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VOL. 132 | NO. 16 | Monday, January 23, 2017


Bill Dries

Last Word: The March & Crowd Estimates and Country Records in Memphis

By Bill Dries

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Twice now in the last six months, very different protests have drawn thousands of people to the streets in the largest demonstrations we’ve seen since the 1970s – and more importantly, demonstrations that are an entry point for a new generation to many of these issues.

Here is our report on the Memphis Women’s March Saturday as well as a smaller march Friday

Put the two alongside each other and you see some overlap in terms of the cause. But they also reflect some very different outlooks and viewpoints that many of those involved are working to try to keep together.

I also think the turnout at these two events as well as the bridge protest in July – while very different in their tenor and approaches – reflect a general political and social restlessness that was present, at least locally, before Donald Trump started winning primaries last year. The first visible representation of that dissatisfaction, to me, was the 2015 race for Memphis Mayor. And the dis-satisfaction isn't all one way. In the two previous presidential primary seasons here, the county was carried by Republican contenders who weren't those favored by the GOP establishment -- Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. Trump's February rally in Millington drew roughly the same number of people who marched Saturday Downtown.

This week, you will see a lot of efforts attempting to capitalize on the momentum from the Memphis Women’s March. Some will call for those who marched to get organized and “educated” which comes with a deeper ideological dive. It’s going to be too overwhelming, too much too fast and way too many meetings sitting in metal chairs listening to speeches for many.

Others will give it a try and may get involved on several levels. Still others are looking for broad alliances where they can find quick agreements to try to establish some immediate momentum.

And now a word about crowd estimates… That word would be “difficult.”

The range of crowd estimates Saturday for the Memphis Women’s March ranged from 6,000 to 9,000. None of the estimates hit the 10,000 mark.

Having looked at several overhead photos on social media that starting showing up late Saturday into Sunday from several Downtown high rises and at least one drone shot, I tend to think the crowd was closer to 10,000 than 6,000. It turns out this crowd estimating business isn’t an immediate judgment especially when the crowd is what I think we would all agree was “big.”

For a reporter working on a weekend, there is a choice to be made. Do you go high for that view or do you stay at street level? For me, it’s no contest especially given the march in July, which I thought initially would be a few hours and just a march from the National Civil Rights Museum to FedExForum. That also means it is hard to get a really good look at what you are in the middle of.

There are a few places in the Downtown landscape that allow you to get a view of a street full of people that looks up a slight hill. But with our hills, the slight rise comes with a slight drop off. So you might miss a part of the crowd that is just below the horizon.

Organizers said at the outset that 2,800 people had registered for the march. Yes, you can now register for a march and no, I am not making light of it.

In fact, the kind of organization that you see for events like the St. Jude marathon and the Race for the Cure were in evidence Saturday on the march from the courthouse to the NCRM.

So initially, the organizers estimated about 4,000 people were present. This was an estimate from the Courthouse steps, which although elevated didn’t see the crowds still coming from different directions – through parking lots and on the other sides of buildings.

As is always the case, some joined the march after it was underway either spontaneously or waiting for the march to reach them further along on the route.

And again at the museum, there were parts of the crowd on the side streets and around the corners of buildings.

One other note on all of this – Memphis Police used to be another source for the size of crowds. They stopped doing that long ago because it is a source of controversy from time to time – even when there isn’t a political cause at stake.

The police stopped making the estimates after some of the Memphis in May Sunset Symphony crowd estimates hit the six-figure mark in a city of 600,000 people for what was then a free event. Some analysis and a bit of mathematics proved that it probably wasn’t possible to get nearly that number in the park.

Tigers over UCF 70-65 at the Forum Sunday evening. The Tigers are on the road for a Wednesday game at Temple – always a good rivalry.

The cover story by Don Wade in our weekly, The Memphis News, sets the table for a Thursday Daily News Seminar at the Brooks – our annual seminar on the local sports scene. The keynote speaker is U of M Athletic Director Tom Bowen and he joins a panel discussion with Grizz president of business operations Jason Wexler, Redbirds general manager Craig Unger and Steve Ehrhart, executive director of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The story looks at how sports has become part of the definition of Memphis and a constant backdrop for the life of the city. It wasn’t always this way.

Meanwhile, the theater that had once been part of Newby’s and before that was a neighborhood movie theater is now a sports bar called “The Bluff” that will include live music and have some of the experience and tone of sports bars in Oxford.

Shelby County Commissioners meet Monday and on the agenda are a couple of trail easements for the Wolf River Greenway northwest of Walnut Grove Road on the west side of the Wolf River. We’ll be following that and other action with live coverage @tdnpols, www.twitter.com/tdnpols. Join us.

At Christian Brothers University Monday afternoon, the Rosa Deal School for the Arts formally opens to the public.

The national television show coming to the city to film we told you about last week is “This Is Us” – the NBC series garnering a lot of attention and critical raves for its ensemble cast and story lines that jump to different periods in the lives of the characters.

On Location Casting is looking for extras to play train passengers in what looks to be a shoot at Central Station on Thursday and/or Friday. The scenes take place in 1976.

In the Tennessee Legislature, our Nashville correspondent, Sam Stockard, has more on the early vote counts on Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to hike the state’s fuel tax. The answer from at least one key legislator is “Today, probably not.”

Also state Senator minority leader Lee Harris of Memphis doing a bit of road work in his bid to undo Haslam’s outsourcing proposal.

A national online real estate transaction data platform offers a different filter on the Memphis housing market. And that filter used by Ten-X shows Memphis last in the country’s 50 biggest markets. The Ten-X position is that our recovery from the housing bust isn’t as far along as the other cities.

FedEx has pulled a building permit for a $2.8 million upgrade of its air traffic tower at Memphis International Airport.

“We’re making country records in Memphis.” So says Matt Ross-Spang, one-time chief engineer at Sun Studio now doing some work at Sam Phillips Recording Service in a Q-and-A with Tape Op, a trade journal for those in the business of recording music. He talks about his work on Margo Price’s current album, which was recorded at Sun, as well as Jason Isbell’s latest project as he went independent. That’s quite a start with Price’s album judged one of – if not the best – country album of 2016. He also talks about the intricacies of working at Sun, which has a rigid rule of remaining open for tours and no matter who is coming to record, the sessions can’t start until 5 p.m. at the earliest because of the tours.

Meanwhile, get a good look around Sam Phillips Recording in this story from The Independent on the new Brent Cobb album that drops in March.

The Memphis News Almanac: Sam The Sham headlines at the Coliseum, Freda Ward and Alice Mitchell’s tragic end and improving the Penal Farm.

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