O'Landa Draper's Associates kicked off a sold-out Friday night at Memphis in May's Beale Street Music Fest. Performing at 6:30 before a rather sparse audience on the Budweiser Stage, the gospel choir performed a capella or -- rather disappointingly -- over pre-recorded instrumental tracks. The Associates' lackluster and poorly attended performance only confirmed the awkwardness of gospel music at an outdoor rock festival. The group ended its show by bringing out a teen group called the Cathedral Christian Steppers and a rapper and had the kids dance to a hip-hop gospel number called "All About Him."
At 7:45 the North Mississippi Allstars performed before a huge crowd at the Autozone Stage, the event's largest performance space. The crowd may have rivaled the sold-out Mid-South Coliseum shows the Allstars played last fall opening for Georgia jam band Widespread Panic as the largest hometown crowd the band has ever performed for. And the Allstars were in fine form. Bassist Chris Chew wore a bright red Cincinnati Reds baseball cap, its "C" logo fitting the man's name. During the portion of the performance I saw, the band stuck to material from its only album to date, "Shake Hands With Shorty," running through blues classics like "Sittin' On Top Of The World" and a guitar-solo riddled "Po Black Maddie." The Allstars then brought out R.L. Burnside's grandson Gary for a spirited take on "Goin' Down South."
As I was leaving the Allstars show, they were launching into their version of the sly Furry Lewis classic "K.C. Jones" just as Keith Sykes was playing Blind Willie McTell's "Broke Down Engine" on the Budweiser Stage. The blues, on this night, were in full effect even outside the blues tent.
Local metal-band-made-good Saliva took to the Budweiser Stage at around 9:00 after a ridiculously interminable set-up and a silly and mostly indecipherable taped intro. Lead singer Josey Scott was decked out in a white suit while the rest of the band wore black. Scott worked the crowd like a Vegas pro, introducing the song "Superstar" by saying to the hometown crowd, "I wanna thank you for making me . . . a superstar!" It was the exact same schtick he used at a New Daisy show earlier this year. The band opened their set with energetic takes on songs from their debut album, Every Six Seconds - "Click, Click, Boom," "Superstar," "The World is After Me." Rhythm guitarist Chris Dabaldo bounded around the stage and Scott informed the hyped crowd that he'd turned 29 yesterday and had come home to have a big party.
It has been said that bands get the crowds they deserve. If that's true then apparently Saliva deserved drunken frat-boys trying to slam dance and encouraging women to "show your tits" - some of whom were happy to oblige.
After a few Saliva songs I wondered back to the AutoZone Stage where the legendary Ike Turner was leading his 9-piece Kings of Rhythm and Blues though a few blues standards. Turner was playing guitar and wearing a black suit and hat. The crowd was large, but most of them seemed disinterested. They were likely staking out a spot for the next act on that stage, the Dave Matthews Band.
Turner sat down at the piano for a rollicking take on his trademark "Rocket 88" and after that climactic moment I decided it was a good time to head back to Budweiser to see what Saliva was up to. Walking away from Autozone into a swarm of people heading towards it for the Dave Matthews set, I was hit with déja vu. Then I remembered - it was just last years that I was walking away from the same stage as hordes of Widespread Panic fans were descending.
Back at Bud, Saliva's Scott was introducing the band's final song, the current hit single "Your Disease," with the perhaps unwise, Limp Bizkit-like comment, "this is your last chance to break stuff." After the song, Scott left the stage by saying, "Memphis, you fucking rock. We love you."