T&E Report: Memphis for Beale Street Music Festival (May 3-5)

MemphisBeale Street Music Festival, May 3-5

BROWSE Few cities are so deeply defined by their music heritage as Memphis. After all, even when Bob Dylan was "stuck inside of Mobile" he still had the Memphis blues. The city's Beale Street Music Festival (memphisinmay.org/musicfestival), a key feature of the extravagant Memphis in May event, draws a tremendous range of acts--this year's lineup includes the Smashing Pumpkins, the Black Crowes, the Roots and Big Boi; hipster acts the Joy Formidable and Phoenix; and, of course, local icons Jerry Lee Lewis and Mavis Staples. As for the lay of the land, Goner Records (goner-records.com) co-founder Zac Ives points to the Midtown district of Cooper-Young: "That's where the shop is and several of my favorite bars and restaurants." He also recommends checking out the up-and-coming Overton Square and Crosstown areas. John Doyle, executive director of the Memphis Rock 'N' Soul Museum (memphisrocknsoul.org), likes South Main in downtown, which is "packed with diverse galleries, restaurants and farmers markets." But as Memphis in May president/CEO Jim Holt is keen to point out, you can "feel the city's rich musical history in the air as you walk the streets where legends like Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Alex Chilton and Jeff Buckley once strolled."

STAY Preferred Hotel Group's storied Peabody Hotel (peabodymemphis.com) has hosted everyone from Faith Hill to Justin Timberlake to U2 within its opulent walls; it was also where Elvis attended his prom in 1953. But its most adored feature is its famous Duck Parade, which counts Peter Frampton and Kevin Bacon among its list of celebrity Duckmasters. The more stylishly modern Madison Hotel (madisonhotelmemphis.com), favored by the likes of Tom Waits, is actually music-themed; guests are encouraged to bang out a couple of numbers on the lobby's grand piano.

EAT Hitting up one of the famous barbecue joints like Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous (hogsfly.com) or A&R Bar-B-Que (aandrbbq.com) is a must for carnivorous visitors. But Jay Sieleman, president/CEO of the Blues Foundation, says the Majestic Grille (majesticgrille.com) "has a mix of great people and great food." He also notes that Itta Bena (ittabenamemphis.com), above B.B. King's (bbkingclubs.com), "consistently delivers." (The Creole specialties are recommended.) Robbie Crowell of Rhode Island alt-country band Deer Tick, which is on the Beale Street festival bill this year, gushes that P&H (pandhcafe.com) "has the best fried pickles anywhere." Ives recommends hipster magnet Lamplighter on Madison Avenue for a late-night burger, while Doyle insists that "for real soul food, head to Ellen's on South Bellevue."


PLAY Deer Tick's Ian O'Neil laments, "We don't get to play Memphis as often as we'd like," but fondly recalls hitting the stage at the Hi-Tone (hitonememphis.com), and also points out that "their pizza is great." The legendary venue has played host to the hip Gonerfest, and will be opening in a new location this spring. Chris Shaw of Memphis garage-punk indie fave Ex-Cult recommends a few rounds at the Buccaneer (1368 Monroe Ave., 901-278-0909), "a pirate-themed dive bar built kind of like an old house. Everyone from the Black Lips to Mike Watt has played there." Sieleman says that "Blues Hall is the sure bet for real deal blues," while Holt recommends "Tom Lee Park [memphisriverfront.com], at the foot of Beale Street along the banks of the mighty Mississippi...truly the birthplace of rock'n'roll and blues music."


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