This past weekend my wife Nicki and I had the pleasure of attending the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi‘s 12th annual Crystal Ball.

This year’s theme was Star Wars and it was a blast! (Illustration by Heather Taylor.)

The event was held at The Arena at Southaven in Southaven, MS (off Hwy 51) this past Saturday, January 21st and featured dinner, live and silent auctions, music by Memphis Knights and Kevin and Bethany Paige, and a large gathering of 501st and Rebel Legion costumed Star Wars characters.

As we walked down the sci-fi looking hallway and through the space hatch doors we were greeted by many familiar Star Wars characters. There were also life sized statues of characters like Jar-Jar, Darth Maul, Yoda.

The Star Wars costumers were all more than happy to pose with the party guests, and CLICK! Magazine even had an area for free photos. And no- I didn’t dress up as an ewok, and that’s not Mike Norton.

Just inside the main ballroom area were¬† tables on either side of the entrance filled with silent auction items. Lots of great times again this year! We were also greeted by a server with some bacon wrapped shrimp- Mmm…!!!

Along the walls behind the silent auction were two 40 foot+ black light murals (by yours truly) featuring glowing Star Wars space ships, planets, and Bespin’s Cloud City. (More pics on my site this week.)

Above our heads were two large TIE fighters (Twin Ion Engine) doing battle with 2 X-Wings (Incom T-65 starfighters) attacking an inflatable Death Star with their lasers. The entire light show was amazing and gave the former horse show arena an out of this world atmosphere.

Off in the distance on the right side of the arena near the bar we could hear a familiar tune being played. R2-D2 and a couple of Jawas were with the cantina band.

At the bar drinks based on Yoda, Luke Skywalker, and Darth Vader (chocolate based drink which was delicious!) were available, very popular, and seemed to go straight to your head.

After a slight mix-up with our seats we found our table and sat down to enjoy a couple drinks and get to know our table mates which included some fellow volunteers and a member of the Midsouthcon committee, her 501st husband, and her friend. (BTW- Midsouthcon is coming up this March in Memphis.)

Our seats were near the serving line and soon we were in line. Vader Veggies, Tusken Raider Taters, Wookie Cookies, and more were on the menu. So was chocolate covered strawberries, Rice Crispy Treats, and more!

The Memphis Nights big band played while we enjoyed dinner. The band and fun food names got us “In The Mood” for Star Wars, and there was plenty to be had.

After dinner, sponsor/volunteers stars, honoree presentation, and the live auction (which had lightsaber wielding auction bid spotters in the crowd) the Imperial March (Darth Vader’s theme) played as a parade of Star Wars characters entered from the far end of the arena and marched down the middle behind the tables to the silent auction area at the opposite end.

The parade started off with some of the good guys, followed by bounty hunters, a sandperson, imperial officers, various troopers, and the man in black himself- Darth Vader!

The silent auction was announced closed as the sound of Vader’s familiar heavy breathing filled the space.

This was the largest “troop” of Star Wars characters I’ve seen in the mid-south. Costumers from Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, and more were there. I really hope we see more 501st and Rebels at future mid-south events.

It was great to have stormtroopers (TKs)- they are iconic, but it was fantastic to have such a variety of characters. I really got a kick out of seeing bounty hunter Bossk (which means “Devours His Prey” in Dosh), a Mara Jade (“Emporer’s Han” and future Mrs. Luke Skywalker), and of course Chewbacca the Wookiee– who was probably the most photographed character at the event. He was a rock star!

Mississippi (Rancor Raiders Garrison) 501st member and Crystal Ball volunteer Kevin Avent (Darth Vader) did an awesome job coordinating the volunteer costumers, and was a great Lord Vader. His wife Diane was one of the co-chairs and in charge of decorations.

Co-chairs Scott and Natasha Hollis presented her with a tiara on stage and thanked all of the volunteers. Big thanks to Lucasfilm for allowing them to use Star Wars as the theme this year. The Community Foundation crew all did an incredible job converting the arena into a classy black tie worthy event.

The even honored Dr. Mary Ellen Bouldin, who was born in Mississippi during the great depression, but became first (and only woman) in her class in medical school at UT. She even learned to fly to commute from her home in Clarksdale, MS to her practice in Memphis! She later helped to provide medical services to the Delta’s poor and underprivileged in her home state of Mississippi. Great lady!

After another trip to the bar for a couple more Darth Vader drinks, we ended the night by rocking out with with Bethany and Kevin Paige’s band. I’ve know Kevin for years now (and did the art for his “Stupid In Love” CD), but this was the first time I got to meet his wife Bethany and see them perform together. If you’re on Beale Street slide by Alfred’s on Friday and Saturday nights to catch them, or if your near Union and East Parkway in Memphis stop by Lindenwood Christian Church on Sunday mornings and join in as they rock that church!

Nicki and I had a great time getting to take shots of them and their band. It was one of the first times we’ve gotten to use her new camera to take pics of a live performance like this. Kevin came over to the side of the stage and invited me to come up and take shots up there! That was too cool. Nicki and I would take turns shooting pics all night.

I took a lot of crowd shots up there, and on the dance floor. It was a lot of fun to watch the audience on the dance floor have a good time.

Some were having more fun than others, but hey- can ya blame them..?! It was a Star Wars event of galactic proportions!

May the force be with you all!



(All ‘STAR WARS(tm)’ elements property of Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.)