As historically precarious a business entity as it is a culturally essential bedrock of downtown Memphis, the Center for Southern Folklore will celebrate its first anniversary at its latest location a little early this week due to the return of the center's Memphis Music and Heritage Festival. The center, co-founded in 1972 by Bill Ferris and executive director Judy Peiser, was forced out of its last location at 209 Beale Street in the fall of 1999 due to debt problems. With the center homeless for much of 2000, the Music and Heritage Festival -- the organization's signature event since 1988 - - didn't occur last year.
But now it's back. Arguably the finest annual celebration of Memphis music and culture the city has, this year's festival will retain the three-day, multistage, multigenre format that it had before the center's year- long "hiatus."
This year the festival will feature five stages along a two-block line connecting the center in Pembroke Square to the Peabody Place Entertainment and Retail Center. The center's regular performance space will be used as one festival stage, followed by: a Trolley Stop Stage right outside the Pembroke Square doors on Main, a Main Stage in the parking lot across Second Street from Peabody Place, a Peabody Place Stage in the mall's large open area, and a Tower Records Stage inside the new store. As is festival tradition, genres will be mixed on each stage, encouraging a constant flow of traffic along a route sprinkled with food and crafts vendors.
Peiser is particularly excited about one act new to the festival: merengue accordion virtuoso Joaquin Diaz, a Dominican Republic native now based in Montreal. Peiser was knocked out by a Diaz performance recently at a Folk Alliance Conference in Vancouver and decided to bring him to the festival. "I like the festival to present regional artists," says Peiser, "but I also want to bring other people in. I especially wanted to bring something in for the Latino community in Memphis. I think that's very important."
The festival itself is free, but the center will host special events on Friday and Saturday night at 11 p.m. for a $10 cover. Friday's late show will be Jimbo Mathus' Traveling Road Show, in which the ex-Squirrel Nut Zipper and native Mississippian will be joined by vintage Sun blues artist and recent comeback kid Rosco Gordon and center stalwarts the Fieldstones. Saturday night's event will be Sock Hop 'Til You Drop, a pairing of Sun rockabilly artist Sonny Burgess with the New Orleans band the Royal Pendletons.
The highlight of the festival may come Sunday night on the Main Stage, which will close with a four-act stretch of local music that would be hard to top: The Spirit of Memphis Gospel Quartet is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jim Dickinson and his North Mississippi Allstars progeny, who will likely play a jug-band set, will follow. Next up will be Sun rockabilly icon Billy Lee Riley. Closing out the night, and the festival, will be true Memphis music royalty in the form of Rufus Thomas and his "kids," Carla and Marvell.
The rest of the lineup is a typically enticing mix of sounds -- blues, jazz, country, rock, and gospel, with a touch of rap and world music thrown in. Blues stands tall, of course. One highlight in that vein could be Johnny "Duck" Holmes, a cousin of seminal Delta bluesman Skip James. Holmes owns and operates the Blues Front Café in Bentonia, Mississippi, and appeared in the Robert Mugge and Robert Palmer documentary Deep Blues. According to the center's Andria Lisle, this will mark Holmes' Memphis debut. Other blues highlights will be two of the city's most highly regarded house bands: The Hard Luck Blues Masters and the Hollywood Allstars play before packed crowds locally at the Hard Luck Café and Wild Bill's, respectively, but both will be venturing outside their normal digs for festival appearances. Also playing are the Handy Three, who recently won the Beale Street Blues Society's annual battle of the bands contest.
As the center approaches its one-year mark in the new location, Peiser seems pleased with its status. Certainly, the appearance and feel of the space have changed considerably since last fall's opening: What at first had the look of a college cafeteria now feels almost as funky and cozy as the previous Beale location. The center's experiment with lunchtime performances has gone over well, according to Peiser, but the new, more out-of-the-way location has had an effect on foot traffic. "I think locals still have trouble finding us, but tourists from, say, Sweden or Switzerland know what they're looking for and have no problem at all," says Peiser. "We've done well with special events -- Little Milton, Kate Campbell, Roy Carrier. This may be a space where [locals] need a specific reason to come, and in the next year we plan on giving them more reasons."
Main Stage: Papa Top's West Coast Turnaround, 5 p.m.; J.M. Van Eaton's Van Jam, 6 p.m.; Susan Marshall and Jackie Johnson, 7 p.m.; the Daddy Mack Blues Band, 8 p.m.; Rosco Gordon with Calvin Newborn and Sonny Williams, 9 p.m.; Joaquin Diaz and his Merengue Band, 10 p.m.
Trolley Stop Stage: Melissa Dunn, 5:15 p.m.; Sid Selvidge, 6:15 p.m.; Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, 7:15 p.m.; Jimbo Mathus & Knockdown Society, 8:15 p.m.; Ronnie Williams and Ed Finney, 9:15 p.m.
