Music and Mud in Memphis May 3, 2010Posted by Matt in concerts.
Tags: bad weather, Beale Street Music Festival, Blues Traveler, drive-by truckers, Jeff Beck, Memphis, North Mississippi All-Stars, tornado warning, Widespread Panic
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What a weekend!
Over the weekend I had the chance to attend the annual outdoor Beale Street Music Festival here in Memphis, an event that I have been a part of for many, many years, but have never had an experience quite like this one.
We all knew that the there was a strong chance that the weather would be less than desirable. I mean, I’d been watching the forecast all week and had seen the 80-90% chance of rain and thunderstorms, so I prepared accordingly. I bought a new poncho and wore tennis shoes instead of my customary flip-flops to ensure that I would remain at least somewhat dry.
Friday evening I met up with some friends in Midtown and we made our way over the festival, arriving just in time to catch a fun and spirited set from 1990’s favorites, Blues Traveler. I had seen the band years ago at Music Fest, back when singer John Popper was still the size of a small bus, so I was taken aback at his thinner appearance. Regardless, they put on a great show, mixing some of their well-known tunes (“Runaround,” “But Anyway,” and “Hook”) with some very cool and unexpected covers (Radiohead’s “Creep,” and Sublime’s “What I Got”).
We made the easy decision to stay at the stage where we started because the next act was one of the most revered guitarists of the past 50 years, Jeff Beck. Beck hit the stage about 30 minutes after the All-Stars finished up, with band in tow, and commenced to play blistering song after song, working the crowd into a veritable frenzy. Even now, at 65 years old, he’s a true master of the instrument. My favorite moment of his set has to be his incredible version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” It was truly a sight to behold.
While these first two performances were ones that we had greatly anticipated, the final one of Friday night was truly our crown jewel: Widespread Panic. Now, I’ve seen Widespread several times in the past and they always put on a great show. Their bluesy, Southern-rock jam band style is one that translates especially well to the stage. Once Jeff Beck exited the stage, there was a short break before the band came on and soon they were ripping through an excellent selection of down south jams that had everyone moving along to the music. Though their set was a bit abbreviated at only 2 hours due to the impending weather, it was a good one and definitely enjoyable. For those of you who are familiar with Panic’s work, here is their setlist from that night:
From The Cradle, One Arm Steve, Radio Child, Dirty Side Down > Protein Drink / Sewing Machine, Pilgrims, Thin Air (Smells Like Mississippi) > Smokestack Lightning, Can’t Get High > Goin’ Out West > Junior > Blackout Blues > Life During Wartime
Like I said, it was a good one, even though they exited the stage without an encore.
Overnight the first wave of bad weather hit and we were roused from sleep more than once by tornado sirens. So, much of the sleepless night was spent huddled in an inner bathroom of our house with the weather on the television (we luckily never lost power), as we awaited our impending doom at the hands of the whirling winds. Eventually, the warnings were lifted and we were able to get back to sleep.
It rained hard through the morning, but by the time we arrived at the park later on that afternoon, the worst had passed, leaving behind it a big, muddy mess.
My friends and I found a nice spot on the dry, plastic groundcover where we had a great, unobstructed view of the stage and plenty of room to move around. The first show of the day came from local favorites, the North Mississippi All-Stars, a great blues-rock band that regularly plays area venues. Their set consisted of a nice selection of cuts from their latest album, Hernando, and others from their past releases and we had a good time grooving along.
The next performance came from one of my favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers. DBT are the latest and greatest carriers of the Southern rock torch and I have seen them several times in the past – I think this was my fifth time. Though the set was far shorter (1.5 hours) than the 3.5 hour marathon from a few years ago, it was still loud and full of their infectious energy. They mainly focused on songs from their most recent albums, opening the show with “After the Scene Dies,” followed by “Self Destructive Zones,” and several more newer cuts. Though I was glad to see them sprinkle in a few older songs like “Sinkhole,” “Marry Me,” “Shut Up and Get on the Plane,” and the great live number, “Let There Be Rock,” I would have liked to hear a few more cuts from farther back, maybe “The Company I Keep” or my personal favorite, “Zip City.” Along the way, we learned that new song “Birthday Boy,” took place in Memphis and were admonished by Mike Cooley for watching them instead of Jerry Lee Lewis, who was playing on the next stage. It was an excellent show.
