Bruce James, the former Razorback football star, usually contributes to the Times with his football predictions about upcoming Hog games, but he gives us this music report from the opening this past Saturday of the Biloxi Gulf Coast Coliseum, which had been idle since Katrina hit late last August. 3 Doors Down and Lynyrd Skynrd were the co-headliners. Bruce, who had a home at Ocean Springs, Miss., nearby that was wiped out by Katrina, says:

It was a great show. Shooter Jennings was the opening act. I don’t know what his connection was except he’s been traveling with Skynyrd and with Hank Williams Jr. on a tour. They had festivities on the grounds to start off. They had beautiful grounds around the coliseum before Katrina hit, and the trees are coming back.
They had 3 Doors Down for the local folk and younger crowd, and Lynyrd Skynyrd for all the older Southern rock fans — 3 Door Downs being the local group from my high school, Moss Point. Both had individual concerts and then they came back together on stage for the big finish.

I know those boys in 3 Doors Down, their parents, and they came up in modest surroundings. They are from Escatawba, which is across the river from Moss Point, and everybody in Escatawba goes to Moss Point High School, but they won’t say they’re from Moss Point, they’re from Escatawba, they are proud of their town. It’s just a little community and a river two football fields wide separates it from Moss Point. My point is, my sister taught every one of ’em in grammar school, and they’re boys that money and fame have never changed. They’ve come back and bought land around there and they’re just country kids.

So, you had the hippies, the rednecks and the sophisticates, a combination of everything enjoying themselves. It all started in the afternoon around 4 o’clock and the concert started at 7. Then it spilled over afterwards to outside and folks lingered to daylight. It was packed, a complete sellout (the coliseum holds 13,000 to 14,000).”

And so, while New Orleans’ tragedy and rebuilding has been the stuff of major news for almost 11 months, the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which was undoubtedly harder hit (pretty much head on by the hurricane, from Bay St. Louis on eastward), slowly comes back to life as well. The residents, including the part-timers like Bruce James and his family who still live down there, deal with insurance settlements and rebuilding. Most of the quick rebuilding is happening with the casinos, we’re told, determined to be up and running bigger and better than ever dreamed. One who wasn’t there Saturday at the coliseum can only imagine the shared experienced of thousands of Gulf Coast dwellers, a great afternoon and night, a hoist of a Budweiser, a toast here and there, a celebration of Southern rock music, and the hopes that better days are ahead.