This is a great week to binge-consume regional culture, to celebrate where we've been, sample where we are, and catch a glimpse of where we're going. It kicks off Friday night with a screening of Wattstax at the Levitt Shell and continues through the weekend with the Center for Southern Folklore's annual Memphis Music & Heritage Festival celebrating the life and legacy of bluesman and big panty enthusiast, Bobby Rush.
Wattstax is the soulful 1973 documentary/concert film about the epic 1972 music festival, sometimes called "the black Woodstock." Wattstax was organized in Los Angeles by Memphis' Stax Records to mark the 7th anniversary of the Watts riots. It featured comedian Richard Pryor and showcased performers like Rufus and Carla Thomas, the Staple Singers, Johnnie Taylor, the Bar-Kays, and Isaac Hayes, among others.
It's hard to imagine Bobby Rush as anything other than an energetic blur of bling and bawdy shenanigans, stalking the stage like a funky tiger, shirtless but wearing a brightly colored suit trimmed out in spangles and sequins and singing about the pleasures and the difficulties of making love to women who are bigger than you are. Now 80, Rush is a blues and soul institution who spent a portion of the past year serving as a visiting scholar of popular song at Rhodes College. His annual performances at downtown's Music & Heritage Festival have marked summer's end for many years now. This year, the festival is dedicated to the undercover lover himself and features two days of arts, crafts, and dance, in addition to a wall-to-wall slate of blues, rock, soul, country, and folk concerts performed by a wide range of area performers.
The Center For Southern Folklore's Memphis Music & Heritage Festival is downtown's best party. As always, it's free and open to music lovers of all ages.