After the Truckers’ completed their show, we stuck around for part of Gov’t Mule, who I’ve also seen at least once or twice in the past, before my friends decided to move on to a different stage than this. Not thinking about it, I followed along with them, straight into the mouth of elevator music-hell, Michael McDonald. Oh, it was bad. Not being a fan of crappy pop music, I decided to explore on my own after about two songs and wandered to the other end of the park, where the largest crowd, most of whom were a good deal younger than me, was crowded around a stage listening to a band playing power chords and yelling. I checked the schedule and remembered that this group was either Puddle of Mudd or Seether – it ended up being the latter, but truthfully, I couldn’t tell the difference. I will give the band props, though, for their cover of “Careless Whisper.” There’s nothing quite like hearing a crappy 80’s song get mutilated.
After a short time, I wandered back to my friends and one of them expressed his displeasure with staying to watch headliners Hall & Oates with the others. Sensing a chance, I suggested that we hike to the stage I had just left to see Alice in Chains and he agreed. We arrived at the stage and soon the start time for Jerry Cantrell & company to start came and passed. After a few minutes, an omnipresent voice came over the loudspeaker, saying, “The show has been cancelled. Please evacuate the park immediately.”
We trooped back through the mud to our friends and checked the weather via phone: tornado warning. So, we, along with thousands of others, hiked back to our parking place with sirens blaring in our ears. Once we reached the downtown parking garage, we waited around a bit for the worst to pass, then headed to our friends’ Midtown home, where we bunkered down with drinks and music and good conversation until after midnight.
I arrived back at home around 1:00 or so, but a short time later we were up and again huddled in the bathroom as the Southaven sirens alerted us to the oncoming apocalypse. After waiting for the warning to pass, we eventually got back to sleep for a few hours before the normal morning madness.
My mom had been in town keeping our kids while Diana worked and I went to the festival, but she had to go home on Sunday, which also happened to be the lone day that Diana wanted and was able to attend the festival. We knew this in advance, so Diana spent part of her weekend calling friends, anybody, to help us out and keep our children, but, despite her efforts, we came up empty handed. So, we decided to stay in and trash the $50 worth of tickets. In all truthfulness, I needed a bit more rest after two days of going at it hard in downtown Memphis and sleeping very little, but it was still disappointing that I had to miss Rock Sugar and Band of Horses.
Even though we didn’t get to see all of the acts we wanted to (the Flaming Lips cancelled in advance, Alice in Chains cancelled for the storms, and Allison Krauss and John Hiatt were not able to get out of flooded Nashville), it was still a very fun weekend. The crowd was sparser than usual, which made for short bathroom lines and an easy path to being close to the stage. It was a nice return for me after a few years of not attending.
Just wait ‘til next year…
Free Music Friday – Music Fest Preview April 30, 2010Posted by Matt in concerts.
Tags: alice in chains, Band of Horses, Beale Street Music Festival, drive-by truckers, Earth Wind and Fire, Jeff Beck, Memphis in May, Rock Sugar, thunderstorms, Widespread Panic
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For those of you who will not be attending this weekend’s rain-drenched Beale Street Music Festival, here is a taste of what you’ll be missing.
Alice in Chains
Earth, Wind & Fire
Band of Horses
…and a whole lot more. It’s gonna be a good weekend, ya’ll, and I’ll be right in the middle of it, despite the forecasted thunderstorms. If any of you are going to be around let me know and maybe we can hang out at the festival…