Beale Street Music Festival | 05.04-6.07

beale_smSounding tighter than ever, working the crowd and performing my personal favorite, the classic "Ball and Chain" from their self-titled debut album, Social Distortion had everyone jumping up and down in true punk rockabilly style.





Memphis, Tenn.

Memphis is best known for three things: good music, good barbecue and Elvis. I got to experience all of them at the annual Beale Street Music Festival. With more than 60 acts performing on four stages in Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, as well as nonstop action on Beale Street, it's no wonder they call this "The Mardi Gras of the Mid-South."


So let's start with the music. When you attend a festival of this magnitude, it is impossible to see all of everything, but rather, you catch pieces of it all, moving from stage to stage. Rather than getting into the acts I didn't see much of, I'm going to focus on what were, for me, the highlights.

Surprisingly, my favorite live performance of the weekend came from Los Angeles-based punk rockers Social Distortion, a band that has been around for more than 25 years. I remember listening to them in high school (not tellin' what year) and I've always enjoyed their music, but seeing them live has made me a full-fledged fan convert. Sounding tighter than ever, working the crowd and performing my personal favorite, the classic "Ball and Chain" from their self-titled debut album, they had everyone jumping up and down in true punk rockabilly style.

beale_wolfAnother rock-solid performance came from Australian acid-rock band Wolfmother—who sounded like a combination of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin with a side of Rush. They served up a headbangin' version of fan favorite "The Joker and the Thief" to close their set.

It's no wonder Memphis rocks—it is, after all, the birthplace of rock 'n' roll, where legendary Sun Studios first recorded such pioneering artists as  Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and the King of Rock 'n' Roll himself, Elvis Presley. Jerry Lee Lewis (a.k.a. "The Killer") kicked off the festival with an early Friday evening set and, at age 72, tore up the keys with as much ferocity as ever. He also sat in on keyboards during Government Mule's set. Classic rockers the Allman Bros. Band rounded out the night. Other rock acts in the weekend lineup included Counting Crows, Daughtry, Godsmack, Iggy and the Stooges, and George Thorogood.

It was in Memphis in 1901 that musician W.C. Handy wrote the first blues song, and where B.B. King perfected it in the clubs of Beale Street, so of course this festival had a strong focus on blues and blues-inspired music, including performances by such legends of the craft as Taj Mahal, Koko Taylor and Bobby "Blue" Band. And a blues-inspired duo, Brit sensation Corrine Bailey Rae and R&B superstar John Legend, played amazing side-by-side sets, and even joined each other for a smooth-as-silk duet.

The festival shows were great (aside from the heat and long beer lines), but some of the best blues music of the weekend could be heard pouring out of the clubs on Beale Street. This is the true heart and soul of Memphis, and the best way to enjoy it is while eating some real Memphis barbecue. If you like pork and beer, this is the place to be.

No trip to Memphis would be complete without a stop by the King's Palace, so we took a tour of Graceland. Although I've never been that into Elvis, it was cool to top off a weekend of great live shows by experiencing first-hand the roots of the music that I love so much. There's something incredible about standing in a hallway lined with more gold and platinum records than have been received by any other recording artist in history. 

It is said that when an 18-year-old Elvis first walked into the Sun Studio, he was asked who he sounded like, to which he replied, "I don't sound like nobody." And a new sound was born. Elvis may have left the building, but his spirit is alive and well in Memphis—and I can hardly wait to come back next year. | Amy Burger

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