Everyone tried to tell me. Graziano tried to describe it to me and of course I had already heard of Porretta from Solomon Burke, Dan Penn, Michael Toles and Rufus and Marvel Thomas. But I could never have imagined what it was like until I experienced it in person. Seeing 10,000 people gathered in Rufus Thomas Park on a hill gradually receding into the darkness is one thing. But seeing Rufus Thomas signing autographs for everyone, from eight to eighty, greeted on the streets as Rufolone by young and old, is a whole different story.
At one point I said to Rufus: “I knew they called the park by your name, but I didn’t know it was yours.” He gave me a chuckle and winked at me, but he didn’t deny the statement. I will never forget these soulful people I met in Porretta. And I will never forget the respect with which they have welcomed music and musicians. Everyone in Memphis should see how their native music is treated in Porretta. At a time when houses are being demolished, monuments are erected in Porretta. But most significantly, music is honored in a way it deserves, musicians are recognized not just for stardom but for their contributions.
For me Porretta was a soulful break – the kind of feeling I never thought I’d feel and how I believe things should be (not necessarily the way they usually are). I think Dan Penn expressed it best: “at a time when a place for joy is becoming very difficult to find… there is a place in Porretta,” he sang – a place (a mood?) where respect and grace are everywhere “. I respect that emotion. I hope to see my many friends, old and new, in Porretta next year.
Peter Guralnick, November 1995