Nights Like These: Music Fest, Day 3 May 3, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts, Memphis.
Tags: Beale Street Music Festival, Gregg Allman, JJ Grey & Mofro, Lucero, Memphis in May, The Avett Brothers, tornado warning, Wilco
Day 3 started out a bit rougher than its predecessors.
Overnight the skies had opened and dumped rain across the Mid-South and today more severe weather was predicted from the threatening atmosphere above which would no doubt throw our plans askew. I ate lunch with my family and then drove over to the park, where I was met by the two friends who stuck around for the whole weekend, Chris and Dan (Berry and Meredith had to go return to their home, Jerry was still not feeling well, and James didn’t have a ticket). We began our day with the southern rock sounds J.J. Grey & the Mofro, a band out of Jacksonville, Florida, whose sound I was really digging when one of the worst possible calamities that could have struck began snarling from the skies above. The sirens started to wail, the band cleared the stage, and we knew exactly what was happening. Tornado.
Yes, apparently a tornado had been spotted in Crittenden County, just across the river in Arkansas and the ETA to Downtown Memphis was reportedly a mere 10 minutes. Knowing that our cars, much less any sort of shelter, was far more than 10 minutes away, there was little we could do, so, like many in our situation might choose to do, we grabbed a drink found a spot in the torrential downpour, and decided to wait it out. I mean, if you’re going to die in a tornado, you might as well be doing something you love, right?
But, luckily the vortex of doom had other plans and moved just north of Memphis, leaving us wet but otherwise unharmed. Due to the fact that the warning was still affecting the county, though, the sirens continued to wail and the crowds cowered wherever it was that the rest of the people went. The finishing time for JJ Grey came and went, and soon the start time for the next band was gone as well, but just then something amazing happened. Something that made me believe that perhaps there was still a real spirit of rock and roll beneath all the corporate hype strangling away all that it once was. Lucero, Memphis’s great local band and the next performers on the bill, stepped out in the rain amid the sirens, and they began to play. My God, did they play. In what could have been a disaster of terrible proportions, Lucero gave the proverbial middle finger to mother nature and launched into a blistering, awe-inspiring set that saved the day, turning them into tattooed, musical messiahs. Vocalist Ben Nichols was like a man possessed, prowling the stage as the band ripped through a number of their better-known tunes like “Sweet Little Thing,” “Nights Like These,” “Chain Link Fence,” “That Much Further West,” before ending with an inspired, almost revival-like version of “Drink ‘Till We’re Gone,” a song whose prophetic lyrics are still giving me chills now as I write and think of that moment when a few hundred of us gathered together, huddled in the rain, with the wind whipping around us and the river at dangerously high levels just to our right, and sang these words,
Because this big old river
Will us in time
‘Till then we’ll drink it’s weight
In cheap beer and wine.
We can drink just as fast
As the river is strong
And we’ll drink ‘till we’re gone.
It was without a doubt one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever experienced in my 15 years of going to Music Fest. Thank you, Lucero. (I’ve got another idea for a post that has to do with this, so stay tuned. I’ll try to write it out this week)
When Lucero finished their incredible set, we were then treated to a legendary figure, one who has been at the forefront of Southern rock for more than 40 years, Gregg Allman. Allman looked and sounded strong, despite having undergone a liver transplant over the past year as he played a number of songs from both his solo catalog and that of his legendary band, the Allman Brothers. It was a good show and I’m glad that I can now add Allman to the list of artists I’ve been able to see over my nearly 20 years of concert-going.
Next up was another young folk band and one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend, The Avett Brothers. The Avetts play a really cool blend of folk, bluegrass, and rock music that few others can match because really there aren’t very many people who can rock a banjo like these guys. Their set was comprised of songs from across their album catalog, beginning with the great and upbeat “Tin Man” and including some really great versions of “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” “January Wedding,” the rocking “Paranoia in Bb Major,” a John Prine cover “Spanish Pipedream,” and “Kick Drum Heart,” before ending with the beautiful “I and Love and You.” At Music Fest there are few non-headlining bands who get the opportunity to play an encore, but fortunately for us, the Avett’s did and they chose a killer song in “Talk on Indolence.” It was, without a doubt, one of my top five performances of the weekend and I can’t wait to see them again.
So, we’ve been standing for three days. We’ve stared down a tornado, endured a thunderstorm, and had our ears blasted by hours upon hours of music. We’re soaking wet and have subsisted on little besides pronto pups and Budweiser. We’ve seen aural spectacles like the Flaming Lips, danced with Mumford and Sons, been moved by Lucero, and rocked out time and time again. We’re exhausted, but there is still one band left to go, one more group of artists to light our way home, and it is arguably one of the most important acts of the past two decades: Wilco. Jeff Tweedy’s & company open with the slow “Ashes of American Flags,” as if they realize our tiredness and are trying to ease us into the set to come, before then throwing out the piano driven verses of “Bull Black Nova” and reeling us into their groovy world. It’s an excellent set, with songs like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “War on War,” “Impossible Germany,” “Shot in the Arm,” and “Jesus, Etc.,” but it’s the final song that really brings it all back home, that turns this night into something distinctly Memphis. For their final tune, the one they use to send us back out into the streets of the Bluff City and then into our regular lives is none other than a cover of the hugely influential and Memphis—based Big Star’s “In the Street.”
It was the perfect ending to an amazing weekend of music.