Saturday night was a beautiful night in Phenix City.
The Little River Band — or what’s left of the 1970s-era rockers — was playing in the amphitheater on the west bank of the Chattahoochee. It’s been 30 years since the band released a single, so if you remember the group, odds are your hair is getting gray and your body can’t do the things it could three decades ago when they were pounding out the hits.
The setting was perfect, despite a threat of rain that never materialized.
At the end of the show, the band sang its biggest hit — “Lonesome Loser.”
“Have you heard about the lonesome loser,
Beaten by the queen of hearts every time?
Have you heard about the lonesome loser?
He’s a loser, but he still keeps on tryin.’”
It was the perfect song in the perfect place at the perfect time.
For many years, Phenix City has been the lonesome loser to Columbus. In the early days, Columbus got the riverfront mills. Columbus got the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the Alabama-Georgia state line at the high-water mark on the Alabama side.
Phenix City got the gambling and prostitution. In other words, Phenix City earned a reputation.
Indeed, beaten by the queen of hearts every time.
But something is changing in Phenix City. You can see it — and you can feel it. It is obvious that the region’s newest venture, the Chattahoochee River whitewater course will not live up to its potential unless both Columbus and Phenix City embrace it.
And that is happening.
But it is more than Phenix City’s officials and its residents seem to have embraced the whitewater project.
It is attitude. Listen to Mayor Eddie Lowe, who every time he talks preaches a new direction for his hometown. The former Alabama football player seems to be channelling his old coach — Bear Bryant — by talking about teamwork and success. And he always includes Columbus and the region on that team. That hasn’t always been how turf-protecting Phenix City politicians have seen it.
But it’s not just words. Saturday night there was a huge crowd in the amphitheater for the Parks and Recreation-sponsored concert. Truth be told, it was more people than they were expecting.
And the people were thirsty. The beer line seemed to stretch all the way to Fort Benning. It was at that time you could see the new Phenix City attitude. Council members Chris Blackshear and Gail Head, both swept into office a year ago by people tired of the old regime, were at the concert. Seeing the need, both of them went to work in the concession stands. And worked until the Little River Band closed down the party with “Lonesome Loser.”
Blackshear was selling beer and Mrs. Head, a longtime time teacher in Phenix City, was selling popcorn and Cokes.
Roll your sleeves up and do it. That is kind of what they do in Phenix City these days. And it is refreshing.
As the Little River Band sang, “Sit down, take a look at yourself, don’t you want to be somebody,” it is obvious Phenix City folks are looking inward.
And they want to be somebody.
There is something happening in the Chattahoochee Valley and Phenix City seems to have made a decision to be a part of it.
The amphitheater is a nice place for Phenix City to continue the image makeover. It’s a venue that Columbus folks would be proud to have on the other side of the river. As the concert started, rafts floated behind the stage.
It is truly a unique place that wraps the history and the future of this river into a neat package. And it could be so much more. With a little work to the facility and a way to expand the seating, you could draw current acts. Imagine a Chattahoochee version of Chastain Amphitheater, a cozy Atlanta neighborhood venue that pulls in major acts.
Maybe that is a dream. Maybe not.
But one thing is certain, Phenix City is moving away from the lonesome loser days.
Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, firstname.lastname@example.org