Day 1

The 42nd Beale Street Music Festival kicked off quietly in Memphis on May 4th, under overcast skies with a threat of rain. One of America’s oldest music festivals it has consistently ranked in the Top 10 of the most prominent music magazines listings.

The three-day event unfolds each year on the first week of May, in Downtown Memphis at the end of world-famous Beale Street in the tree-lined Tom Lee Park. The river bluff park affords a spectacular view of the impressive Mississippi River. The event also has to be one of the most affordable and eclectic music festivals in the country, with single day tickets going for $65 and three-day passes offering a more significant daily discount, the five-stage festival offers up music from nearly every pop music genre. Perhaps the most genuine and historic sounds come from legendary Blues icons, many of whom call Memphis home. The historic city is the birthplace of Blues in America, with its infectious roots music sounds spreading up and down one of the country’s first ‘highways’, the Mississippi River. But the amazingly diverse festival crowd, in all demographic categories, was also treated to big-name entertainment from genres like classic rock, hip-hop, EDM, indie, jam bands, country, bluegrass and more.

Just like two years ago, the first day of the festival looked like it might be in jeopardy, with fierce thunderstorms predicted the night before. But luckily the front fizzled before morning, and by the time the gates opened at 5pm, there were only cloudy skies to deal with. The predicted rain turned out to just be a light drizzle which fell mostly on the last sets of the long night of music.

Anxious music fans lined up early and dashed into the festival as the gates opened just before five, to get the best front of stage views. The festival boasts three massive main stages, spread across nearly a mile of riverfront. There is also a blues tent, featuring regional, national, and prominent international musicians. With general admission seating and its own affordable bar, the blues tent is worth the price of admission itself, and indeed many fans never leave the venue. Speaking of affordable, the copious amounts of food and beverages available all seemed to have bargain prices compared to most any other festival. Local microbrew beers could be had for $7 while a big plate of a Crawfish boil, featuring sumptuous crawfish, corn not the cob, Cajun sausage and vegetables was a bargain at $10. Freebies were available throughout the festival, even including the offer of a free haircut.

A hidden gem of a stage just off to the side of the largest of the three main stages was a tiny stage made into a blues shack which offered up historical icons of the genre from across the region. With never more than a few dozen fans watching, these musical marvels offered up some of the most authentic music in existence.

The threat of rain may have scared off the early birds Friday as the festival began quietly with the bulk of the crowd not arriving until after dark. That allowed those who did come early to get up close to the stages for a good view of the first bands to play. Another great feature which set the Beale Street festival apart from other festivals is that almost everyone gets at least an hour to perform. In the attention deficit addled world of multiple stage festivals these days, many bands are regulated to sets of 30 minutes or less, hardly enough time to connect with their fans.

Local Memphis band Star and Micey got things going early on the River stage, playing the festival for the third time. The Americana rock band has many fans in which became apparent with their first album, their self-titled debut album featuring a Who’s Who of famous musicians including Luther Dickinson (The Black Crowes, North Mississippi Allstars), Jody Stephens (Big Star) and Rick Steff (Cat Power, Lucero). Produced at Stephen’s Memphis studio, the band had a small crowd dancing early on Friday.

Speaking of Luther Dickinson, The North Mississippi Allstars themselves, opened the FedEx stage. Looking right at home standing on the edge of the Mississippi River, many of the day’s bands seemed to take a little time to live in the moment and absorb the magical location on the banks of the mighty waterway.

Celebrated alt. country singer Margo Price from nearby Nashville brought a country-rock groove to the stage next. Backed by a band of veteran musicians Price tore through a crowd-pleasing cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’ classic, ‘Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)’,

It was the blues tent however where the musical energy most exuded, beginning with an opening set by a young local performer, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram. Opening the set with a Hendrix-style ‘Star Spangled Banner’ before launching into a searing guitar solo, the youngster wowed the crowd immediately. Kingfish, who is barely out of high school may be the reincarnation of BB King. At the age of six Kingfish began playing the drums, three years later, he took up the bass guitar and by the age of 13 he started playing lead guitar. Soon he was fluent in all three instruments and developed a distinctive vocal style. The blues tent featured a robust sound system that exploded to life beginning with the young guitar wizard. The venue was the only destination for many blues fans Friday and featured four extraordinary acts including, Kingfish, The Zac Harmon band, local blues rockers the Ghost Town Blues band and a sensational closing set by pedal steel guitar master Robert Randolph and The Family Band.

By the time the sun began to set Maryland rockers Clutch were making crowd-pleasing music for hard rock fans. Lead vocalist Neil Fallon pranced about the stage making eye contact with as many fans in the crowd as possible. The group formed in 1991 have been flying under the radar until recently when they became belated fixtures on the festival circuit. Indeed, the band had just finished a set at the Rockville mega rock concert in Jacksonville, the weekend before.

