The Sun Comes out for the final day of the Beale Street Music Festival
Review + Photos by L Paul Mann
May 1, 2016 | Memphis, TN – The sun finally made an appearance at the Beale Street music festival, during its final day of the 2016 season. Music fans flocked to the festival grounds on the banks of the Mississippi River early, in the afternoon and the music got under way just after 2PM. Some came early to imbibe the numerous alcoholic beverages or have lunch at one of the many sumptuous food stands. Others set up their blankets on the river banks and basked in the warm sunshine, while old fashioned paddle wheel steamboats floated by, packed with tourists.
The music began fittingly, with a nationally little known, but historically significant, band, Those Pretty Wrongs, featuring Memphis local Jody Stephens. Stephens was the original drummer of the cult classic rock band Big Star. The inventive band was an American progressive power pop band formed in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1971 by Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel. Although the group broke up in 1974, they’re critically acclaimed music has influenced some of the most successful Indie American rock bands ever since. In the last few years there has been a huge resurgence of interest in the group ‘s Beatleesque ground breaking albums from the 70’s. The interest has led to a series of concerts featuring some of the biggest names in Indie music, playing their own interpretations of the classic albums. This new group features Stephens and Los Angeles singer and guitarist Luther Russel. The band made their Memphis debut at the festival as an acoustic trio, and sang in harmonies akin to early Crosby, Stills and Nash songs. The band played mostly songs from their debut album which is set to be released shortly, with a few Big Star gems thrown into the mix.
Guitar rock seemed to be the dominating force for most of the final day of the festival. The Blues tent was again drenched in incredible blues guitar talent. Blackberry Smoke brought the Southern rock tinge to guitar jamming early in the afternoon. They were followed on the Fedex stage by another guitar wailing set by the Arcs, featuring Dan Auerbach, the guitarist of the headlining group The Black Keyes. Playing with little hype and in relative obscurity across the festival circuit, this double drummer group, in many ways plays more sophisticated rock, than Auerbach’s more well known moniker. The Cold War Kids followed with their own brand of jamming Indie rock. But the real guitar hero of the night, Beck, closed the main Fedex stage with a ferocious set of his classic songs. With an awesome band of musicians keeping pace, the singer guritaitst flailed about the stage like a young punk rocker. The multi talented musician rocked from his opening classic “Devils Haircut,” all the way to his guitar wailing encore.
The Rockstar stage featured more classic rock through the day, all be it a myriad of genres. The Indigo Girls brought their folk laden harmonies to an appreciative crowd early on. The energy level advanced with the band that followed, the R&B drenched Nathaniel Ratliff and The Night Sweats. But it was the closing set by pop music icon Paul Simon that drew the biggest crowd of the day. Simon’s huge group of veteran musicians played rock rhythms drenched in world music roots, while Simon strummed his acoustic guitar and rattled off his classic hits in his trademark voice. The singer played a whole host of crowd favorites including “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Slip Slidin Away,” “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down by theSchoolyard”. But, perhaps the biggest crowd response came when Simon played songs off the “Graceland” album, honoring the historic Memphis institution and home of Elvis.
The Bud Light stage offered up the most eclectic mix of music this final day. The local Memphis group, The Band Camino opened with some good clean Indie rock riffs. They were followed by another local musician, Alex Da Ponte, with a more folksy blue grass tinged approach to Indie rock. The music took a decidedly different turn when the next group took the stage. The Joy Formidable, originally hailing from North Wales, brought an electronica drenched Indie rock sound to the festival. Their thick accents lent an international air of charm to their trance inducing music. Hailing literally form the other side of the planet, Australian singer guitarist Courtney Barnett brought the emphasis back on wailing blues guitar with her explosive performance. As night fell a whole new much younger audience appeared at the front of the stage. The music turned back into more dance oriented Indie electronic rock, with the chart topping music of Bastille. Led by charismatic singer, Dan Smith, the group literally wooed the crowd with well known songs like their number one hit “Pompeii”. As the music on the other stages started to wind down, the final set of the night took place on the Bud Light stage. European EDM star ZEDD, closed out the festival with his Grammy winning thumping beats that had young fans in a dance trance euphoria.
Despite threats from inclement weather, the 2016 Beale Street music festival was a huge success by most all accounts. With almost every band playing the eclectic three day festival getting a full set and staggered start times for the different stages, the festival offers up one of the best festival opportunities to experience the most musical bang for the buck. Long live the blues! Memphis rocks!
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