MoonPie Over Mobile
The concept seemed downright crazy 14 years ago when then-City Councilman Fred Richardson pitched an idea to awaken downtown Mobile on New Year’s Eve.
That year, in 2008, the first so-called MoonPie Drop transpired when a large papier-mache replica of the popular Mobile Mardi Gras throw descended while a crowd of onlookers counted down to the New Year.
Fast-forward to this year’s event, and MoonPie Over Mobile is drawing big crowds and luring big-name musical acts. Organizers landed on Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue to perform during this year’s event.
A large crowd followed despite concerns over inclement weather and rising infections with the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Attendance at the New Year’s Eve festivity in downtown Mobile drew more than 33,000 people. That figure represented the second-best attendance since 2017, according to Carol Hunter who serves as president with Events Mobile, the non-profit agency that organizers MoonPie Over Mobile.
Of those attending, 20% or over 6,600 attendees traveled from more than 100 miles away.
“We figure many of these 6,600 people represented at least one room night and many restaurant meals,” Hunter said. She delivered an update on MoonPie Over Mobile to the Mobile City Council on Tuesday.
“Visitors from along the central Gulf Cost were expected, of course, but we also had folks from Texas, Maryland, New York, California, Colorado, Tennessee, South and North Carolina and Indiana,” she added.
Hotels also saw a boost in activity, according to David Clark, president/CEO with Visit Mobile – the convention and visitors arm of the city of Mobile.
He said the hotels in downtown Mobile were around 80% occupied for the one-night event. That, he said, compares to the approximately 15% to 20% occupancy if the New Year’s Eve event did not take place.
Advertising also packed a punch: A media monitoring survey from Visit Mobile showed a total reach of more than 300 million across all platforms, with an advertising equivalent of $3 million.
Said Clark, “The story continues to build, and we’ll continue to put more resources behind the MoonPie Drop.”
Some city officials want more with the 2022 event.
Council President C.J. Small said that New Year’s Eve, which falls on a Saturday, could be a multi-day festivity. Even if it’s not, the weekend placement of the holiday should be something the city capitalizes on and he’s urging Events Mobile and others to start planning for MoonPie Over Mobile earlier than in year’s past.
“We have to gear up and advertise earlier about our New Year’s in Mobile,” said Small.
Small said last fall that he felt the announcement of the headlining entertainment should be made earlier in the year than in November when Events Mobile typically comes before the City Council to make the announcement.
But problems with booking acts during last summer’s surge of the delta variant created an obstacle for Events Mobile. Hunter said that some potential performers “didn’t even return a phone call” when approached about performing on New Year’s Eve.
She said the group finalized the Trombone Shorty booking in late October.
“Hopefully, this year’s process will be less of an ordeal for everyone,” she told the council on Tuesday.
Mobile City Council President C.J. Small presides over the council's meeting on Wednesday, November 17, 2021, at Government Plaza in downtown Mobile, Ala. (John Sharpfirstname.lastname@example.org).
Small said this year’s event offers a “prime opportunity” for Mobile to extend the festivity beyond the single-night event. He said he would like to see hotels booked on Friday, Saturday and possibly on New Year’s Day, which falls on a Sunday.
“I believe with Events Mobile and other people at the table, we need to start this conversation soon on what we can make this weekend look like and make it the greatest MoonPie drop that has ever been,” Small said.
Small, in an interview with AL.com, said he did not support creating a mini-Bayfest out of the weekend. Bayfest was a multi-day music festival held during the first weekend in October in downtown Mobile before it was canceled in 2015. It ran for 20 years and was a popular attraction for big-name musical acts and entertainers.
The late Council President Levon Manzie had advocated for bringing back a fall music festival before the pandemic occurred, saying he felt the city could restore aspects of BayFest.
Small said that unpredictable weather on New Year’s Eve would create problems in booking talent. He said he would rather see a multi-day festival taking place during the fall and said that Cooper Riverside Park could be a site for hosting the event.
Richardson, who serves as the event’s honorary chairman, said there could be an opportunity to have the event spread out beyond the single night. He said it would take additional sponsors to fund additional entertainment, but he added that it’s something that Events Mobile will look at.
Richardson said that for the organization to book a headlining act earlier in the year, and to start planning for the event sooner, a financial commitment from the Mobile City Council will be needed earlier than in past years. The city funds Events Mobile through its annual budget, which does not start until the city’s fiscal year begins on October 1. The budget is not traditionally approved until September.
Events Mobile received $160,000 from the city through the fiscal year 2022 budget, and Richardson said the city spends about $268,000 on the event each year.
“I don’t think the city is going to withdraw funding for us, but the main reason we elect to wait before announcing (who the headlining act is) is because we get the city’s funding in October,” said Richardson, who served on the council from 1997-2021. “We cannot say for sure until we get the funding in our hands.”
Richardson said he is going to propose sending a letter to council members and poll them about their support and what kind of funding Events Mobile should expect for the 2022 event. And he said that extending the festivities to Friday night is a possibility.
“We could talk to Ladd-Peebles Stadium (officials) to see if they could put something on,” said Richardson. “It doesn’t have to be downtown. But if it’s an opportunity to make some money and give the people something to do, then we’d do something on Friday.”
Hunter said that planning for the entire event likely to begin after the city’s annual Mardi Gras celebration concludes on March 1.
“We’re going to start sooner than before,” she said.
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MoonPie Over Mobile