The sun painted the final day of the 2019 Beale Street Music Festival in bright colors as puffy clouds floated about in the sky like cotton balls. It was a picture-perfect afternoon as the sold-out crowd began to fill the Tom Lee Park shortly after the gates opened. The music started early with the happy go lucky sounds of 24-year-old Memphis native Healy. The upbeat singer mixes musical genres like a Long Island Ice Tea of music. The quirky sounds were a perfect opening to the sunny Sunday afternoon festival.
The Sunday show featured the most diverse line up of the three-day festival. Jam and Blues rock prevailed, but hip-hop, country, and even psychedelic rock could be heard throughout the day. As usual, the Blues tent was a hotbed of smoking guitar riffs and throaty vocals. Barbara Blue and her band of veteran rockers kicked off the Blues extravaganza in the tent. The Memphis native is known locally as the reigning queen of Beale Street Blues. She lived up to the moniker with a robust set that woke up early bird festival goers. The crowd danced and consumed their favorite beverages while enjoying a gorgeous view of the mighty Mississippi river.
Another local legend followed in the Blues Tent. James Johnson, better known as "Super Chikan" is an American blues musician, based in the home of the Blues, Clarksdale, Mississippi. He is also the nephew of veteran blues musician Big Jack Johnson. The singer-guitarist led his band through a robust set of rock drenched Delta Blues. The singer-guitarist has a variety of unique handmade guitars including one made from a hub cap. The instruments lent themselves well to a raw and authentic Blues set by Johnson and his veteran band. The music took a turn towards classic Blues rock when the next performer graced the stage.
Hamish Anderson is an Australian blues-rock guitarist, songwriter, and singer. He played a rock drenched set reminiscent of English rockers like Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck. Like many of the performers on the Beale Street Music Festival tent stage, Anderson was a child prodigy, playing guitar from the age of 12. His explosive set was a perfect late afternoon energy booster for the satiated crowd lounging in the late afternoon sun. Joe Louis Walker closed the tent with an electrifying set of San Francisco style Blues.
Earlier, as a large crowd got comfortable on inflatable chairs, park benches and picnic blankets, veteran Portland Grunge band, Everclear brought the 90’s party vibe to the Fedex stage. The Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela followed them. The pair brought their unique mix of classical guitar with several genres including nuevo flamenco, rock, and heavy metal. The crowd seemed to enjoy the vibe in the warm afternoon sun. The music took another wild turn when the next band took the stage just before sunset. The crazy punk antics of one of the most animated bands in pop music, The Celtic inspired Flogging Molly brought the crowd to life. The group even inspired a bit of moshing and crowd surfing although many of the fans were a bit past their punk dancing prime.
The Los Angeles based band has been churning out their brand of beer drinking music since 1997, releasing six studio albums along the way. But the group fronted by charismatic Irishman Dave King is most well known for their rambunctious live performances. Most everyone in the crowd sang and danced along to the music as the band ran about the stage like a small army of Banshees.
The music on the FedEx stage took another turn when the Los Angeles Indie rock band Lord Huron played an early evening set. The band captured the rapt attention of a large crowd with a complex set of stylized music with rich textures and crisp vocals. They were followed by Las Vegas retro rockers The Killers who led the crowd through a hit-laden set including their pop anthems. But it wasn’t The Killers who drew the biggest crowd for their closing set. That honor would go to the most anticipated act of the night Cardi B.
But there were plenty of other exciting things going on at the Bud Light stage as well. The stage featured one of the most diverse line ups of the festival beginning with California based Lukas Nelson and Promise of The Real. The band featured singer-guitarist Lukas who is the son of Willie Nelson. The band has been Neil Young's touring band for the last several years. The group along with Young headlined the first night of the festival back in 2016. In an iconic moment, Young and the band opened with a guitar-drenched 40-minute version of “Down By The River,” while a steady rain fell on the Mighty Mississippi River within view of the stage. Nelson and the band showed the afternoon crowd at this year’s Beale Street why Young had enlisted them, playing a jam-laden guitar drenched set of southern tinged rock. The music turned towards the Soul genre next when St. Paul and The Broken Bones, an American eight-piece soul band based in Alabama took the stage. Led by sensational soul singer Paul Janeway the group had a giant crowd dancing in the late afternoon sun.
The music took a psychedelic turn when the Claypool Lennon Delirium took over the stage. The band features the legendary bass player Les Claypool, widely considered one of the best Bass players ever and Sean Lennon, son of Beatle John Lennon. The band played a hypnotic jam-band set, with a definite 60’s psychedelic Beatlesque influence. Backed by a classic rock sounding guitar, drum, and organ trio, the band, blends Lennon's distinctive voice and impressive guitar skills with Claypool's guttural vocals and off that chart bass licks. The result is a weirdly catchy retro-infused psychedelic sound. The band played into the fading evening light backed by a fittingly colorful multimedia extravaganza.
The final act of the night on the Bud Light stage offered up yet another genre of music, although with a set firmly planted in jam band territory. Gary Clark Jr. led his masterful Blues-rock band through an extended set featuring wailing guitar battles and Clark’s distinctive vocals. The 35-year-old master musician and storyteller does not conform to any single rock genre. Clark converts from 12-bar blues to reggae licks with ease. The Texas rocker played songs from his new album “This Land” featuring lyrics that Bob Dylan might appreciate as well as his more well-known older material. A tightly packed crowd watch in awe of the skillful musician and his magnificent band.
Over on the main Terminix, a massive crowd of mostly young music fans spent the day euphorically singing and dancing to a slate of famous Hip Hop stars including Moneybagg Yo and 6lack. But the main draw for the most massive crowd of the festival was headlining pop sensation Cardi B. The larger than life New York rapper arrived late for her set. Meanwhile, fans who had been packed like sardines for most of the day awaiting her set began to faint en masse and were pulled limp from the crowd. Security guards passed countless water bottles into the vast crowd trying to keep fans hydrated. Eventually, Cardi B’s DJ made it to the stage and revitalized the fading audience with a short set of popular Hip Hop anthems. Then a small army of dancers appeared onstage performing in rhythm to the music. Finally, Cardi B appeared on a large platform, singing, and dancing, sending the audience into a frenzy. The feisty singer stayed on the platform for a few songs and teased the crowd. “I almost canceled,” she quipped. “I just got my liposuction and didn’t want to mess it up.” With that, the Grammy-winning singer launched into a booty shaking dance routine unique to the voluptuous performer. In the middle of her third song, the singer finally descended the platform and sauntered to the front of the stage, creating yet another wave of frenzy in the tightly packed crowd. The triumphant set seemed to be worth the wait for exhausted music fans and most could be seen beaming wildly as they filtered out at the end of Beale Street Music Festival 2019. Hopefully, the festival will return to Tom Lee Park in 2020 if the city realizes how important the event has become to Memphis and its economy.