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With little more than two weeks before Memphis in May's Beale Street Music Festival, ticket sales are going well according to MIM executive vice president Diane Hampton.

"We've sold tickets in nine foreign countries and 48 states, all but Nevada and Wyoming, and that's the largest spread we've ever seen," Hampton says. As far as ticket volume, Hampton also says sales are ahead of last year, a fact partly resulting from starting sales a couple of weeks earlier but probably more inspired by a lineup more exciting than many in years' past.

This year's music fest (which runs Friday, April 29th, through Sunday, May 1st, at Tom Lee Park) boasts many of the same elements fans have grown to expect: There's a strong contingent of local artists, both contemporary (alt-rockers The Bloodthirsty Lovers, metal up-and-comers Egypt Central, neo-soulster Will Graves, rapper Yo Gotti) and vintage (Stax alum Mavis Staples, Sun star Jerry Lee Lewis, Beale Street grad Bobby "Blue" Bland). There are dependable classic-rock acts (K.C. & the Sunshine Band, The Black Crowes, War) and a solid blues contingent (Hubert Sumlin, James Cotton, W.C. Clark).

But what's different this year is a stronger, and hipper, dedication to contemporary music, as demonstrated by hip-hop headliners Nelly and The Roots (one of the most interesting music-fest bookings ever) and rock headliners Los Lonely Boys and The Killers. Hampton simply calls it "a very fresh lineup."

And if that lineup can provoke more advance tickets sales, then all the better for Memphis in May. In previous years, the festival has sold out in advance. When advance sales fell off last year, the festival got hurt because walk-up tickets were limited by poor weather. "The last two years were probably the most abysmal weather we've had in years," Hampton says.

Beale Street Music Festival tickets are available through Ticketmaster. Right now, single-day passes are $19.50 and three-day passes are $45. After April 23rd, ticket prices jump to $22.50 per day or $58.50 for a full pass.

Speaking of Nelly, you have to admire the bravery of ticket buyers, who are willing to forge ahead despite a public scolding from The Commercial Appeal's self-appointed Memphis morality czar, Wendi Thomas, who took Memphis in May to task for booking Nelly in a curious if comical March 10th column. Or maybe they just bought tickets in moments of weakness, the way one might download a Jay-Z song off iTunes.

Thomas' anti-Nelly diatribe may not have been entirely without merit. It's hard to argue that Nelly's "Tip Drill" video isn't heinous and the Jedi-mind-trick sexism of "Hot in Herre" got more dreary as the song became more ubiquitous. But let's be honest: If you put all of contemporary, mainstream hip-hop on a continuum in terms of objectionable content, Nelly is middle of the pack at worst. Taking that into consideration, Thomas' refusal to feign similar outrage at the booking of more lyrically extreme local acts (Al Kapone this year, Three Six Mafia last year) is more cowardly than curious.

One of the local acts set to play the music fest this year, college-rock faves Ingram Hill, get a big break this week with their national television debut. The band will appear on ABC's late-night Jimmy Kimmel Live Thursday, April 14th. The band will likely play "Almost Perfect," the second single from their current June's Picture Show album. "Almost Perfect" has followed lead-single "Will I Ever Make It Home" onto the Billboard Adult-Contemporary charts and was tabbed as a "sure shot" this week by ex-Memphian Rick Dees on his nationally syndicated countdown show. The song will also be featured on an upcoming episode of the WB's Summerland.

Another local act having a good week is the hip-hop collective Iron Mic Coalition. After opening for rap legend KRS-ONE at the Plush Club last Saturday, the group was invited to follow KRS-ONE to New York to open a show at S.O.B.'s. According to DJ Capital A, the invitation came from KRS-ONE the day after the Memphis gig, and seven of the nine members of the group (sans Capital A and rapper/producer Empee) drove to NYC for the performance, which was Wednesday, April 6th. According the Capital A, the show was also a birthday party for hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc, and Capital A claims his cohorts "got a lot of love from New York" at a "jam-packed show." n

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