While some Memphians are still reeling from reports of the Crunk Fest melée at the Mid-South Coliseum a few weeks ago, promoter Larry Allen is readying the Mid-South Fairgrounds for "Hot Whips, Wheels & Babes," a car show and rap concert that will hit town Saturday, July 31st.
"Memphis is a great urban market," says Allen, undaunted by the negative media coverage that followed Crunk Fest. Allen is the CEO of the Birmingham, Alabama-based Rhino Agency, a marketing and promotions firm that has produced the Birmingham Heritage Festival for the last 13 years and represents the UniverSoul Circus, and he stresses that security is under control for the event.
"I go to all kinds of events, and I've seen a lot worse stuff happen at rock concerts than what supposedly occurred at Crunk Fest," Allen says. "Granted, the Crunk Fest promoters were young and might have been in over their heads, but I was there and I know what I saw. They did things by the book and provided all the security the location required."
Steve Fox, manager of the Mid-South Coliseum, agrees. "The media coverage on Crunk Fest got blown out of proportion," he says. "There were a couple of fights late into the performances, and security detained a few individuals. Outside, somebody got into a fight and was beat up. But it was a standard concert for us. There were no gunshots, major arrests, or drug issues.
"Sure, the audience was enthusiastic. That wasn't Perry Como onstage," Fox says, referring to Dirty South rappers the Ying Yang Twins, Trillville, and local hero Yo Gotti. "But it was really no different than a Widespread Panic or Korn [concert]. The wrestling crowd is the one I worry about. They do get violent," Fox says, only half-jokingly.
"We researched the other cities Allen has worked in," explains Randa Kahn, the general manager of American Park 'n Swap, which produces the flea market and special events at the fairgrounds. "They gave him rave reviews," Kahn says. "He's prepared this event thoroughly to make sure everybody will be safe and sound."
The event will have trophies and cash for the best cars, a bikini contest, and music from Three 6 Mafia and Criminal Manne, says Allen, who has already taken his car show on the road. "We did three cities last year. Birmingham, Montgomery, and Tallahassee," he says. "We have eight more shows planned for this year, including Nashville, Knoxville, and Little Rock."
Pointing to popular cable-TV shows like Pimp My Ride and Overhaulin', Allen says that in 2004, after-market sales for automobile parts are bigger than new or used car sales. "When you see a trend coming," he says, "you want to take advantage of it. We saw a growing need for people to express themselves with all the luxury stuff."
Does he buy into the bling-bling theory himself? "You don't really want to know what I drive," he protests. "I've got a '95 Mitsubishi Montero! But that doesn't really matter," he insists.
Allen's too wrapped up in the relationship between popular entertainment and corporate marketing to care about his own ride. "The entertainment industry is constantly changing, and it's the African-American population that continually sets the trends," he says. "Ten years ago, hip-hop was considered negative. Now it's controlling the clothing and music industries and affecting modern culture."
Because of the urban market's wide-ranging influence, corporations that traditionally spurned inner-city customers are now refocusing their attention. "You can't take this community for granted," Allen says. "African-American kids spend all kinds of money on wheels and rims, painting their cars, or fixing up the interiors with DVDs and other electronics. From a corporate perspective, putting on a car show is a great way of marketing to that particular demographic, which has traditionally been underground."
Allen hopes to draw a suburban audience as well. "We are primarily presenting "Hot Whips, Wheels & Babes" as an urban event," he says, naming local rap station Hot 107.1 FM as a major supporter. "But, by the time we do our show, we'll have as many white kids who want to enter their car in the competition.
"Memphis is a great entertainment city, and the numbers show that the trend for after-market [car-part] sales is already well established. It makes all the sense in the world for us to do "Hot Whips, Wheels & Babes" here," he says. "We want to come in and put on a great show and -- hopefully -- make this an annual event." n
"Hot Whips, Wheels & Babes" at the Mid-South Fairgrounds Saturday, July 31st, from 5 to 11 p.m. $20 admission; $50 to register for the car or bikini contests (registration fee includes admission).