The Memphis winds were singing and delicious Central BBQ was sitting in my stomach as I began my weekend journey at 2016 Beale Street Music Festival. For its 40th anniversary, the multistage three day weekend event held legendary performances from Paul Simon, welcomed new bands like The Band Camino, and inspired music enthusiasts from around the globe. Beale Street’s eclectic lineup and array of food options were just a few of the pleasures I met during my stay.

Day 1:

Once I got to Tom Lee Park I hopped on a golf cart to the media center, humbly provided by the amiable and personable Penelope Huston. She welcomed me, fed me, and gave me the wifi password with wide open arms to Beale Street Music Festival.

The first thing I did was join Julien Baker fans sitting on the grass just near the FedEx Stage. Baker is a local Memphian and had a real knack for lyrical expression that told unique, although dark stories. One line that really struck a chord with me was “When I go out at night, and grind me teeth like sutures, my mouth like a wound.” She’s a subtle guitar player with immense skills for story telling through her songs. It was a great way to start off the music spree.

Of course, I couldn’t miss Young the Giant at the Rockstar Energy Drink Stage. They played all their big stuff, like “Cough Syrup” and frontman Sameer Gadhia rocked this bejeweled jacket that drove all the ladies in the crowd wild. (He really did look good in it). He also came out politically during their set, cutting down at state legislature that was supporting a bill to keep down the LGBT community – in his words. They delivered a large shock of rock n’ roll and paved the way for the next artist to come on, Panic! At The Disco. Growing up a Panic! fan, I remembered with each song they played moments from my earlier years; years filled with teenage angst, going against the man, and slight delinquency. I was enjoying the absolute hell out of their set, and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Brendon Urie announces they’re going to play a song they wrote just moments ago behind stage. Curious for a fraction of a second, and then overcome with excitement, they rocked the stage with their own rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was a great tribute, and a song that united the audience even more than it already was.

I was pretty rocked out at that point, and although I love Weezer, I had to pay my respects to the legendary Neil Young + Promise Of The Real. A Neil Young fan since I could walk, I was hoping for “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Old Man,” two of his most popular tunes. After some ladies came on stage to spread chicken feed and setup the scene, he opened with an incredibly long, almost 35 minute version of “Down by the River.” Then he hit “Country Home” off of his 1990 album Ragged Glory. Some songs later, he played the notorious ‘Monsanto Years” song which led to some audience disapproval, and some audience members applause. The band includes Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah, and on their seventh song they played a tribute to Willie given that it was his birthday. Young played well into the night, and got some laughs when he told the audience that “it looks like we don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re just faking that we don’t.” It was an honor to listen and be in the presence in such a influential rock star, and I respect every song that he chose to play and how he played it. Soon after the set, my tiredness took over and I drew away from the festival and called it a night.

Day 2:

Due to unfortunate weather conditions, there was a slight delay at the start of Day 2, and the festival had to cut out the first acts from each stage. But Beale Street recovered quickly and was back on their feet right when they opened the gates up. The first thing I did was head over to the PlayStation truck to check out their virtual reality section. Let me tell you, if you’ve never done VR before, it is quite a unique experience. It completely changed the mentality I had for the game that I was playing – which was a first person shooter – and made the experience much more vivid. Then, I hit the Wild Turkey tasting experience at their truck, where I learned the differences between rye whiskey and others, and learned about the company’s processes and origins. Fun fact: it takes 6 to 8 years in a charred oak barrel for their whiskey to come out just right.

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Wild Turkey

After those two little getaways, I got to hear Blind Mississippi Morris at the Blues Shack. He played the harmonica like the devil and was dressed sharply in an all green suit. It was a neat and intimate show where Morris cracked jokes and appealed to the ladies in the crowd. Shortly after that, I went to the Rockstar Energy Drink stage and caught the Front Bottoms. They really brought the energy to the crowd and unsurprisingly a mosh pit opened where I found myself being launched this way and that in the fun and slightly dangerous fashion that mosh pits create. “Au Revoir (Adios)” was my favorite song from their set because it included some big rock elements in a simple song. Plus, who doesn’t like to tell off their ex lovers?

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Houndmouth

Houndmouth was next, and I ended up making some new friends from Clemson – and remarkably we had a mutual friend in common. The CEO of our beloved site, Electric Sloth, Noah Kline. It’s a small, small world out there friends. Well Houndmouth hopped on stage and delivered a swinging, big-time show that included my favorite song “Darling,” where I visibly lost control of my limbs and danced like a wild person. They also hit their first song, “Penitentiary”during the set and played a cover of Neil Young’s “Motion Pictures.” Moon Taxi came on next, and opened with “Year Zero” off of their latest album Daybreaker. Not to mention, they played “all Day All Night” and “Red Hot Lights” as well. “Whiskey Sunsets”, “River Water” and the almighty “Morocco” came out during the set and brought the audience into a dancing state of jubilee and ecstasy. I was happily surprised when the band switched to their alter ego, People of the Sun – their Rage Against The Machine cover – where Trevor’s vocals are replaced by Spencer’s. They played “Sleep Now in the Fire” and I watched joyful men and women switch to their own alter egos and head bang back like it was 1999. It was quite the occasion. Unfortunately, I came down with a bit of a stomach bug right after the set and headed back to my stay to ensure a good night’s rest for the final day festivities.

Day 3:

With the dawn of the last day facing me, I knew where I had to start: The Band Camino at the Bud Light Stage.

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The Band Camino

The Band Camino is comprised of four Memphians, who draw sound from the Killers and The 1975. As trained musicians, and debuting for the first time at Beale Street Music Festival, they absolutely stunned the audience with their mature sense of self and incredible music abilities. “Free of Charge” was perhaps my favorite song, because of the music phrases and lyrics. I was lucky enough go hang out and grab an interview with them after their set, which you can find later this week.

I grabbed a Bubba Burger, munched down on bacon and cheddar infused fresh chuck, and headed behind the scenes to catch Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. Known for their striking roots rock, rhythm & blues, the Denver collective attacked the audience with a swift and strong vocal performance from Rateliff with his band backing him up into a stage rattling showdown. They finished the set with their massively popular single, “S.O.B.” and I mean it when I say I’m not the only one who wished the song would have never ended.

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Then, it was time for the one and only Paul Simon. I was nervous at first, because I had no idea what he might play. I yearned for some of Still Crazy After All These Years and Graceland and got just what I needed. He played “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” a down tempo version of “Slip Slidin’ Away,” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, he busts out “Homeward Bound” – which I was not expecting at all – and his band performed a “Kang” (I believe it was called) which is a 9/8 West African rhythm. After all of that tricky musicianship, he played “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes” with a down tempo introduction. I was high on life. And as I’ve already said, I thought it couldn’t get better, but after all this is Paul Simon we’re talking about; he came out with “You Can Call Me Al” which is my favorite song of his. I screamed screams of joy and danced like no tomorrow. He came back for an encore performance of “Wristband” and ended his performance to the cheers, laughter, and tears of many an audience member.

Here’s the thing about my time spent at Beale Street Music Festival, it was unforgettable. There’s something spiritual about the Memphian way of life: the hospitality, the mighty Mississippi flowing alongside you every day, the friends you make and the bands you see and the food you eat, all of it is one of a kind. Thank you, Beale Street, for making my weekend amazing. Thank you to the volunteers, of which there were many, staff, security, 901 Music for being a really neat group of guys who take awesome photos, and all the musicians. I’ll be back for you Beale Street Music Festival. Until next time.

 

PC: 901 Music & Paul Giunta.