Memphis in May: Good Music, Good Friends and Good Times

Posted on June 1, 2014


musicfestival3By Isabelle Nelson and photography by Alison Bruff

The Memphis Area Chamber in Commerce established the idea for a music festival in the city of Memphis in hopes of increasing income and population through numerous crowd-pleasing events. In 1977, the first Beale Street Music Festival was held at the corner of Beale and Third Street. It wasn’t until the next year when it formed a salute to the dignified country of Canada that the notorious festival was given the second name, Memphis in May. Since then, it has been named one of the Top 20 Music Festivals of 2014 along with ACL, Coachella and Lollapalooza.

musicfestival2In 1990, the Beale Street Music Festival moved its location to Tom Lee Park and by 1995, the event, which included the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Sunset Symphonies’ firework display, was welcoming more than 50,000 enthusiastic attendees. By 2001, the crowds accumulated to 165,000 that resulted in three sold out days, a Beale Street Musical Festival first. Having hosted big name artists such as Jack Johnson, Wiz Khalifa, and Florence + the Machine, the festivals popularity has risen through the roof in the last few years.

This past month, the festival celebrated its 38th all different musical preferences banded together in the beautiful Tom Lee Park to watch headliners including Foster the People, Alabama Shakes, Snoop Lion and Pretty Lights strut their stuff on stage.

Arriving just on time to see electronic music artist Pretty Lights, I was immediately encapsulated by the exhilarant lightshow causing the crowd to throw their hands up, many waving around large glow sticks or sitting on the shoulders of other audience members. Pretty Lights moved around the stage, seemingly detached from the crowd. His head bobbed in a dazed manner as his hands moved across the booth in a lightning speed-pace, spinning records and pressing buttons that created transcendent, bass-heavy sounds and lit the audience in colors of red, blue and green.

NMusicFestival1ext I was delighted to have the opportunity to view one of my favorite bands, Foster the People. The three-member Indie group from California hopped around the stage in pure jubilance, belting out the unique yet refreshingly real lyrics to
songs from their most-recent extraordinary album, Supermodel. I took in every moment of the show with fellow audience members who danced, lifted their hands up in the air and sang along to euphoric numbers such as “Coming of Age” and “Best Friend”.

Last but not least, my friends and I ventured back to the right stage where Pretty Lights had performed to see Big Gigantic, an instrumental hip-hop and jazz musical group. Infusing electronic beats with live saxophone and drums, the duo was intoxicatingly fun as they interacted with the audience, passionately pumping fists into the air and jumping up and down to the stimulating sounds emitting from their instruments. Energized by the performance, including a thrilling
lightshow, the audience bounced along to the funky rhymes and techno beats until the final show concluded around 1 AM.

As a first timer at Beale Street Music Festival, I thought the event deserves just as much excitement and appreciation that it receives as a Memphis mainstay. Although there had been controversy over the quality of the lineup this year, I realized that the event was not just about watching one’s all-time favorite music artists, it was about the fun experience downtown you create amongst good friends as well as being open to listening to (and maybe end up enjoying) music you have never experienced before!musicfestival4

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