Hattiesburg conference to focus on growing economies through creative sector

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from Visit Mississippi

The fourth annual Back Stage Pass conference for festival and event planners in Mississippi and throughout the Southeast will be held Jan. 21-22 at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg, Miss. The conference is hosted by the Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA), Mississippi Arts Commission and Visit Mississippi.

Each year, Back Stage Pass produces a new program in a different city in Mississippi with original sessions and speakers to help community leaders and planners build and grow successful festivals and events. This year's conference will open with keynote speaker and Hattiesburg-based restaurateur and author Robert St. John.

St. John has spent more than three decades in the restaurant business. Twenty-seven of those years have been as the owner, CEO and chef of the Purple Parrot Café, Crescent City Grill, Mahogany Bar, Branch, and Tabella in Hattiesburg. He is the author of nine books, and for 14 years, he has written a weekly syndicated food column. St. John has been named the state's top chef three consecutive years and was honored as Mississippi Restaurateur of the Year.

More than 200 professionals are expected to attend the two-day conference designed for non-profit organizations, festival and event planners, fundraisers, Main Street directors and members, universities and colleges, CVB and tourism organizations, Chamber of Commerce members, and all others interested in putting on special events.

"Back Stage Pass focuses on planning for festivals and special events that reveal your town's authentic character through the sharing of ideas and like experiences with other event planners throughout the Southeast," said Bob Wilson, MMSA Executive Director. "We invite event planners from towns of all sizes to join us for fun, networking and learning as we explore ways to develop and enhance events that build community character and contribute to the creative economy and overall quality of life."

The conference includes an Artist Showcase featuring performers of the Mississippi Arts Commission Artist Roster, and additionally this year, performers from Alabama and Louisiana. The showcase will be held from 5:30-7:00 p.m. on Jan. 21 at the Thirsty Hippo in Hattiesburg.  Featured artists are Alan Sibley & The Magnolia Ramblers of Mississippi, the Homemade Jamz Blues Band of Mississippi, Eric Essex of Alabama, the Mithril Duo of Alabama, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas of Louisiana and Brian Sivils of Louisiana. Jazz artist John Wooten of Hattiesburg will provide entertainment during the exhibitors' reception at the convention center before the showcase.

“One of the shared missions of Visit Mississippi, Mississippi Main Street and the Mississippi Arts Commission is to nurture and promote creativity and creative development in the state,” said Malcolm White, Visit Mississippi director.  “The Back Stage Pass partnership is a great example of how government can work together to provide constituents with training and tools needed to build top-notch events that positively affect budgets and bottom lines.”

is open through Jan. 16. The early-bird rate is $100 if registered and paid by Jan. 7. On-site registration will open at 10 a.m. at the convention center on Jan. 21, with the opening session starting at 1 p.m. The conference will adjourn at noon on Jan. 22.

Exhibitors are also invited to register for the conference. The deadline to register is Jan. 9 (or Jan. 16 with $100 late fee). Exhibits will be open in the lobby of the convention center on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning during the conference. The 2015 exhibitors include: Dig Creative Solutions, Gulf State Presenters Network, Mississippi State University Extension for Technology Outreach/Clicks to Bricks, the Official Mississippi Tour Guide, Pyrofire, Resource Entertainment Group, RSVP Publications, Social South Magazine, Visit Meridian and Webz Advertising. Exhibitors may register


For more information about the Back Stage Pass conference, call 601-944-0113. Download the conference logo

, and view the conference agenda and register online