Combining perhaps its most impressive group of contemporary stars ever with the usual mix of legends, blues sure-shots, and terrific Memphis artists, Memphis in May's Beale Street Music Festival is primed for one of its best and busiest years. The 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 roughly 60 acts from a variety of genres and generations for a three-day celebration of the city's mighty music heritage.
The Beale Street Music Fest divides acts among four stages — along with a "blues shack" — in Tom Lee Park, a 33-acre site that sits at the base of historic Beale Street and stretches along the majestic Mississippi River.
On Friday night, fans can see modern alt-rock at its most psychedelic when the Memphis-connected MGMT and theatrical Oklahoma rockers the Flaming Lips headline the Horseshoe Casino Stage. Pop fans can witness an interesting combination of radio juggernauts with rapper B.o.B. and songwriter Jason Mraz on the Bud Light Stage. Meanwhile, fans of hard rock or blues can camp out for veteran stars such as Stone Temple Pilots and Jimmie Vaughan on the MATCU Stage and in the FedEx Blues Tent, respectively.
On Saturday, a rich, diverse collection of alt-country/roots-rock acts highlight the Bud Light Stage, featuring Grammy-certified folk-rockers Mumford & Sons and headliner John Mellencamp, who will mix familiar hits with selections from his recent, partly Memphis-recorded album No Better Than This. The Horseshoe Casino Stage will pair a couple of Southern rap stalwarts with Memphis' 8Ball & MJG and Atlanta's Ludacris. An eclectic bill on the MATCU Stage will range from jam (Lotus) to indie (New Pornographers) before capping off the night with jazz (Kirk Whalum) and soul (Gap Band singer Charlie Wilson). Meanwhile, the Blues Tent goes Chicago with headliners Magic Slim & the Teardrops and Otis Clay.
On Sunday, alt-country and folk-rock fans will want to be at the Horseshoe Casino Stage where locals (Lucero), a legend (Gregg Allman), up-and-comers (the Avett Brothers), and contemporary stars (Wilco) will share the stage. Hard-rock fans will be at the Bud Light Stage for the head-banging sounds of bands like Drowning Pool and Godsmack. An interesting pairing on the MATCU Stage brings together Memphis rap legend Al Kapone and former Atlanta rapper turned smash pop singer Cee Lo Green. And the FedEx Blues Tent bookends a potentially amazing day from the sacred-steel sound of Miami's Lee Boys and the deep-soul singing of comeback star Bettye LaVette.