Beale Street Music Festival | 05.03-05.13

lolla2012To those who came prepared, Beale Street Music Festival is still the most affordable, diverse, and enjoyable weekend of the season.



The Flaming Lips


So what do you do when you’re wet and cold? The obvious choice was to bundle together with your fellow music-lovers and listen to an incredibly wide variety of indie, hip-hop, top 40, classic rock, and blues tunes to warm the soul. 

After a drenching rain the entirety of Thursday night through Friday afternoon, things were looking up in a major way as the sun peaked out upon thousands walking through the gates. Welsh rockers The Joy Formidable started things off with a raucous fuzz-rock set at one end of the festival, while on the other side Memphis rapper Don Trip got off to a late start, though his band didn’t. Band leader Singa Bromfield played a set of his own songs, and covers of classics like Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay.”

Yngwie Malmsteen
Yngwie Malmsteen brought his neoclassical metal to the FedEx stage as the sun went down, and heated things up with his variety of guitar tricks and (not to use the word lightly) extreme guitar solos. Following the Swede were the Deftones. The Southern California band were one of the most anticipated based on a poll conducted over the festival’s Facebook page, and they did not disappoint. Lead singer Chino Moreno owned the stage while the band put down a funky wall of sound. Moreno also joined the crowd, borrowed a cowboy hat, and did his best Elvis impersonation. The band touchingly played “(Change) in the House of Flies” as tribute to recently departed bassist Chi Cheng.

Friday would wrap up with the trio of Hall & Oates, Alice in Chains, and Bassnectar. Lorin Ashton—aka DJ/Producer Bassnectar—brought the largest party the festival had seen to date. Ashton demanded that, even though it was below 40 degrees, the crowd make it so hot they could start taking their clothes off. While that didn’t quite happen, no one seemed to mind dancing in their coats and mud boots.

After a freezing night in downtown Memphis and some playoff-winning Memphis Grizzlies parties, no one seemed apt to show up early on Saturday, and a few chilly afternoon showers didn’t help. By the time Outkast’s Big Boi arrived on stage, the crowd had begun to file in. The Atlanta rapper arrived around 20 minutes late, though all was forgiven as he went through his large discography covering solo tracks like “CPU” and “Apple of my Eye” off last year’s Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors and classic Outkast songs “Ms. Jackson” and “B.O.B.”

The Black Keys are arguably the largest current act the festival has ever booked, and by far had the largest crowd this year. The band has seldom been off the road in the last five or six years, and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down with dates booked throughout the summer, and likely release of a new album by the end of the year. The Keys put on a great set that would have made Memphis blues legends proud. The band are still at their most bluesy as a twosome, and songs like “Thickfreakness” and “Girl is on My Mind” will always maintain a soul that just isn’t quite there on new tracks like “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Lonely Boy.”

Sunday turned out to be another poorly attended day after another night of rain, and threat of more as 15- to 20-mile-per-hour winds rolled in off the river. Some of the best performances of the fest remained for those thick skinned enough to survive the piercing winds. Memphis artist Al Kapone ended up with two sets as alternative act AWOLNATION was forced to cancel. Deer Tick played a solid set with a sense of humor that kept the crowd’s attention as Public Enemy played across the field. The band closed out with a “Happy Cinco de Mayo” and set-ending rendition of “La Bamba.”


Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr was designed for Memphis. Perhaps no town in America respects its blues quite as much as its birthplace and home of B.B. King, Robert Hooker, and W.C. Handy. The virtuoso played extended versions of “When My Train Pulls In” and “Please Come Home,” as well as a killer cover of B.B. King’s “3 O’Clock Blues.” Watching someone of that skill set in Memphis just felt insanely right.

Outside of the Black Keys, no band at Memphis in May has received more national recognition than Phoenix. The band headlined Lollapalooza in 2010 as well as Coachella this year, and yet here they fell below returning act The Flaming Lips. Perhaps you could blame it on Southern hospitality. Maybe no one at the fest had it in them to tell the Flaming Lips that after a headlining appearance in 2009, they would be subjugated below a rising star.

Either way, Phoenix put on a headline-worthy show that was the set of the weekend. The French group started slow, but by the time they launched into “Liztomania,” the crowd was hooked until lead singer Thomas Mars crowd surfed during a reprise of “Entertainment” to close the set.



Perhaps no band should have to follow up that set, but if any band is capable, it was the Flaming Lips. The band’s new album The Terror focuses more on the dark side of singer Wayne Coyne’s mind, but they still know how to bring a smile to a large crowd’s face. “Look…The Sun Is Rising” may have introduced the concept of metal confetti. Steven Drozd orchestrates the dark sounds of the band while Coyne represents the figurehead.

The band ventured off into the surreal for the entirety of its set, with a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” supporting this, but Coyne still insisted on “All We Have Is Now” to end the main set before coming back to a mostly acoustic version of “Do You Realize?” The Lips’ new album became a living beast, and closing track “Always There, in Our Hearts” reinforced this to close things out. As the lights at the front of the stage lowered down to the stage floor and confetti again flew out hundreds of feet from the stage, Drozd produced an monstrous sound from his guitar and left the crowd in a muddy, confetti-covered daze.

For the Midwest, Memphis in May essentially kicks off the summer, and festival season. This year felt especially Spring-like, and has of course been followed up by the most beautiful week of the year thus far. To those who came prepared however, Beale Street Music Festival is still the most affordable, diverse, and enjoyable weekend of the season. Mud boots, ponchos, and heavy coats may be required wearing, but all you really need is a big crowd to cozy up to for heat, and some BBQ. | Bruce Matlock

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