Herbie Hancock plays on the keytar May 19, 2012, during the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, Tenn. (TMP Photo/J. Reid)
During the first weekend of May, an estimated 100,000 people were found at the Tom Lee Park situated in downtown Memphis.
The smell of world-renowned barbeque and hand-dipped Pronto Pup corndogs filled the air, but yielded in comparison to the heavy sounds of rock and roll, deep-rooted blues, pop, funk, bluegrass and even metal. Music this eclectic, attracted a diverse blend of music lovers, from both sides of “The Big Muddy River” to the 2012 Memphis in May, Beale Street Music Festival.
There were five stages built to fit more than 60 different acts. All ideally distanced so no matter which stage you were at, you had a perfect view of the sun setting over the river, each night.
This may have been the year of incredible covers, with artists paying their respects to fellow music-makers.
Coheed and Cambria, known for their science fiction comic books, which they have transcribed into progressive rock music, performed a Goyte and Kimbra “Somebody that I Used to Know” cover. Coheed’s frontman, Claudio Sanchez voice was well fitted for both a male and female vocal conversation the song seems to be having.
The legendary and multi-award winning, Herbie Hancock, 72 years young, performed his classic hits such as “Chameleon,” with a modern twist, once again redefining the role of jazz, using a keytar. My Morning Jacket and Dr. Dog both stole the scene with their loud psychedelic rock, but I’ve got rock-n-roll in my soul.
The Civil Wars, a male and female, country duo, made me proud to claim Nashville as my home. Their simplistic song writing and peaceful voices are the definition of romance.
While acts such as Three 6 Mafia and Yo Gotti, southern rappers from Memphis, energized the crowd and prepared the festival goers for Cinco de Mayo in downtown Memphis.
Downtown was rather chaotic and overcrowded. There were long lines and even a rebellious few climbing over and breaking down fences just to get near the action.
The music started around 2 p.m. each afternoon in the apex of Memphis’s humidity and brutal heat.
Many general admission ticket holders relieved themselves in the Fed Ex Blues Tent, situated near the park entrance. The shade and numerous rows of chairs may have attracted people to the tent, but the unbelievable music held them like souvenir magnets to the fridge.
It almost resembled a scene from the movie Sister Act. Women were uncontrollably dancing and even getting on stage with the artists. Paper fans where being waved and hands were raised high.
The final act of the entire festival happened at this blues-filled tent, ending just before the Sunday night tornado warnings became real.
Robert Randolph continued to produce multicultural American funk music with his guitar from behind the stage upon being asked to end his show. It seems ending a performance that electrifying can be difficult for the fans and artists, alike.
It almost felt like divine intervention had taken control of the weather just long enough for three-day festival to play in it’s entirety, without the usual rain this festival is accustom to having, and then the bottom dropped out of the sky as people rushed out of the park late Sunday night.
The Beale Street festival vibe was very low-key and many artists could be found walking around the park, checking out the shows from a fans-eye-view, giving out autographs and hugs to adoring fans.
The tickets were reasonably priced between $60-$120 for the entire weekend.
For a cheap and safe option we opted to camp at the T.O. Fuller State Park for $20 a night. There are showers with great water pressure, laundry machines and a large ice maker.
My only word of wise, wear a lot of sunscreen and bug spray, and if you can find the time take a hike on one of the trials located within the park.
I would happily attend this festival again for the sense of community that it created. It’s almost like another world existed just for a few days.
Life was so simple, people were happy, and there was a plethora of music. Social conflicts were solved with dancing and a simple, “Cheers” to good times.