Busy weekend events brought desperately missed life back into Memphis

Cooper Young Fest and UofM Football game brings over 100,000 within a mile radius
Published: Sep. 18, 2021 at 9:32 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - On Saturday, you almost couldn’t tell what Memphians and Mid-Southerners were attending off of East Parkway South, the Cooper Young Festival or the Memphis Tigers football game. They were so close together.

Whichever it was, the sights and smells that come with festivals and tailgating were in the air in this part of Memphis.

“It’s just everybody’s neighborhood,” said Tamara Cook.

Cook is the Executive Director of the Cooper Young Business Association, the group that puts on the festival.

It’s a year-long job for Cook, lining up the acts, vendors, and security protocols for the day-long event.

“We’re one of the only festivals in town that only has local Memphis music and bands,” she said. “That’s what we’re all about, supporting Memphis, supporting Mid-Town, supporting the diversity.”

The festival, according to Cook, typically attracts around 130,000 people, but the rain put a damper on attendance in the morning and early afternoon.

With that, only half of the expected attendance found its way to Cooper Young, but it’s an attendance Cook and her team of organizers were happy to see, after a year of having none at all due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m glad everybody came,” Cook said. “We’ve got some die-hard, great people that are with us every year that make fabulous arts and crafts.”

On the subject of COVID-19, Cook and staff were busy passing out masks, separating vendors -- Cook said they had to cut the list of vendors down by 100 this year because of concerns -- and setting up hand sanitizing stations for adults and kids.

Across the parkway, fans for University of Memphis entered the Liberty Bowl to watch the Tigers play Mississippi State in a wild Saturday win.

Tailgaters we spoke with outside the stadium during the game were happy just to be within an earshot of the action, even if that meant celebrating in a house divided.

“Our next-door neighbors, they are big-time state fans, season ticket holders,” said Chris Wicker, a UofM alumnus. “They’re playing us, so we decided to join up.”

Funny enough, it was Wicker’s neighbors, the MSU fans, who were in the stadium watching the game, while Wicker and his UofM tailgate crew watched from a tv in the tailgate of a truck.

It’s a tradition his family holds in high-esteem.

“Last year was tough,” Wicker said with his two kids on either side of him. “We missed it. You know, this is a family thing. We’ve done this since before (my daughter) was born and since (my son) was months old.”

Though at separate events, it’s expected both Wicker and Cook would agree that it’s good to see these large events back in motion in Memphis for all who want to attend.

“The food and the drinks and everything, it’s part of it, but it’s the people,” Wicker said. “You know, we do it for the friends and family, the connections. It’s just good to see all the people we’ve known out here for so long. That’s why we do it.”

“It means everything to us,” Cook said, choking up. “Just to have the support of all these people, there’s nothing like it.”

Cook estimates, when all is said and done, the festival will raise around $150,000.

This is the only type of fundraiser Cooper Young holds, and Cook said all the money goes right back into the community’s infrastructure, further ensuring more festivals are held in the future.

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