Future of 'Elsiepalooza' Fundraiser Uncertain
Saturday was Mother's Day beside a country road in the middle of Moore County.
"Elsiepalooza!" returned for its fifth -- and possibly final -- year with a day of music, dancing and fundraising for three local charities.
The children of Elsie McKenzie started celebrating their mother after cancer took her life. She had raised them alone after their father abandoned his family, working three jobs to make ends meet and still finding time to go to their ball games and volunteer.
So every year for the past five, Robby McKenzie has been turning the side yard of his home on Summerhill Church Road into a concert park, taking the stage with brother Steve to honor their late mother, Elsie Delores McKenzie, and to raise money for three local organizations.
"We thought, what better way to honor our mother and celebrate a beautiful fall day than with old and new friends and some great music?" Robbie McKenzie said as he signed T-shirts sold for charity. "When my dad left us, I was 13 years old. My brother was 10. My sister was 14. Mom worked three jobs. Us kids never knew how poor we were. She was PTA president.
"I played basketball. She was at all of my ball games -- working three jobs. She worked at Holly Inn as a waitress. She worked at Helen's Dress Shop. She worked at the Pinehurst Hotel as a waitress. She was at all our ball games; she did not let us kids know. At night, sometimes, I would see her crying in the kitchen. 'What's wrong, Mom?' 'I'm just tired, Rob.'
"We were just kids. She would not let us feel the poverty. We rented, but she wanted a home so bad. She finally got a home, and she got cancer. But then she met people. She didn't have anything, but she took these people into her home, because they were dying. She cared for them -- with nothing. She worked as a bartender, later. She met these folks, and they had no family. When they died, she took their ashes. We buried them in her front yard and would plant dogwood trees. Three people."
The trees still grow at that old home in Pinebluff. Her children decided to plant something else, a yearly festival of fun, food and music to celebrate their mother. They named it "Elsiepalooza" and it, too, has grown.
"It was a little colder, wetter this year and not as crowded," he said. "But we are having a great time."
At Elsiepalooza every year, the McKenzie Brothers Band has invited an all-star lineup including such local greats as the Randy Hughes Band, The Cowboy Band, Joyner, Young & Marie, Java Mules and the Hot Rods, among others. This year, the Sand Band came and stayed all day, playing until the setting sun signaled the last song and the last dance.
As in past years, all of the money raised through raffles, gifts, food and T-shirt sales is divided between The Arc of Moore County, the Sandhills/Moore Coalition for Human Care and the Sandhills Food Bank -- three local organizations Elsie McKenzie thought important. People also brought nonperishable food items to give to the Food Bank.
"All of the money goes to these organizations that meant a lot to our mother," Robbie McKenzie said. "In its first three years, Elsiepalooza raised over $15,000 for charity and brought in more than 1,200 pounds of food for the Sandhills Food Bank."
As always, Talbert's Catering was on hand sending the aroma of their freshly cooked barbecue wafting over the crowd. This year's 50/50 raffle raised more than $1,000 and kept folks on hand to the end, since ticketholders had to be present to win.
More cash came in from the sale of their now famous one-of-a-kind Elsiepalooza T-shirts. People brought their family and friends, along with lawn chairs to sit in. Most stayed all day, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The first band got under way at noon.
A set of wooden panels put together in the form of a checker board out in the middle of the yard became a dance floor, while the McKenzies took turns joking and playing between bands that took stage on a wooden platform beside the house. A friendly neighbor across the road turned his vacant field into a parking lot, and cars lined Summerhill Church Road out of sight in both directions.
This may be the last year. The festival has gotten too big for one family to handle, though they'd be happy for it to continue under new auspices.
"We'd like to come and play," McKenzie said. "It's gotten too big for the yard."
The Carthage Rotary Club is considering whether to take on management of Elsiepalooza next year, if a suitable location can be found.
"We have had so much fun over the last four years putting on this concert in honor of our mom, but I am sorry to say that I just can't continue to keep it at my home," McKenzie said. "This event has just gotten too big for my backyard."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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