May 20, 2011

Random thoughts from the 2011 Beale Street Music Festival

I’ve been wanting to blog on this year’s Beale Street Music Festival for some time, but work and other crappy life distractions had prevented me up to this point. 
This year’s festival, which is part of the annual month-long Memphis in May celebration, was actually held April 29-May 1.  It’s one of the most affordable music festivals of its kind that I know of, and the line-ups seem to get better every year.  It’s also fairly close, only a six-hour drive down I-55 from where I live, which means I’m sure to run into a lot of my musically inclined friends who are also making the trip.    

I made the trip with my favorite Gypsy, her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend.  And my first compliment must go to the Sleep Inn at Court Square, which upgraded our room upon arrival to two queens, making the air mattress we brought irrelevant.  I booked late (my mistake), but I’ve always liked this hotel – even if it is part of a chain – because the service has always been nice, and the location on the Main Street trolley line is very nice.  Our room on the second floor had a great view of the trolley stop and Court Square, a nice block of greenery in the middle of downtown.
For those who have never been, there’s a reason many call this weekend, “Memphis in Mud.”  The weather is historically horrible, and rain usually dominates the festival.  So, in a bit of karmic balance, Friday was easily the best weather I’d experienced in three years of attending – beautiful sunshine during the day, mild and breezy at night.  The trade-off (and the flipside was to come later that weekend) was the flooding muddy Mississippi River merely inches from breaching Tom Lee Park, the festival’s location.  Fortunately for festival-goers, the river did not crest until the following week and did eventually submerge the park. 
The good weather and dry grounds (up to that point) must have contributed to huge crowds Friday.  Or maybe it had to do with what they were advertising near the entrance …

I had never waited longer to get in, and the lines for drinks were just as long.  Fortunately, I made do and learned to “go large” to minimize trips.

I'm not intoxicated ... I'm tired.

By Saturday, you could tell a deluge was coming.  However, except for a brief downpour before Mumford & Sons, the weather held off.  But by Sunday afternoon, the skies erupted, people were running for cover, tornado sirens were going off, arks were floating downriver … ok, that may be a slight exaggeration, but nobody would have been surprised.  And by the time the rain stopped, the real “Memphis in Mud” had arrived. 
Still, the weekend provided many memorable moments, some of which I’ll mention in future blogs.  But here are a few takeaways from the festival itself: 
·         My surprise of the festival was Paul Thorn.  I had never heard of him before, but the show was excellent, and Paul Thorn was very personable and engaging with the crowd.  He was genuinely happy to be there.
·         My disappointment of the festival was Everclear.  Maybe it was because it was the first show I saw, but I wasn’t into it.  Just my own damn opinion. 
·         Jerry Lee Lewis may not be able to get his leg up on the piano anymore, but he can still play like “the Killer.”  But he really does NOT like beach balls in the crowd.  Who knew?
·         Rushing the stage 30 minutes before Mumford & Sons even start?  Really? 
·         It’s always worth it to spend some time in the Blues Tent.  I’m very glad I got to see the end of Big Bill Morganfield and his performance of “Mannish Boy.”
·         The craft beer tent is the place to go … if you can find it.
·         I was also pleasantly surprised by John Mellencamp.  He did an excellent job of putting a different twist on many of his most famous songs.
·         I usually try to avoid festival food, as I think it’s overpriced, particularly for the quality you get.  I’d rather eat from the many choices just a few blocks from the gates.  That said, Corky’s barbecue nachos hit the spot!
·         Avett Brothers may have been my second favorite performance at the festival. 
·         My favorite moment during the Avett Brothers show was going on a beer run, and discovering two dudes trying to push a beer cart through the mud as they headed toward the near right side of the stage.  I quickly joined a conga line of people following them through the crowd and helping them push toward their destination.  It also made the beer line a lot shorter and easier to get back to my spot, too.   
·         And Wilco was definitely worth staying Sunday night.
My work schedule willing, I’ll try to post more Memphis in the coming days.

No comments:

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...