Beale Street Music Festival | 05.01-03.15

Arriving at the festival is an absolute pleasure. You’re greeted by the scents of BBQ and fried food wafting from Beale Street.          

 

 

I’ve often thought of past episodes of Memphis’s Beale Street Music Festival in terms of the tornado year, the flood year, the cold year. If we are to continue in a similar format, this year could only be considered the ideal year. With nothing but sunshine and temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s, focus was more on what acts you’d be choosing between whether or not you’d be bringing a coat or a poncho. Right away, there were plenty of decisions to be made.

Friday

Arriving at the festival is an absolute pleasure. You’re greeted by the scents of BBQ and fried food wafting from Beale Street, the joyous noises of fun-loving crowds openly drinking and watching street performers, and, of course, constant music coming from seemingly every building along the strip.

I was instantly greeted by the metal sounds of In This Moment, which (unless that’s your thing) is a bit of an abrasive entrance to the fest itself, but has been an important piece of the festival since its introduction to the current incarnation in 2003. The stage would also feature Slash and Myles Kennedy playing a mix of his previous hits, as well as Guns N’ Roses tunes; Breaking Benjamin returning to the festival, and Five Finger Death Punch seemingly breaking up and angering fans simultaneously. (They later announced it was merely frustration due to technical difficulties.)

The Flaming Lips have become a mainstay of the festival, headlining every other year since 2011. The stage show hasn’t changed much, outside of black and silver confetti raining down on the crowd during a particularly rock set in 2013. The band playing before them during those years has even headlined other fests over them in years past: Phoenix headlined Coachella in 2013, but Wayne Coyne & Co. remained on top in Memphis.

The Pixies have deservingly scored high placement on several festival bills this year. Their set was a highlight of many for the entire weekend, let alone the evening. The band fiercely tore through new songs and old. Is it a nostalgia trip? It’d be lying to not admit that part of it is, but new songs like “Indy Cindy” and “Greens and Blues” prove that the band is still fiery. On a side note, Kim Deal is, of course, missed, but Paz Lenchantin is the best replacement they could have found.

Saturday

This day’s stages must have been very easy to schedule: John Fogerty for the advanced in years, Paramore for the under 20s, and The Avett Brothers for everyone not quite sure where they fit. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if the Avetts were big enough. Having seen them at Bonnaroo in the past, I knew they put on a great set…but headlining the largest stage?

Needless to say, they will soon be headlining bigger fests like Bonnaroo and anywhere else that will have them. They completely owned the stage unlike any other band at this year’s festival. They didn’t run around it (much), they didn’t break anything or play every other song in the crowd, but for every second they were up there, they had the full attention of everyone watching.

Earlier in the day, Diarrhea Planet, self-appointed “Guitar Center: The Band,” woke up the crowd. They spent plenty of time soloing and singing in the crowd and doing everything in their power to rejuvenate what was surely a somewhat hungover crowd. If this band comes near you, GO SEE THEM.

George Clinton has gotten a lot of press lately, likely stemming from a feature on Kendrick Lamar’s new album, but deserved nonetheless. The man is a legend. They should probably reconsider their billing as George Clinton & P-Funk, however: P-Funk is clearly the show. Clinton spent a good portion of the set sitting down, enjoying the band as much as the crowd did. The crowd, which featured a number of people new to the Prime Minister of Funk, grooved along with him as he went through a short set featuring “One Nation Under a Groove” and “Atomic Dog.”

Sunday

This year’s festival food of the year goes to Ozark Mountain Biscuit. Affordable, just enough choices between sweet and savory, and breakfast anytime of the day, the people of Columbia, Mo., should consider themselves lucky.

Sunday was a day filled to the brim with musical potential. The terrific trio of Wilco, Cage the Elephant, and Ed Sheeran would close the day, but budding star Elle King would open it with a powerful voice and stage presence. The “Ex’s and Oh’s” singer seemed to fit right in just off Beale Street; she claimed she was glad to be opening so she could hang out with everyone the rest of the day.

Memphians Star & Micey were certainly crowd favorites over on the FedEx stage. Their new EP I Can’t Wait (featuring the single by the same name) certainly got the attention of those waiting for Shovels and Rope, Wilco, and more.  Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent aka Shovels and Rope, followed them immediately with the fire and brimstone of their latest release, Swimmin’ Time. The South Carolina duo was a definite highlight for those looking for a little Southern music on their Sunday.

At this point, the day’s choices became difficult. Hozier is obviously a huge name rising through the music world, while the established oddness of a St. Vincent show is something you never want to miss. Annie Clarke is nearing the end of her touring cycle, while Hozier is…basically everywhere this summer. So Ms. Clarke won out on this day and did not disappoint. I won’t spoil much, but absolutely do not miss her St. Louis show at the Pageant on May 27. “Digital Witness” was one of the best songs of 2014, and older songs like “Cheerleader” and “Actor Out of Work” are absolute gems.

Meanwhile, on the rock side of things, Of Mice and Men and Rise Against got a decidedly younger crowd up on shoulders and surfing to the front of the crowd. Rise Against lead singer Tim McIlrath wonderfully pointed out that, once again, Mother Nature steals the stage, as the sun set over the river on another beautiful day. The end game, however, was Cage the Elephant’s triumphant return as headliner. They seemed an almost entirely different band than their last appearance in 2011.

Both of the Shultz brothers, lead singer Matt and guitarist Brad, now almost equally share time spent directly in the crowd, and their festival set has switched more from abrasive, in-your-face Southern rock to a well-rounded set that brings the almost freeform “Teeth,” and “It’s Just Forever,” as well as a collection of hits =extremely impressive from a band with just three full-length albums.

As pointed out by several bands throughout the weekend, the weather did, in fact, end up stealing the show for another year. The good part about the randomness of Midwestern weather this time of the year is that every now and then the wheel ends up landing on gold. | Julia Bragg & Bruce Matlock

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