tearing up the grass sod.”

Future projects are already in the works, including planting Mexican Sycamores, holly shrubs, picnic tables and decorative trash cans.

“From the outset, the Parks and Recreation board discussed the need to develop an initial project that captured the attention of our community – making the statement that we are for real and we will get things done,” Master of Ceremonies Brett Voss said. “We needed something that would add beauty to our town and function to the Master Parks Plan. And that’s when Jack Cameron’s vision took shape.”

Cameron, who spearheaded the amphitheater build, thanked all the organizations and people whose participation was paramount in getting the project completed. 

“Throughout our lives, we are impacted by events that imprint a memory in our minds so vivid, that years later, we recall the time and place we stood when we heard the news,” Cameron said. “The attacks on 911, and the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger are two examples. The year 2020 will be that instantaneous disaster that we will always remember, except that it played out in slow motion over a period of 12 months.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way. What if we look beyond the Pandemic and the Politics and remember 2020 as the year that we re-introduced ourselves to our families, we strengthened our faith, and we recognized our community for the role it plays in our daily lives? What if this is the year we begin to realize how important the people around us are, and bring the words neighbor and community back into vogue.

“If improvement is going to begin anywhere, it will have to begin in the country and country towns,” Cameron said, quoting Wendell Berry’s 1988 book, “What are People For.” That comment was greeted with much nodding and smiles “Isn’t that what is happening in Meridian and Bosque County? We see a community of people that know how to reach out and help someone in need, be a friend, and offer a hand. This park project is an example of that kind of spirit.

“As you look back on the year 2020, don’t dwell on the pandemic and the politics. But rather, be reminded of the park and the John A. Lomax Amphitheater as Meridian is building for the future while preserving the history of our past,” Cameron said in conclusion.

Bringing a bit of cowboy country to the celebration was “The Real Deal,” the working ranch cowboy who became so much more – a poet, a musician, and a renown sculptor, Jack Walker. He recited, completely by heart and with much cowboy flair, the entertaining poem by Sunny Hancock about the intricacies of horse trading, with one-liners like “the horse trader hadn’t lied none, but he hadn’t told it all,” building up to a hilarious punch line.

Bosque County has been fortunate to have representation in the nation’s capitol by a man who has been no stranger to county residents, U.S Representative for Texas District 25, Congressman Roger Williams. Although he could not be at the ceremony, he sent his field representative Don Nicholas, also well-known in the county.

Nicholas was honored to present Mayor Hauerland with a flag, flown over the nation’s capitol in honor of the Meridian amphitheater. This immediately had the Parks and Recreations members thinking of the next project – adding flagpoles to the park.

The celebration continued with members of the Lomax family, Suzi and Pat Makins accompanied by Bosque County Jail Administrator John Campbell, offering a fittingly-inspired musical interlude, singing some of the most familiar songs Lomax preserved for posterity through his work recording folk songs of all sorts.

Pat and Suzi carry on the Lomax’ legacy, this duo started performing the works of Suzy 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, and is sister to John Campbell. John showed his hidden talents as gut-bucket plucker and singer with a hint of Willie Nelson.

Between songs like “Red River Valley” and “Chisholm Trail” – many well-known by the audience, with the rhythm emulating the ambling gait of a horse – Suzi and Pat gave some background stories on Lomax and his legacy. The beautiful, musical interlude ended with elegant white egrets flying over, the “biggie” of Lomax history, the “Home on the Ranch,” in which the entire family sang along.

For those needing more information on what John A. Lomax was all about, Bosque County resident and film maker William Godby cut together clips from two National Public Radio documentaries on the legacy of Lomax’s work, illustrated with incredible photographs, audio and video clips, highlighting the incredible influence of Lomax’ work on American music.

“Without Lomax, American music would not be what it is today,” was one of the quotes. View the video "John A. Lomax: The Man & His Legend" on Vimeo here: https://bit.ly/364K1dR

And staying true to Bosque County’s strong spiritual roots, the ceremony ended with Voss offering a prayer, written by Parks and Recreation Board President Don Hatley.

“While we close this dedication ceremony, the life of this Amphitheatre is just beginning. We ask that you bless the future of this site, and bless the citizens who will use and enjoy it. May it be a blessing to all. We ask these things in Jesus’ name.”

While the Bosque County Courthouse will always be the jeweled crown of Meridian specifically and Bosque County as a whole, the John A. Lomax Amphitheater has become a jewel in that crown, and is ready to be filled often, with events like movie nights, zumba days, wedding vows and family reunions.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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