Monday, May 6, 2019

Sunday Funday at Beale Street Music Fest 2019

Posted By on Mon, May 6, 2019 at 4:35 PM

click to enlarge Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real
Ideal weather and a stacked lineup brought ’em out in droves for the sunny finale of the 2019 Beale Street Music Festival.

I didn’t make it to Tom Lee Park in time to see Keith Sykes’ homegrown Memphis set, but by the time I was approaching the festival grounds, the crowd was bulging and the din was palpable. There are sellout crowds, and then there are sellout crowds. Already, this was as big a crowd as I had ever seen at music fest, and it was only going to get bigger.
My friend from Nashville who was going to be joining me for Sunday didn’t make it, so I was going into the maelstrom alone. Since I was on the clock, trying to cover as much of the festival as possible, I thought my solo mission would be an advantage. It would be a lot easier to position myself for some good pics and to see what was going on. Boy howdy, was I wrong.

At first, things worked out pretty well. I schlepped up to the side of the Bug Light stage for the last few songs from Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real. They’re a solid, folk-infused classic rock outfit, and the afternoon crowd was lapping it up. They’ve been Neil Young’s backup band for a while now—they stood in for Crazy Horse for Neil’s epic “Down By The River” set in 2016 — so when they closed with “Rockin’ In The Free World,” they knew how to make Young’s barn-burning call to countercultural arms land like a punch. How well that song has aged! “We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand” is about mass shootings now. “That’s one more kid/That will never go to school/Never get to fall in love/Never get to be cool” could have been written about immigrant family separations.
click to enlarge Rodrigo Y Gabriela - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Rodrigo Y Gabriela
Probably the most challenging act on the bill this year was Rodrigo Y Gabriela. The pair of former metalheads from Mexico City could be viewed as the world’s most successful buskers. They built a reputation touring Europe after relocating to Dublin, Ireland, as teenagers. Expanding the realm of flamenco guitar, the pair’s instrumentals are, as an old guitar player friend of mine used to say, technical as a nuclear plant. Garbriela Quintero, who provides the rhythm support for Rodrigo Sanchez’s melodies and improvisational flights, manages to simulate an entire band’s worth of sound with only her right hand and a nylon-stringed classical guitar. The highlight of their set was an expansive version of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” How did a Sunday afternoon festival crowd react to a flamenco arrangement of a 23-minute song originally written as a secret soundtrack to the “Jupiter and Beyond The Infinite” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey?  They loved it! Did not see that coming.
click to enlarge Hamish Anderson at the Blues Tent - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Hamish Anderson at the Blues Tent

Over in the Blues Tent, Australian gunslinger Hamish Anderson was playing. Anderson was definitely of the White Stripes-influenced generation of guitarists, and given that seminal band’s debut to Memphis, it was a good fit for the festival.
click to enlarge That's Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones hanging off the VIP tent. It would have looked a lot cooler if I had been closer. - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • That's Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones hanging off the VIP tent. It would have looked a lot cooler if I had been closer.
As the press of humanity intensified, Alabama soul stirrers St. Paul and the Broken Bones took the festival to church. Singer Paul Janeway, dressed in a black feathered cape, tested the range limits of his wireless microphone by leaping into the crowd and attempting to high five as many people as he could. After moving through the VIP tent, he sang the final verses of his set hanging from a pole above the throngs. Reader, I could have gotten some spectacular photos of that moment had I not been on the opposite side of the stage.
click to enlarge The Claypool Lennon Delierium - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • The Claypool Lennon Delierium
One philly cheesesteak later, I was well positioned for The Claypool Lennon Delirium. Sean Lennon and the Primus bassist have been quietly concocting full-on psychedelic prog rock albums that sounds pretty compelling in person. They’re also kind of a snapshot of the music biz in the modern festival era: A supergroup spinning off the friendly space rock of the Flaming Lips and MGMT. To be fair, it worked great in the moment, and the level of musicianship was very high. It provided a great soundtrack to the spectacular sunset.
click to enlarge Sunset over Tom Lee Park - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Sunset over Tom Lee Park
Gary Clark Jr.’s moment in front of the absolutely packed Bud Light stage reminded me of my first Beale Street Music Festival, where I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan fight off rain squalls with “Couldn’t Stand The Weather.” The band was rock solid, and Clark’s absolute command of his guitar was inspiring.

As Clark’s set wound down, I headed north to the Terminix stage. I was determined to meet pop on its own terms, and that meant getting as close to Cardi B. as humanly possible. In her red sequined catsuit and rainbow wig, the most successful female rapper in history was all carefully calculated swagger. To all the done-up ladies in spandex who thought it would be a good idea to wear heels to day three of an outdoor music festival colloquially known as “Memphis In Mud,” she was exactly what they needed at that moment.
click to enlarge Hoopers get set for Cardi B - CHRIS MCCOY
  • Chris McCoy
  • Hoopers get set for Cardi B

At no time was I closer than a quarter mile from Cardi B.

When I discovered I was actually being pushed backwards from the stage, I decided to bail about halfway through to check out The Killers, for the sake of journalistic completeness. It would turn out to be a fateful mistake. The FedEx stage was hosting about 75 percent of the Cardi B crowd, which meant it was bursting at the seams with revelers. After trying to absorb the Killers for a couple of songs, I called it a night and started making my way toward the south exit — just in time to get caught in the swirling climax of Cardi B’s show. Then, as the show ended, I, along with approximately 10,000 others, were pinned against the eastern line of fences and hospitality tents as the crowd was given conflicting instructions on which way to go. The crowd control was nonexistent at the choke point, save for a lone security guard at the Budweiser tent who yelled “Keep moving!” without specifying a direction. For about 10 minutes, it felt like a legitimately dangerous situation, verging on a stampede, until enough people at the head of the line had cleared out to release the pressure on the back ranks. It was an unfortunate ending to an otherwise successful Beale Street Music Festival. 

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