Some observations on Day 2 of the Beale Street Music Festival.
There really should be a category of music known as festival music. It includes all genres but deals more with the expectations of the crowd in that particular environment. The best performers already know about festival music. In festival music, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and every other three name guitar slinger from the Stevie Ray Vaughn school of the blues has always and will always close with Voodoo Chile. Black Lips was helpfully directing festival goers to Buddy Guy on the next stage. A certain amount of confusion was already making its way through the crowd – saw lots of Black Keys t-shirts. I’m guessing this is the irony-must-be-observed-at-all-costs crowd.
No irony anywhere on stage when The Cult played. The band broke one of the cardinal rules of festival music, pushing a lot of new tunes from their new release which they are distributing off the music industry grid. The hits were well received. But during one of the new songs two small airplanes did a fly by wing to wing and a lot of the phone cameras shifted their attention to the plane silhouettes against the setting son. Even the band was watching, while playing on, of course.
Why does there remain a ban on recording devices when everyone who enters has one in their phones and uses them?
Childish Gambino had some interesting sonic samples mixed in to a set I otherwise could not relate to for age and cultural reasons. Alright, I can’t get past the name. Happy? He still gets my vote for the hardest working performer I saw, much more than the requisite large towel waving by assorted hangers on that many hip-hop acts rely on to fill up the large festival stages. At one point he asked where the black women were in the audience. Apparently someone who wasn’t supposed to raised her hand. “You are not black,” he said. “Ask your parents.”
Watching Buddy Guy I couldn’t help but wonder about his obvious influence on Jimi Hendrix but also about how much Hendrix influenced him. Influence is very much a two-way street in music.
Two years ago, in The Memphis News, we did an editorial to go with a cover story on Memphis in May. In that editorial, we suggested a brass band play somewhere on Beale Street during the festival since that’s how the blues were played by the time they moved north from Mississippi to the most famous street in blues. There was a brass band at Memphis in May this year, but not on the street. It was in Tom Lee Park itself, as part of a booth promoting St. Louis tourism.
On Beale Street, a drum group was doing a pretty brisk business. The flippers have either branched out or they have competition this summer.
Because of Beale Street Landing’s arrival, the park is configured differently for the music festival as we noted several weeks ago. So, the Blues Tent is now the first stage you come to when you enter off Beale Street. The other three are closer together as a result and there was some musical bleed. But there always has been to some degree. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t and wasn’t adjusted for pretty quickly. The festival has always been about those moments when nobody is playing you are keenly interested in and if you stand in the right place you can hear what’s happening on one stage line up with what’s happening on another stage for a minute or so at a time.
The hardest stage to work on in that regard remains the “Blues Shack,” a tiny stage with a backdrop that is the front of a shack. It’s supposed to be timed for its very short sets to happen during a break on the two neighboring stages. But it doesn’t always work that way. Blind Mississippi Morris and Brad Webb were on the shack stage Saturday and making the best of a situation that has tested performers since Keb Mo took on the shack near the start of the festival.
I got my year’s supply of pedal steel during the Son Volt set. Every song. I’m good until next May.
The festival has been around long enough that a set of placards now lists Memphis-based acts that have played the festival and the years they have played the festival. It’s time to start compiling a festival history that includes such things as who has played the festival the most, who has been a headliner the most and some other categories. Contributions, back stage and on stage stories welcome.