Shoofly Magazine publisher Ellis Anderson looks back to the first Cruisin' the Coast event in 1996 - and her introduction to the Pat Murphy Band.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
It’s a classic car show that takes place in Biloxi, they tried to explain. But it’s in Gulfport as well. And it’s even coming to Bay St. Louis. There’ll be live music too! Do you have a poodle skirt I can borrow?
It was very confusing to me. An event takes place in a single location, right? And hey, even though I’d moved over from New Orleans with several costume boxes, I was sadly lacking in poodle skirts.
Later, we’d all learn that Cruisin’ was sort of like a progressive dinner party, drive-thru style. A large part of the fun for participants was, well, cruising. Antique or vintage car owners would register in Biloxi and have their passes stamped at each of the participating coast cities.
They’d all roll down the coast road in their antique cars, enjoying the scenery and getting a good gander at other collectible cars in the process. Slews of vintage automobile fans from around the region were expected to attend. They’d have the opportunity to time-travel back to when car seats rumbled and fenders had fins.
Except, there weren’t that many cars to look at in 1996. In that inaugural year, only 374 vehicles participated. Spread out across 70 miles of coast, the showing didn’t make an enormous visual impact. But I didn’t care – the festival was a huge success to me: I’d gotten to hear the Pat Murphy Band for the first time.
My neighbors had also clued me in about the band. I listened to them rhapsodize about Pat (you can’t help but dance!) and his wife Candy (Lord, can she belt ‘em out!), and the other musicians (those horns, the rhythm, the lead!).
I found out first hand when the Pat Murphy Band kicked into its first set on Saturday afternoon of that inaugural Cruisin’. I was helping a customer in the gallery, when the music from the courthouse stage slid in through my open French doors. The boogie beat beckoned.
I rushed the customer out, stuck a note on the doors and locked them. Next door, a large crowd had already gathered before the stage. With the courthouse as a backdrop, people swung and swayed and the burden of responsibilities and cares that every one of us shoulders got dropped to the ground as we danced.
When the first Cruisin’ was over, organizers might have been disappointed, but participants sure weren’t. They returned home to Hattiesburg, or Baton Rouge or Mobile and told their friends. Who told their friends. Who started polishing up their cars for 1997.
From 1996 – 2004, I watched each one of the Crusin’ events from the front porch of my Main Street gallery. The rest of the year, I rarely looked twice at the design of a ride, but during that week, the car craze proved to be contagious and I oogled with the rest of specators. For one whole week, Bay St. Louis, drenched in a lovely 1950s charm straight out of Mayberry, RFD, became a movie set from the past.
But seeing the Pat Murphy Band was always the highlight for me. Although the stage got moved eventually so it wasn’t right next door, I was always swaying in the crowd when they played.
The event's grown past anyone's expectations. According to the official Cruisin’ the Coast website, in 2017 more than 8,300 vehicles registered. Participants hailed from forty states. Antique car enthusiasts flock to the coast by the thousands, to catch the chrome, the costumes and the brightly colored cars, glistening under coats of paint so rich and syrupy, you can almost taste the fruity flavors.
Pat’s band has morphed into “Sippiana Soul” these days. John Bezou is still tearing up the lead, while Pat’s cranking on the keyboards and Candy’s reminding us all that while heartbreak is inevitable, music and movement and great friends make it all worthwhile.
Catch “Sippiana Soul" during the 2018 Cruisin' at the Beach/Court St. stage, on Saturday, October 6, 1pm - 2pm.
Poodle skirts not required.
For a full Cruisin' schedule of Bay St. Louis/Hancock County events only, click here for the Shoofly Magazine's Upcoming Events page!