Stars Under the Stars: The 2018 Levitt Shell Summer Schedule 

Mindi Abair

Greg Allen

Mindi Abair

Memphians may anticipate the onset of summer weather with a dollop of dread, but one institution that makes summer downright glorious here is the Orion Free Concert Series at the Levitt Shell, now in its 10th year. Stretching out on the grass with family and friends under the open sky is a time-honored way to beat the heat, since before the days of air conditioning. And the eclectic approach the Levitt Shell brings to curating acts guarantees that there will be something for everyone. Today we announce the full lineup for the summer season.

I asked Anne Pitts, executive director of the Levitt Shell, a bit about the performers they've chosen, and one show in particular sprang to mind. "Paul Thorn has been a staple for us at the Shell," says Pitts. "We love having him. He is a crowd favorite, and he's also just a really innovative artist."

The Tupelo, Mississippi, native mixes rootsy rock-and-roll with story-telling that builds an uncanny intimacy with audiences. And now he's collaborating with some true icons of the South. "He and the Blind Boys of Alabama teamed up last year, and they've done a record together as the Mission Temple Fireworks Revival," says Pitts. "When I heard about that, I thought that would be an amazing live show. The Levitt Foundation, which is the national foundation that helps guide all the different Levitt pavilions across the country, sponsors a Levitt national tour each year. We all get together and we nominate different groups that we would love to see make the rounds of all the pavilions. So we nominated [Paul Thorn and the Blind Boys] and the Levitt Foundation looked into it and the stars aligned."

click to enlarge Brian Owens
  • Brian Owens

While Pitts notes that picking out one group is like "choosing your favorite children," there are a few in the lineup that stand out. "Mindi Abair is an incredibly talented artist, a saxophone player, and her band is just out of this world. It's one of those huge bands. That's gonna be an amazing show. War and Treaty, we're really excited about them. Their career is skyrocketing, and they're getting in all the major festivals. And then Brian Owens and the Deacons of Soul: We actually had them last year, when a band had to cancel for health reasons and we had to scramble, and we found Brian Owens. He put on just a killer show. It's a great big soul band, with a great big sound, and he has this tremendous voice. And, because he didn't get the full headline experience last year, being a last minute addition, we wanted to make sure that we gave him a nice spotlight this year."

click to enlarge Meta and the Cornerstones
  • Meta and the Cornerstones
click to enlarge Mike Farris
  • Mike Farris
click to enlarge Liz Vice
  • Liz Vice

"Meta and the Cornerstones is one act that I'm really looking forward to. They're a reggae band I saw in New York six or seven years ago, and we booked them that next year. But they never get down to this region, so it's very very rare to be able to pull them in. Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue is a big favorite here. Ray Wylie Hubbard, I've been a fan of his for decades. And then Liz Vice is another one. She's getting a lot harder to book, so we're thrilled that we were able to make it happen."

click to enlarge Harlan T. Bobo
  • Harlan T. Bobo

The lineup is also sprinkled with some local acts, thanks to the Memphis Music Series, sponsored by Regional One. Though Harlan T. Bobo now resides in France, Memphis still claims him, and he will surely bring some surprises to his Shell performance. "We love Harlan," notes Pitts. Other local talent will include the Stax Music Academy, which continues to stun audiences with the professionalism of their students. More locals will be featured in the fall season, yet to be announced.

Along with the music, the Levitt Shell will be enriching the summer concert experience with additional features. Amplify Memphis, for example, exposes the large crowds to different nonprofits from around the city. "We have a wonderful partner with it in Volunteer Odyssey, who have created a network for people to discover nonprofit organizations and how to get involved and give back to those organizations through volunteer service," says Pitts. "So every Thursday during the summer and fall concert series, we'll be highlighting a different nonprofit. They'll range from larger organizations like the YMCA or MIFA or St. Jude, who may have under-recognized programs, to smaller organizations like Dorothy Day House, the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, Room in the Inn, Clean Memphis, Refuge Memphis, and the Memphis Athletic Ministry."

"Also," adds Pitts, "we're trying to reduce traffic in Overton Park. Their pedestrian-friendly campaign makes it easier for people to cross over Poplar or the Parkway into the park." To that end, the Shell will continue its Bike Valet service. This year, checking your bike will come with extra incentives. "We'll have giveaways each night, with free bike helmets and bike lights and fun little things that you always need when you ride your bike around the city."

Finally, food and drink will have a larger presence this year. "We're gonna be doing food truck rallies on Sundays, where we'll have three or four food trucks out during the concerts on those nights. And we work with TapBox with our beer sales every year, and now they've expanded, so for the first time ever, you can buy wine and mixed drinks at the Shell."

The Shell has always prided itself on creating a family-friendly experience. "On Sundays, we have our family series, where we provide extra activities for kids," says Pitts. "We partner with different organizations like the Memphis Public Library and Carpenter Art Gardens and the Memphis Botanic Garden to provide fun art-related activities for kids before the concerts begin."

With all of that, not to mention great music, why would you ever go home?

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Levitt Shell’s Summer 2018 Schedule

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Thursday, May 31 Mindi Abair

Friday, June 1 Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear

Saturday, June 2 Banditos

Sunday, June 3 Dustbowl Revival

Thursday, June 7 The War and Treaty

Friday, June 8th The Stone Foxes

Saturday, June 9 Nikki Lane

Sunday, June 10 Brian Owens & the Deacons of Soul

Thursday, June 14 The Iguanas

Friday, June 15 La Misa Negra retro-future cumbia,

Saturday, June 16 Meta and the Cornerstones

Sunday, June 17 Harlan T. Bobo

Thursday, June 21 The Steel Wheels

Friday, June 22 Mike Farris & the Roseland Rhythm Revue

Saturday, June 23 Liz Vice

Sunday, June 24 Ray Wylie Hubbard

Thursday, June 28 Patriotic Pops

Friday, June 29 Paul Thorn and the Blind Boys of Alabama

Saturday, June 30 Stax Academy Summer Grand Finale Concert

Sunday, July 1 No Concert (Rain Date for Stax)

Thursday, July 5 Jonny P

Friday, July 6 Rev. Sekou

Saturday, July 7 Seratones

Sunday, July 8 Yemen Blues Band

Thursday, July 12 JD McPherson

Saturday, July 14 Sammy Miller & the Congregation

Sunday, July 15 Peterson Brothers

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

Stars at the Shell 2018 - ticketed fund-raising concerts:

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Thursday, May 10 Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

Friday, July 13 Robert Cray with Cedric Burnside

Saturday, September 29 Lake Street Dive

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