Speaking of Florida, another veteran rock band represented that state at Beale Street Friday. US alt. rock stalwarts Dashboard Confessional Boca Raton, fronted by singer-songwriter Chris Carrabba have been rocking crowds since 1999.

As evening fell a large crowd had gathered at all the outdoor stages including the main FedEx stage, where veteran post-grunge rockers, Third Eye Blind had the crowd surging towards their scheduled appearance. The California band played their well-known hits to an appreciative young crowd.

At the same on the Bud Light stage there was a different genre of music being played as Kaleo took to the stage. An Icelandic blues/rock band formed in 2012, the group consists of charismatic lead vocalist and guitarist JJ Julius Son, drummer David Antonsson, bassist Daniel Kristjansson, and lead guitarist Rubin Pollock. Their distinctively moody music reflects their influences from their remote homeland. Elsewhere a completely different musical vibe was being offered up by California alt-rockers Cake on the River Stage. The band may be one of the most peculiar and interesting indie of the past two decades and the young Memphis crowd responded well to their mix of rock, rap, Mariachi, country, jazz and even Iranian folk music.

Just before Robert Randolph began his late-night slot in the Blues Tent, the three headline acts hit the main stages for their closing sets. The Queen of alt-rock angst (according to ‘Rolling Stone’), Canadian rocker Alanis Morrissette played a much-anticipated set on the FedEx stage. The singer-guitarist led a band of veteran rockers through a set highlighted by songs on her mega hit 1995 album ‘Jagged Little Pill’. The set got off to a rocky start with Morrissette running from side to side on the large stage, inexplicably singing to the music without a single glance at the audience. Apparently, the singer couldn’t hear her monitors and was frantically searching for one that worked so that she could find the right pitch to sing in. Unfortunately, the audience at the front of the stage couldn’t hear the vocals either and by the third song began a loud chant of ‘Turn up the vocals’. The large crowd further back behind the sound board had better luck thankfully with a more balanced sound.

A short while later, California rapper Tyler The Creator turned in the most crowd-pleasing set of the night with a massive young audience packed tightly against the stage. The energetic performer always delivers a spectacular live show with oversized props, sensational lighting, and endless dance moves. Tyler may be one of the most creative performers in hip-hop today, creating his own world onstage, with the Millennial Memphis crowd loving every second of his show.

Emphasizing the multi-genre nature of the festival, an entirely different type of band was performing at the same time. Hard rock fans were treated by a closing set by desert rockers Queens of The Stone Age. While Morrissette played Canadian alt-rock, Tyler wowed the hip-hop crowd, and Robert Randolph was getting ready to bring soulful sounds to the blues tent, QOTSA played their loud, intense guitar driven rock to a large audience of hard rock fans. Like Clutch, the band had appeared the week before at the Rockville music festival. Singer and guitarist Josh Homme lead the outfit featuring a trio of guitarists through an intense set of tunes reflecting their library of tunes honed in Palm Desert, California. It seemed almost every music fan found something to like during the opening day of the 2018 Beale Street music festival.

Day 2

Day 2 of the 2018 music festival began quietly, as a light drizzle and a threat of rain kept the crowds light for the 1pm opening. By the time that Tav Falco opens the main Bud Light stage, the sun came out, and early birds were treated to an extended set by the clerical artist and his band. Born in Philadelphia, Gustavo Antonio ‘Tav’ Falco’s family moved to Arkansas, with Tav eventually ending up in 1073 in Memphis, making the concert a bit of a homecoming. He has led the psychedelic rock-and-roll group Tav Falco and The Panther Burns (named after the Mississippi plantation) since 1979. Moving to Europe in the late 1990s, the singer has been touring with his Panther Burns group since 2002 which includes players from Paris and Rome.

The singer-guitarist seemed to be having a great time opening the second day of the festival, marvelling at the sun shining on the Mississippi River, Tav extended his set for an extra 25 minutes, much to the chagrin of the stage manager. The band played in sort of a punkabilly style, with Tav taking on a bit of an Elvis persona. While fans and band members alike seemed to enjoy the extended set, the next act to play the same stage was less thrilled. Czech singer Dan Bárta and his latest band Illustratosphere were not pleased when their set was delayed 20 minutes due to the Tav’s extended running time. Unfortunately, things got worse when they finally began to play, as a brief but intense storm complete with gusty winds, hail and a drenching downpour began. The band was only able to get through one song before their set was cancelled due to the intense rain.

