Beale Street Music Festival 2010
Beale Street Music Festival, Memphis in May 2010
Tom Lee Park, FedEx Blues Tent, Memphis, Tennessee
May 2, 2010
April, indeed, may be the cruelest of months, but I doubt that a blue-blood like Thomas Sterns Eliot ever spent the sweaty seasons in Hell that are Spring and Summer in the cultural fault line of the United States: Memphis, Tennessee. The weather there in the Mississippi Valley is as conflicted as the region's psycheserene and as beautiful as Eden one moment, and defying John Milton's description of Hell the next. Typically, it works like this: Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico flows up ahead of a northwestern cold front bearing down through Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, riling the Native American gods into fantods so terrible that the Arkansas River Valley and points east are either leveled or trembling from that special grace.
Such was the case for the 2010 edition of the Beale Street Music Festival, held the weekend of 31 April to 2 May, 2010 in Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River. The weather was a constant threat, and flash flooding along Interstate 40 between Nashville and Memphis dramatically affected the festival lineup. However, much great music was performed and the inclement weather did not deter tens of thousands of the dedicated from attending. Tom Lee Park was a muddy mess and rubber knee boots were de rigueurthe women sporting colorful fun ones and the men, the ones they wear to deer camp with a couple of hip waders thrown init is the American south, after all.
The Beale Street Music Festival formally kicks off Memphis in May, a month-long celebration of all things Memphis, focusing on music, food, culture, and education. Now in its 33rd year, the Music Festival has become a draw for both well established bands and up-and-coming talents on their way to the same. The audience attending is also impressive, with people coming from all over the Midwest to witness the three-day event. Almost biblical is the gathering of spirits at this special bend in the mighty Mississippi.
A Brief Digression...
Memphis, not Cleveland, is the rightful home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cleveland seems to claim the Hall because the city was the home base of WJW radio disc jockey Alan Freed, who coined the term "rock and roll" (having lifted it from the African American colloquial pool). Cleveland hosted, with Alan Freed, the first rock and roll concertThe Moondog Coronation Ball, March 21, 1952. And finally, Cleveland was Elvis Presley's first appearance outside of the Cotton Curtain (February 25, 1955 at the Circle Theater...that is if you don't count Presley's Valentine's Day appearance that same year in Roswell, New Mexico, but that fact interferes with the romance of the Cleveland's claim).
Compare that pedigree with that of Memphis: Memphis has Sun Records, 706 Union Avenue, where the first rock and roll recording was made. Which one, you ask? Both of them: Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats "Rocket 88" (recorded 3 March or 5 March 1951) and Elvis Presley's "That's Alright (Mama)" (recorded July 1955, released 19 July 1955) were waxed in the Sun Studios on Union. Memphis was also the home of the Stax/Volt labels, whose house band, Booker T. and the MGs provided session services to Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Albert King, The Staples Singers, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, and Delaney and Bonnie. That's R&B and Soul music, you say? Where did rock and roll come from, then, Nimrod, Led Zeppelin?
Another prominent record label from Memphis was former Sun Records producers Joe Cuoghi, Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch's Hi Records who hosted Al Green's 1970s material, including Let's Stay Together (Hi Records, 1972) and I'm Still Loving You (Hi Records, 1972) and Call Me (Hi Records, 1973). In addition to Presley and Green, Memphis has played home base for many musicians like Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Sleepy John Estes, Johnny Ace, Aretha Franklin, and we never even got to Elvis Presley.
Memphis also hosted another recording studio in addition to Sun, Stax and Hi. The American Sound Studio, 827 Thomas Street, was where Elvis recorded his comeback From Elvis in Memphis (RCA, 1969) and his last number one single, "Suspicious Minds" (RCA, 1969). American Sound also hosted B.J. Thomas' recording the David/Bacharach "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," (Sceptre, 1969), Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" (Universal, 1969), Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" (Atlantic, 1967) and the late Alex Chilton and the Box Tops' version of "The Letter" (Mala, 1967). Almost equal with From Elvis in Memphis was Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic, 1969), recorded there in September 1968.