One of Americas oldest music festivals marked its 43rd anniversary, steeped in the polite mannerisms associated with the regions southern charm and gracious manners, during the first weekend in May. The Beale Street Music Festival is ideally situated on the banks of the historic Mississippi River, in downtown Memphis. The event is one of the most economical and eclectic music festivals in the country. The five-stage festival offers up music from nearly every pop music genre. Perhaps the most authentic and historic sounds come from legendary Blues icons, many of whom call Memphis home. The historic city is the birthplace of Blues music in America. The infectious sounds of Blues music spread 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, heavy metal, Indie Jam bands, country, bluegrass, pop and more.
According to James L. Holt, the president of the Memphis in May, the organization that produces the festival, “The Beale Street Music Festival saw more than 102,000 in Tom Lee Park last year with attendees from all 50 states and 22 countries.” Although the festival brings millions of dollars to the local economy, organizers are in danger of losing their iconic location, Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi. City officials want to reorganize the downtown park and possibly move the festival to a new place which would be a shame. Music fans should reach out en masse to let the city know that they want to the festival to stay right where it is.
Opening night of the 2019 festival started right on time despite drizzle and forecast for late night rain. When the gates opened at 5 PM early bird music fans raced to secure spots in front of the stages with their favorite musicians. The first day of the festival seemed to please music fans of almost every genre. The hard rock band Saving Abel from nearby Corinth Mississippi opened the festival with an explosive set of southern rock. The band fronted by wild-eyed lead singer Scott Austin tore through a robust set. At one point, Austin pointed to someone in the audience and said, “I know you we were in jail together.” The gangster theme seemed to be a popular one on the first day of the festival. Local rapper BlocBoy JB garnered a large crowd for his set bolstered by his appearance in the Memphis media. Just days before his appearance at the festival he had been arrested and jailed during a raid on his house. He was released just in time for the celebration.
The Blues tent featured regional, national, and international musicians prominent in the genre. Complete with seating, and its affordable full bar, the Blues tent is worth the price of admission itself, and indeed many Blues fans never left the tent. The tent proved a nice respite from intermittent rain late Friday night and during the day on Saturday. Fridays line up featured 8 hours of incredible music. Harp player and singer Brandon Santini kicked things off with heart-pounding Blues rock. Guitar Shorty brought his smoking Texas Blues-rock band to the stage next. The local Ghost Town Blues Band filled the tent with Memphis Blues as the rain began to pick up and the tent began to fill with soggy music fans. Three times Grammy winner Bettye LaVette closed the Blues tent and the festival with a late night set featuring her decades of soul music hits.
A much younger new soul singer Ravyn Lenae opened the FedEx stage with a steamy set of Chicago style R&B. Meanwhile, The Dirty Heads were opening the Terminix stage with their brand of California Rap Reggae, honed in their hometown of Huntington Beach.
Back on the Bud Light stage which seemed to be the de facto hard rock stage for Friday, another California band In This Moment played to a large crowd. This Goth inspired band fronted by charismatic lead singer Maria Brink put on the stunning theatrical perforce that they are known for, complete with props, pyrotechnics, and ear-splitting metal music. A very different sound came next from another band led by a female singer, the Glasgow band Chvrches. Singer Lauren Mayberry led the electro-pop group, prancing about like a ballet dancer.
On the main FedEx stage, Rap ruled early on, and Philadelphia hip-hop artist Lil Dicky brought a massive crowd to a frenzy with his new mega-hit songs. Meanwhile, the punkish Good Charlotte took over the rock stage with a set sprinkled with their past hits.
The biggest crowd of the night assembled as an increasing drizzle dampened festival for an impressive set by pop icon Dave Matthews and his band of mercurial performers. The 52-year-old South African seemed at such ease during the show that he could have been playing in his living room and not in front of thousands of screaming fans. But his ability to lead his group into jam band territory makes his concerts some of the most compelling live shows in pop music today. The two-hour set even included a cover of Prince’s “Sexy Motherfucker,” with a compelling solo by local saxophone player Kirk Whalum. With a steady rain picking up across the festival it was surprising how few people left the stunning set early.
While much of the sold-out crowd swarmed the Dave Matthews performance, there were surpassingly large crowds at the other stage with heavy hitters Khalid and Shinedown. The 21year old should singer from Georgia, Khalid has garnered a massive following of young fans who were ecstatic to see the singer perform.
At the same time, hard rock fans were enjoying a literally explosive set by the Jacksonville rockers Shinedown. The band fronted by the personable lead singer Brent Smith. The band exploded onstage amidst pyrotechnics and ear shattering sound. The singer frequently bantered with the crowd and even went into the photo pit fist bumping and shaking hands with photographers. The show featured a massive firework display to close out the evening.