Center For Southern Folklore Stage: Charlie Wood, 11:30 a.m.; Ross Rice, 12:30 p.m.; Brother Love Blues Band, 1:30 p.m.; Little Albert Jazz Orchestra, 2:30 p.m.; the Chiselers, 3:30 p.m.; Los Cantadores, 4:30 p.m.; Jim Skinner and Devin Miller, 5:30 p.m.; Old Man Johnson and the Cooter River Band, 6:30 p.m.; Jeff Huddleston and Blue Bossa, 7:30 p.m.; Sandy Carroll, 8:30 p.m.; the Hard Luck Blues Masters, 9:30 p.m.
Peabody Place Stage: Memphis James, 11:30 p.m.; Cory Branan, 12:30 p.m.; Darrel Petteis & Strength and Praise, 6:30 p.m.; Exodus, 8:30 p.m.
Main Stage: Melvin Rogers Big Band, 2 p.m.; Herman Green and the Green Machine, 3 p.m.; Di Anne Price and her Boyfriends, 4 p.m.; the Bluff City Backsliders, 5 p.m.; Moloch, 6 p.m.; Kate Campbell, 7 p.m.; Sonny Burgess and the Pacers with Paul Burlison, 8 p.m.; Joaquin Diaz and his Merengue Band, 9 p.m.; Reba Russell, 10 p.m.
Trolley Stop Stage: Global Warming, 2:15 p.m.; Jason Freeman, 3:15 p.m.; Poetic Outlet with I.Q.'s 7 'Strophes, 4:15 p.m.; Jimmy Crosthwait, 5:15 p.m.; Smoochy Smith, 6:15 p.m.; the Royal Pendletons, 7:15 p.m.; the True Gospel Travelers, 8:15 p.m.; the Kattawar Brothers, 9:15 p.m.
Center For Southern Folklore Stage: Children's Theatre, 1 p.m.; Gatemouth Moore, 2:30 p.m.; Eddie Bond, 3:30 p.m.; Shelby Bryant, 4:30 p.m.; Nancy Apple's Songwriters in the Round, 5:30 p.m.; the Hollywood Allstars, 6:30 p.m.; Alonzo Pennington, 7:30 p.m.; Brown Sugar, 8:30 p.m.; Ace Cannon, 9:30 p.m.
Peabody Place Stage: Stax Music Academy Rhythm Section, 11:30 a.m.; Jimmy Crosthwait, 1:30 p.m.; Salute to the Wonders Exhibition "Eternal Egypt," 4:30 p.m.; the Obys, 6:30 p.m.; the Daddy Mack Blues Band, 8:30 p.m.
Tower Records Stage: The Layman Quartet, 2 p.m.; MC Honcho, Lost Innocence, and Jewel Sanchez, 3 p.m.; Greg Hisky Band, 4 p.m.; Hank and Becc, 5 p.m.; FreeWorld, 6 p.m.; Roy Harper and Johnny Bellar, 7 p.m.; Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, 8 p.m.; Billy Gibson, 9 p.m.
Main Stage: American Deathray Music, 2 p.m.; the Fieldstones with Barbara Blue, 3 p.m.; the Memphis Klezmer Revue, 4 p.m.; Angelic Voices of Faith, 5 p.m.; Billy Gibson with Mose Vinson, 6 p.m.; the Spirit of Memphis Gospel Quartet, 7 p.m.; Jim Dickinson and Sons, 8 p.m.; Billy Lee Riley, 9 p.m.; Rufus, Carla, and Marvell Thomas, 10 p.m.
Trolley Stop Stage: Alonzo Pennington, 2:15 p.m.; David Evans, 3:15 p.m.; I.Q. and Fathom 9: Double Exposure, 4:15 p.m.; the Gamble Brothers, 5:15 p.m.; Randall Morton, 6:15 p.m.; the Porch Ghouls, 7:15 p.m.; Richard Graham Samba Group with Patricia Reis, 8:15 p.m.; Blind Mississippi Morris, 9:15 p.m.
Center For Southern Folklore Stage: The Handy Three, 2:30 p.m.; Roy Harper and Johnny Bellar, 3:30 p.m.; the Vance Ensemble, 4:30 p.m.; the Gospel Jubilees, 5 p.m.; the Jollyaires, 5:30 p.m.; the Neal Brothers, 6 p.m.; Smoochy Smith, 6:30 p.m.; the Subteens, 7:30 p.m.; the Last Chance Jug Band, 8:30 p.m.; Lucero, 9:30 p.m.
Peabody Place Stage: Kate Campbell, 12:30 p.m.; New Memphis Hepcats, 4:30 p.m.; Tropix, 6:30 p.m.; Joaquin Diaz and his Merengue Band, 8:30 p.m.
Tower Records Stage: The Ron Franklin Entertainers, 2 p.m.; Cooley's House, 3 p.m.; Carol Plunk, 4 p.m.; the Great Depression, 5 p.m.; the Lost Sounds, 6 p.m.; Teresa Pate, 7 p.m.; Perfection, 8 p.m.; Eighty Katie, 9 p.m.