Bluesman Vasti Jackson returned to his old McComb neighborhood Saturday and strutted down the double yellow line of Summit Street playing a Fender guitar while entertaining a hometown crowd that hours earlier celebrated the unveiling a sculpture in his likeness.
Jackson was the main attraction of the Summit Street Unity Festival, a revival of a popular block party that hasn’t been held in years and was twice rescheduled before taking place amid perfect fall weather.
Festival organizers joined forces with the McComb Creative Economy Partnership to make the statue unveiling and a performance by Jackson the main event.
“I am very glad to be home. It’s really an honor to be here,” Jackson said. “This is a wonderful honor for me, but it is also an honor to McComb. It’s not just about what I have done. It’s about what you all have done for me.”
The entire event seemed to serve as a walk down memory lane for Jackson.
“These were beautiful streets. This was a village,” he recalled. “When I was in the streets as a little boy, every mother and father in this whole neighborhood of Burglund looked out for me.”
In between songs he told stories about local people who helped shape his musical career, such as songwriter Larry Addison, the late bluesman Wakefield “Big Moody” Coney and band director Robert Vick.
He also appreciated the inclusion of the word “unity” in the name of the festival, calling it the remedy for the city’s shortcomings.
“We know about Mississippi, we know about Africa, we know about Europe. We know about the collision that brought people from different continents here,” he said. “Good people come in all shapes and sizes and all hues, regardless of the political affiliation.
“I know my culture and who I am,” said Jackson, who claims, African, Irish, Jewish and Blackfoot Indian heritage. “No one has to tell me that I’m mixed. Whatever God poured into you, regardless of how you got it, here you are now, so go forward and spread some love, some positivity and some unity.”
While Jackson’s set lasted a little over an hour, the sculpture unveiled on the southeast corner of Summit Street and Georgia Avenue will celebrate his legacy for years to come.
The sculpture is a depiction of Jackson playing a guitar in his trademark fedora and features a cutout of his tie. Gregg Harbison designed it and Southwest Mississippi Community College students built it.
“I didn’t know much about Vasti before I moved to Mississippi but I have gotten to know him a lot in the past few weeks,” said McComb Creative Economy Partnership president Calvin Phelps. “He cares so much about McComb, the kids and the community. I am just so proud to be a part of an organization that is honoring Vasti.”
As officials got ready to unveil the statue, Jackson asked for his relatives to gather around him and he introduced them.
Then he turned to Phelps, Harbison and Mayor Quoridiniah Lockley who were standing by, ready to pull back black drapery covering the artwork.
“I guess we’re fixing to take my clothes off,” Jackson quipped.
He then thanked everyone for their contributions to the project.
“I’d like to thank Mr. Calvin Phelps and I’d like to thank the mayor and everyone I know and don’t know for making this a reality,” he said.
Jackson said he hopes the statue brings a positive influence for McComb by sharing its artistic heritage and showing off its homegrown talents.
“As we continue to spread the word of Mississippi culture, of McComb, Mississippi, throughout the world, in digital media, in physical print and in stage and television, we look forward to bringing things here via the creative economy that will attract more tourism to the area,” he said. “We look at the aspects of self empowerment for the citizens of McComb in their creative endeavors.
“There are wonderful groups and there is a wonderful history here and I think this particular opportunity that you guys have afforded me, this day, is definitely about unity and what we can accomplish together.”