Music fans dashed for cover or headed up to Beale Street to find somewhere to escape the downpour. The thoroughfare street itself is an amazing site, as the Tennessee Encyclopedia states. ‘Stretching from the Mississippi River toward the East, Beale Street is Memphis’s most famous avenue. On the infamous section of Beale Street between Main and Lauderdale Streets, the ‘Blues was born’, and as Beale Street’s reputation for a culturally rich, African American urban life spread, visitors arrived from all over the region’. Several blocks are closed to traffic, and large crowds swarm the roads in front of restaurants and bars. Barbecue trucks seem to be parked everywhere. Street performers, including the Beale Street jumpers, are prevalent throughout the area. Young school girls were doing cheers to help pedal cold water. Alcohol consumption is allowed on Beale Street, and many people wander with their drinks. The big-ass beer is a staple. It is a 36-ounce cup of local beer which could be had for about nine bucks.

Manny music fans chose to wait out the weather on Beale Street, but the storm was short-lived, and people began to surge back in the festivals three entrances. A cadre of law enforcement including soldiers from Homeland Security reassured fans that they were well guarded against the recent mayhem that has befallen other music events around the world.

As the afternoon progressed the sun began to paint the clouds in myriad colours and the day turned into a near-perfect backdrop for the festival. Gov’t Mule had a large crowd rocking on the River stage as the late afternoon sun bathed the band in an orange glow. The group, started as a side project of The Allman Brothers Band, has to be one of the hardest working live bands at present and a fixture of the festival circuit. Guitarist Warren Haynes and his bandmates tore through some of their most popular songs including, songs from their new album, ‘Revolution Come ... Revolution Go’.

Over on the Bud Light stage the Glasgow indie band Franz Ferdinand was playing a very different kind of rock, pleasing their young audience with an energetic show featuring kitsch dance moves and lots of big smiles. Dubbed dance-punk by the media, it’s hard to say no to the rhythms of this feel-good band. Charismatic lead singer and guitarist Alex Kapranos engaged the crowd regularly, even calling out kudos to fans with birthdays in the audience.

The most significant afternoon crowd however hovered around the main FedEx stage for Memphis native rapper Al Kapone. The veteran hip-hop star had been active for more than 35 years and wowed the crowd with some of his biggest hits like ‘Memphis Pride’ and ‘Whoop That Trick’. Kapone is a genuine product of the Memphis underground music scene and maybe the most authentic hip-hop star to come out of the home of blues music as the young crowd responded enthusiastically to his entire set.

Maryland emo-punk band All Time Low had a smaller but no less energetic crowd dancing and singing in front of the River stage, just as the sun faded into the Mississippi River. Darlings of the Warped tour, they are playing dates on the final leg of that legendary tour this summer. In the meantime, the band was giving their all to the young crowd in Memphis. The River stage was ground zero for hard rock fans from the jam bands sounds of Gov’t Mule to the carefree punk of All Time Low. They were followed in the early evening by hard rock veterans from Chicago, Chevelle. The band tore through an ear-piercing set of thunderous rock tunes. The alternative funky hard rock band from California, Incubus, closed the River stage with a riveting set, featuring the band's well-known hits as well as songs from their new album ‘8’. Vocalist Brandon Boyd continues to be a wondrous performer with his unique vocal style and incredible range. By the time the band ended their near two-hour set, sweat-drenched hard rock fans seemed utterly spent by the day's performances.

Back on the FedEx, the defacto hip-hop stage for Saturday, Ludacris one of the States’ most successful hit making veteran rappers made an early evening appearance. On any given weekend night almost any dance club in the country would probably play at least a couple of Ludacris dance hits before closing. The Atlanta rapper and well-known actor has close ties to Memphis. Beginning his acting career in Memphis in Craig Brewer’s breakout film ‘Hustle and Flow’, the veteran rapper brought a string of hits to a vast euphoric crowd of hip-hop fans. A winner of Grammys, Screen Actors Guild, Critic’s Choice, and MTV Awards, the longevity in the nightclubs of his vintage hip-hop hits are a true testament to his talent. A stunning performance in the muggy Memphis night air, fast-rising young hip-hop star from Maryland, Logic closed the stage to the same substantial enthusiastic young crowd that cheered on Ludacris.

As evening fell on the Bud Light stage the most eclectic music venue of the day, David Byrne brought his new performance piece to the stage. The former lead singer of Talking Heads and a founding father of American New Wave is always trying something new. Byrne’s new album ‘American Utopia’ features a sort of marching band sound that has been popular of late. The performance included singing to a brain, choreographed dancing and an actual marching band. The most significant applause came from reworked versions of Talking Heads classics. The eclectic sounds continued on the same stage with a closing set by guitar wizard Jack White. His show was also a bit of a performance piece, complete with an interactive appearance on video with a live countdown to the show and a set bathed in monotone blue light, filled with electronic backup musicians. White blasted onstage with several ear-piercing guitar-driven songs, before sinking into some more mellow Americana music, reflecting his new home base in Nashville. White’s near two hours set faded into the next morning, the eerie blue light from the stage reflecting on the massive Mississippi river.

