BILOXI -- On a sun-filled Monday, MGM Park hosted its biggest crowd to date, officials told the audience gathered for Battle of the Bands, an annual tradition that caps a Coastwide celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
Many in the crowd, estimated at 7,500, strolled into the stadium from the streets of downtown Biloxi, where 62 units rolled in the MLK Day parade that precedes Battle of the Bands.
Participants filled the stadium seats and packed the concourse, with more still in line for $1 tickets after the celebration started.
The Battle of the Bands, featuring powerhouse performers from Alcorn State University, capped a weekend of events organized by the MLK Coastwide Celebration Committee for the 30th anniversary of the nation's MLK holiday. Proceeds from ticket sales go to the committee for future celebrations.
James Watts of Gulfport rode in the parade with about 30 others from his Down South Burners motorcycle chapter, who then headed for the stadium. Watts said he was glad he could celebrate King's legacy as the civil rights movement's most prominent leader.
"Had it not been for him," Watts said, "we probably couldn't have these types of gatherings. It means a lot to us to show appreciation for all he did for us."
On the field, Down South Burners presented a $1,000 check to the MLK committee after several public officials spoke, including Biloxi Mayor Fofo Gilich, Harrison County Supervisor Kent Jones, state Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes and, representing the Obama administration, Lawrence Romo, state director of the Selective Service System.
The Battle of the Bands included performances by two charter school bands from New Orleans, McKinley High School Band from Louisiana, the Moss Point High School Band, Talledega College Band from Alabama and Alcorn's Sounds of Dyn-O-mite marching band.
The celebration also included a short film about King's life and his embrace of nonviolent protest to advance civil rights.
Participants were urged to honor King's memory by registering to vote. Members of a group called 1 Flag for All were asking people to sign petitions that call for removal of the Confederate emblem from Mississippi's state flag.