Day 3 of the Beale Street music festival began under warm sunny skies with calm winds. The near perfect conditions brought crowds into the festival grounds early to lounge in the summer like weather, enjoy the many sumptuous food offerings and imbibe their favorite beverages. One local treat being offered up was a giant portion of boiled crawfish with corn on the cob, potatoes, and peppers. The $10 serving was enough to feed at least two hungry people.
The music schedule for Sunday was a bit more relaxed than the day before with less simultaneous sets going on across the vast festival grounds. But it was also the most exciting and eclectic day of the festival with multiple genres and generations of music on the roster. Los Angeles-based R&B singer Lanita Smith opened the River stage as the first act of the day at the festival. Smith was raised in Memphis, so the show was a homecoming of sorts for the local girl who made the big time. Her new album was produced by the legendary Don Was. Smith began her career as a church choir singer and brought her Gospel influence to the early Sunday afternoon crowd. Smith was backed up by a stellar group of musicians and singers offering up a crowd-pleasing set. A very different act came next on the River stage. The three California blondes that make up the group Bahari provide a stunning visual look while providing pleasant folksy pop music. The band’s sound blends well in the early afternoon sunshine. The music took another turn with Los Angeles soul singer Mayer Hawthorne taking over the stage next. His retro sound and dance moves delighted the crowd. Singer, songwriter and successful actress Jill Scott hailing from Philadelphia closed the River stage mesmerizing a huge crowd with her funky crossover pop R&B sound.
A full day of music in the Blues tent featured singer and pianist Eden Brent, singer blues guitarist Super Chikan and blues guitarist extraordinaire Preston Shannon, all Mississippi natives. New York blues rocker guitarist Papa Chubby played a sweaty sunset set. The living legend Booker T. Jones, a Memphis native closed the blues tent with a smoking blues-drenched set of organ, guitar and harmonica playing. Jones wrote the iconic organ laden hit song Green Onion in 1962 when he was only 18 years old and has been a pop blues powerhouse player ever since.
The Bud Light stage also offered up a diverse line-up for the final day of the Beale Street Music Festival. Swamp soul singer Marcella and Her Lovers kicked off the stage with a funky set of steamy music. Originally from Louisiana and now hailing from Memphis. The child prodigy melds the sounds of two distinct cultures into her compelling sound. She reflects her childhood influences from her father, two-time Grammy winner and Zydeco music maven, Terrance Simien. Feminist folk rock hero And DiFranco took the music in another direction during the next set, playing her folk anthems with a New Orleans jazz drummer. Her distinctive voice and compelling lyrics made for an enjoyable afternoon set.
The music took an even bigger turn with the next set by Reggae icon Ziggy Marley and his group of exquisite musicians. Playing his hit tunes as well as his father Bob Marley’s anthems, he was the only Reggae star to appear at this year's festival. A large crowd sang and danced along to the well-known tunes calling for peace and equality for all.
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals took the music in yet another direction in a beautiful afternoon set bathed in the setting sun. The three-time Grammy-winning California rocker played searing guitar solos on acoustic, electric and slide guitars garnering a tremendous response from an adulating crowd. Recent Grammy winner Sturgill Simpson closed the stage with an innovative country rock music set drenched with guitar solos. The Kentucky native played another real crowd-pleaser.
The main Fedex stage opened the day with a set by young rapper and guitarist Machine Gun Kelly. The animated rapper fronted a strong backup band that fused rock, punk and hip hop music perfectly. The Ohio native even managed to down the better part of a bottle of Jameson whiskey while wildly prancing about the stage. Heavy rockers Alter Bridge took over the stage next. The Orlando band formed in 2004 features several members of the band Creed along with well know singer-guitarist Myles Kennedy. The band rocked the crowd with a charismatic perforce by Kennedy on guitar and screaming vocals.
Veteran Australian rockers Midnight Oil took over the stage for the sunset slot. The band was a regular fixture in the 80s music scene. The group took a ten-year hiatus at the beginning of the 21st century while lead singer Peter Garret pursued a successful career in Australian politics. The newly reunited band played a fierce and compelling set, and their catchy sound stood the test of time well. As evening set in, a wild-eyed British rocker Gavin Rossdale and his band Bush launched into a grunge laden set of pure energy rock. Augmented by a spectacular light show the band played thundering rock riffs while Rossdale leaped about the stage like a young Pete Townshend in The Who.
How lucky were we to catch the closing & triumphant set by Seattle Grunge rockers Soundgarden. The veteran rockers played an extended set exciting the huge crowd to the end. The band was led by the recently deceased singer-guitarist Chris Cornell who was even more animated than Rossdale in the previous set. Sounding at times like Black Sabbath and other times more like a Grunge band, the innovative group was a powerful and fitting closing act for the 40th Beale Street Music Festival. (RIP Chris Cornell)