Day 3

A beautiful sunny afternoon greeted music fans as the gates opened for the final day of the 2018 Beale Street Music Festival. A large crowd of eager concert goers arrived early just as it was announced that the third day of the festival was a sellout. A diverse audience flowed down the hill from Beale Street to the waterfront festival to bathe in the warm sunshine and listen to the most eclectic line up offered during the three days of the festival.

Hard rock veterans Tora Tora had the Bud Light stage rocking from the start with their explosive opening set. The Memphis band has been playing since 1985 and offers up genuine old-school hair metal hard rock. Many young rap fans had already arrived at the stage for the day’s biggest draw, chart-topping rapper Post Malone. They were greeted first by the Tora Tora set which was probably educational to many. Next, the mostly young audience responded well to the king of party rock, Andrew W.K. and his rowdy band of rockers. The group, like several at the festival, had played at the Welcome to Rockville Festival in Florida the weekend before. The 39-year-old W.K. has led a storied life full of ups and downs, reflected in his carefree party tunes. Peaking with his hit song Party Hard, the singer’s band is simply one of the best in today’s rock world.

The same stage abruptly switched to country music with the next set by Nashville country-rocker Luke Combs. The performer seemed to connect well with the young crowd playing his hits like ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Honky Tonk Highway’. Combs played songs from his new album due to be released on June 1st. As the sun faded over the Mississippi, the crowd around the stage swelled to enormous proportions and the music changed to homegrown hip-hop as veteran Memphis rapper Juicy J took the stage. A local hero in the hip-hop world, the animated rapper showcased more than 20 years of work, beginning with his best-known songs from his days with Three 6 Mafia.

It became apparent that the biggest draw on Sunday night at the Bud Light stage was closing act, Post Malone. An unlikely pop star, the carefree gold-toothed rapper has become the biggest dance club hitmaker of late. The 22-year-old New Yorker is flying high with the release of his second album, ‘Beerbongs & Bentleys’. The mild-mannered performer began quietly stating ‘My name is Richard Post, I appreciate you guys’. Malone then launched into tracks from the new album including ‘Over Now’ and ‘Takin’ Shots’, before bantering with the crowd. ‘They just told me the album is number one on Billboard’, he said, the audience cheering, as a euphoric young crowd seemed to hang on his every word.

The main FedEx stage meanwhile featured an eclectic mix of music. The evening acts included a sunset performance by New York indie rockers Misterwives, led by charismatic singer Amanda Lee Duffy, rocking the crowd with some impressive original material. Followed by the rock and roll circus of veteran Oklahoma band The Flaming Lips, the group has been performing their own psychedelic rock since 1983, but have evolved into one of the most significant performance art bands in the world. Lead singer Wayne Coyne, the pied piper of the group, constantly hurled confetti, balloons and other animated objects into the crowd. Giant blow-up figures, lasers, and a multimedia extravaganza assaulted all the senses of the audience much to their delight. The stage was closed out by the only EDM act of the festival, Odesza. The electronic duo of Harrison Miles and Clayton Knight who met as students at Western Washington University, garnered a surprisingly sizeable young audience, especially considering they were up against the closing set by Post Malone.

The beauty of the Beale Street Music Festival is that there can be four completely different genres of music to choose from at any given moment. Odesza brought their ‘A Moment Apart Tour’ to the young Memphis EDM fans complete with a state of the art multimedia extravaganza unlike that of the Flaming Lips but just as mesmerizing in its own way.

Over on the River stage, a very different audience was watching the closing set by Erykah Badu. The veteran Texas R&B singer played to a vast crowd composed mostly of older music fans, who probably had no interest in Odeza or Post Malone. The sultry singer, who is notoriously late, lived up to her reputation with a set delayed nearly an hour to fix technical issues. The wait was worth it mind, for her adoring fans as the singer led her mesmerizing group of musicians through a genre-bending set of experimental music. Blending traditional soul and R&B sounds with electronica, hip-hop, rock and funk music into a magical mix of unique sounds, Badu played possibly the most musically intensive and complex set of the festival. Walking from stage to stage between the final performances was like having a passport to travel between different musical worlds. It was another awesomely successful year for one of the oldest music festivals in the country. Well done Memphis.


Photos by L. Paul Mann
www.lpaulmann.com


















Related Links:

http://www.memphisinmay.org/events/beale-street-music-festival/
https://twitter.com/bealestmusicfes
https://www.facebook.com/bealestreetmusicfestival/


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