May 11, 2013

Random thoughts from Memphis and the 2013 Beale Street Music Festival

A cold, wet, muddy mess.  That pretty much sums up my three days at this year’s Beale Street Music Festival May 3-5 at Tom Lee Park in downtown Memphis.  But for my five faithful followers who deserve more details about the experience, I offer these random thoughts and observations from in and around the festival. 

This was my fifth consecutive year attending the festival.  I've survived three straight days of constant rain.  I've endured extreme heat.  I've sidestepped flooding in and around the city.  I've managed through an evacuation of the park due to a tornado that touched down in West Memphis.  But this year’s combination of cold, rain and wind takes the cake. 

I’m convinced the festival is somehow cursed with bad weather.  Maybe Tom Lee Park, the site of the festival, is located on a Native American religious site or burial ground.  Maybe a disgruntled bluesman put a voodoo hex on the festival after he was turned down from playing there.  Maybe televangelist Jimmy Swaggart has appealed to the Almighty to send a message to festival goers as long as his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, continues to play that devil music they call rock and roll.  I don’t know, but something’s going on here.

Despite skipping Friday entirely and missing all the headliners, I did see some great music.  Gary Clark Jr.’s show on Sunday was the best thing I saw all weekend.  Patti Smith was impressive, too.  Deer Tick was also very good.  And Davy Knowles, from the Isle of Man, may be the next really big thing in blues. 

You know attendance and vendor sales are down overall when you don’t have to wait in line very long for a port-a-potty or a beer the entire weekend.  Beale Street was not nearly as crowded as in past years, either. 

I have to wonder if the Memphis in May organizers will ever consider moving the Beale Street Music Festival to the following weekend.  It they did this year, it would have still been a week before the barbecue contest, and they wouldn't be competing the same weekend with Jazz Fest in New Orleans (or Cinco de Mayo, or the Kentucky Derby).  At least one more week into spring you’d have a smaller likelihood of snow.   

Outside of the festival, we were blessed with fantastic local music the entire weekend.  Well, I wouldn't call the 90’s alt-rock cover band at the Beale Street Tap Room fantastic, but they were very good.  Sometimes, you’re only as good as your material.  Still, not many bands try to cover Dishwalla or Marcy’s Playgound.   

A solo performance at Silky O'Sullivan's
The beer garden at Silky O'Sullivan's on Beale Street
On a related note, the blues in the beer garden at Silky O’Sullivan’s was superb. 

So was the Yuengling Beer … why can’t we get this beer in Springfield, Ill.?    

I honestly believe over the course of three days, our group spent more time at the Beale Street Tap Room than the Beale Street Music Festival.  And we were happy about it.  It’s also nice to know they continue to crack down on illegal drug use and sales – you can never be reminded too often.

Back to the beer garden at Silky’s … who doesn't love to see the famous Irish diving goats?  Or, drunken goats, as I call them.  They certainly get their fair of food and drink from the tourists.

If you’re ever looking for a spot to eat on Beale Street, I highly recommend King’s Palace.  Two of my friends had an outstanding pulled pork sandwich and catfish po-boy respectively.  And their gumbo, which they claim is award-winning, is spot-on delicious.

I also introduced some of my friends to Huey’s for a great late-night burger and fries.  Having been there numerous times, I branched out and had the equally satisfying Cuban sandwich.  Huey’s was also recommended to us by the bartender at the Tap Room, so it was nice one of my personal favorites in Memphis to get an honest local endorsement.    

At the Beale Street Tap Room, our hangout for the weekend.
Finally, as long as you’re with great friends, it really doesn't matter how bad the weather gets.  You/re bound to have an enjoyable, memorable time.  Cheers, everyone! 

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