Mempho Music Festival closed the curtains on its 2022 event this weekend, delivering a larger-than-life celebration to an enthusiastic audience of Memphians and out of town visitors alike. The three-day immersive experience marked Mempho’s second year at its new home, Radians Amphitheater at Memphis Botanic Gardens, and the festival’s fifth consecutive year in operation. Bringing first class entertainment to the most legendary music city on earth, Mempho Fest has quickly garnered a reputation for its thoughtfully-curated music lineups, comfortable atmosphere, and distinctly-Memphis culture.
On Friday, guests were greeted by the haunting southern-gothic stylings of Nashville mainstay Adia Victoria before vintage soul diva Bette Smith brought her infectious energy to the Adams Keegan main stage. Boisterous southern rock outfit Futurebirds delivered a feel-good set amidst the warm glow of golden hour while headliner Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit rocked the crowd with their hard-driving anthems and tender duets shared with Isbell’s wife and bandmate Amanda Shires. Fantastic Negrito and his rollicking band were a festival favorite, channeling the spirit of James Brown with their funky arrangements and Negrito’s eccentric stage presence. The Black Keys topped off the night with an incendiary performance, featuring classic hits like “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Howlin’ For You” before inviting veteran blues guitarist Kenny Brown to the stage. The surprise cameo saw tributes to Delta blues legends Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, and more, employing songs from the group’s 2021 covers album Delta Kream. Rounding out the day were activations from Michael Weintrob, whose Instrumenthead exhibit was displayed in the Lexus VIP Village, plus an awe-inspiring fire show and silent disco extravaganza in the aptly-named nexAir Incendia Dome.
Saturday was bookended by inspiring performances from Memphis folk-pop luminary Amy Lavere and Mempho alums Widespread Panic, with afternoon appearances by soul-jazz titans Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, singer-songwriter and guitar virtuoso Celisse, and psychedelic-funk ensemble Big Ass Truck. The local legends had the audience shaking in their boots before GRAMMY-winning rock sensations Portugal. The Man burned down the main stage with their explosive production. Joined by the storied Chuck Leavell, Widespread Panic treated the crowd to singalongs like The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” and The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” plus a rousing cover of Jerry Joseph and Glenn Esparza’s “Climb to Safety,” showcasing the talents of Panic’s-own JoJo Hermann on the organ. In the VIP Village, Memphis restaurant Hog and Hominy and VIP sponsor Lexus invited guest chefs Johnny Banta, Aaron Siegel, and Taylor Garrigan of Home Team BBQ, to offer a smoked chicken wing spread curated uniquely for Mempho VIP patrons.
Mempho Fest gave life to the phrase “never miss a Sunday show” on its third and final day, beginning with a powerful set from local treasure Elizabeth King. The sacred-soul figure was as poised and elegant as ever as she transported festival goers to “church” with her gospel sensibilities. With a show-stopping voice and radiant smile, Canadian songstress Allison Russell dazzled the audience with her Memphis debut. Her ethereal storytelling was made even better when she welcomed her young daughter, Ida Maeve, to the stage for a few singalongs. Meanwhile, iconic bluesman Bobby Rush delivered a lively collection of tunes from his over seven decades-deep catalog before American alt-rock favorites Wilco commanded the main stage with choice picks from their seminal album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot plus many contemporary favorites. GRAMMY-nominated, NPR Tiny Desk Contest winners Tank and the Bangas summoned their New Orleans blend of funk, soul, hip-hop, and spoken word for the close-out of the Music Gives stage, paving the way for an unforgettable grand finale from Widespread Panic, whose collaborative spirit was proven once again when they surprised the audience with a cameo from Bobby Rush for “Gotta Have Money” and Bowlegged Woman”.
With over 20,000 total attendees throughout the weekend from 44 U.S. states as well as Canada and Europe, Mempho Music Festival 2022 was nothing short of a home run. All sights are set on the festival’s return to Memphis Botanic Gardens Sept. 29 - Oct. 1, 2023, with Early Bird passes available soon. Head to Mempho Fest's Instagram page to view daily recaps from the weekend.