Combining the best of Memphis music past and present with some of the most legendary performers in rock and soul history and a sampling of today's biggest bands, Memphis In May's Beale Street Music Festival has become one of the largest music festivals in the country, routinely drawing over 150,000 fans to the banks of the Big Muddy. This year's lineup should only help continue the festival's popularity, bringing more than 60 acts from a variety of musical genres and generations for a three-day celebration of the city's mighty music heritage.
The Beale Street Music Fest will divide acts among four stages in Tom Lee Park, a 33-acre site that sits at the base of historic Beale Street and stretches along the majestic Mississippi River. This year's festival is headlined by a couple of the most interesting bands from 1970s, each of which has made high-profile comebacks.
Detroit bad boys Iggy & the Stooges, who were arguably the first punk band, will close out the Cellular South Stage Friday night, and fellow '70s artists Steely Dan, who became unlikely radio stars with a blend of rock, jazz, and soul, will headline the Cellular South Stage Saturday night.
But the festival's real calling card may be jam-bands, particularly ones with a distinctly Southern flavor. The Budweiser Stage on Friday is the place for fans of venerable road warriors the Allman Brothers Band, with spin-off faves the Derek Trucks Band and Gov't Mule among the bands warming up for them.
Those who like to groove to a '70s sound will want to stake out a good place at the AutoZone Stage Saturday night, where funk masters the Ohio Players give way to boogie-rock headliner George Thorogood. Younger listeners already nostalgic for the '90s will want to seek out the Cellular South Stage Sunday night for a closing double-bill of the Barenaked Ladies and the Counting Crows.
There's also plenty of exciting contemporary music to be had at this year's festival. Soul fans can catch a back-to-back showcase of two of contemporary soul's emerging stars on the Budweiser Stage Sunday night: British chanteuse Corinne Bailey Rae (of the smash single "Put Your Records On") followed by Grammy favorite John Legend.
Some of the most interesting new acts at this year's festival are ones that bring a fresh approach to roots genres, including bluegrass. Nashville's Old Crow Medicine Show play the Cellular South Stage Saturday afternoon, and the Duhks play the AutoZone Stage earlier in the day. On Sunday, in the TN Lottery Blues Tent, the Lee Boys will try to blow the roof off with their soaring, sanctified steel-guitar sound.
Headbangers will also have plenty of modern rock to choose from this year. Australia's Wolfmother bring their breakout freak-out rock to the Budweiser Stage Saturday night. Youngsters can swoon and thrash to the emo-style rock of Hawthorne Heights and Taking Back Sunday on the Budweiser Stage Saturday. And those with a taste for more muscular rock can take in American Idol star Daughtry and emerging radio-rock heavyweights Hinder. They close the AutoZone Stage Sunday night.
Of course, it wouldn't be the Beale Street Music Fest without a heaping helping of blues, and this year is no exception. Former Howlin' Wolf sideman Hubert Sumlin and Chicago blues queen Koko Taylor highlight the TN Lottery Blues Tent Friday. Eclectic blues master Taj Mahal brings the genre to the AutoZone Stage Saturday night. Sunday, blue-eyed blues will be on display at the TN Lottery Blues Tent in the form of Watermelon Slim.
The Beale Street Music Festival also remains a must-see for the musical legends of Memphis and the Mid-South. Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer Jerry Lee Lewis will play the Budweiser Stage Friday night. On Saturday, you can celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stax records with Eddie Floyd and the Bar-Kays on the Cellular South Stage, then head over to see Beale Street's own Bobby "Blue" Bland close out the TN Lottery Blues Tent. On Sunday, Sun rockabilly bad boy Billy Lee Riley will get things red hot on the Cellular South Stage, while Hi Records songstress Ann Peebles performs on the Budweiser Stage later that afternoon.
And you can also get a sense of what Memphis sounds like today, sampling hip-hop (Three 6 Mafia; Project Pat), blues (Richard Johnston; Daddy Mack Blues Band; and Alvin Youngblood Hart), and rock (North Mississippi Allstars; Egypt Central).
All in all, the options are daunting, but with a solid plan and some comfortable shoes, you should be able to pack your weekend with great music.