Memphis in Mud, 2010

It was on a whim that I decided to take a trip to Memphis. A quick email from a friend got me thinking about it, so I had a look at the lineup for the Beale St. Music Festival and, it looked pretty good. Widespread Panic, Flaming Lips, Alice in Chains, Band of Horses … Hall and Oates. I’m in.

Watching the weather forecasts for Memphis that weekend told me that it was going to be wet. Thunderstorms were predicted all weekend. Then, I learned that Flaming Lips canceled. A real bummer, and more was to come.

It came as no surprise that upon arrival on Friday early evening, it was raining. No matter, we made the trip downtown (poncho in the pocket) and walked our way toward Widespread Panic’s set. It wasn’t long before it became very clear that I wasn’t at Lollapalooza. Why? Because a 16-ounce can of Budweiser was $4! For another $3, I got a Pronto Pup – a corn dog with mustard applied with a paintbrush. So there you go — $7 and I’m fed and watered. And so is the lawn. It’s getting muddy.

Widespread was good — I’m not terribly familiar with their latest stuff, but seeing them brought me back to college and countless hours blasting “Ain’t Life Grand” while sitting on the lawn drinking even cheaper beer. This set is also where I met Carl Wolf.

Me: “What’s that in your backpack?”

Carl: “You know what it is.”

Me: “A light saber?”

Carl: “That’s right.”

Nice guy, that Carl Wolf. And a big Widespread fan. Eventually, me and a couple of other Sound Citizens made it home, but not before stopping off at one of the most interesting bars I’ve ever been to. More on that later.

Saturday started rough. I choked down some chicken wings at The Flying Saucer while we waited out some of the rain. After letting up a bit, we made it back to Tom Lee Park in time to catch Drive-by Truckers. Good set, you can see some of it in the video at the bottom. We also featured them on Sound Citizen Radio 7.

The real treat was seeing Jerry Lee Lewis. A true living legend, I was kind of shocked to learn that he was even still playing. But he is, and he sounded great. Sure, he might not have the same pep that he used to, but who can blame him? He can still tickle the ivories, though. And that’s what it’s all about anyway. That, and his band was fantastic.

Here’s something nice about the festival – you can leave and come back. So, we went to catch the Blackhawks game for a bit. Sat down and before our pulled pork nachos even arrived, the Hawks were getting trampled. It was awful. And sitting right next to us were two stock brokers from Vancouver, in town for a conference. Thankfully, they were as nice as I’ve imagined Canadians to be, so it wasn’t an issue. They even tried to console us a bit. “It’s going to be a long series, you know?” said one of them. And it was. For them.

Back to Tom Lee Park. It’s turning into a mud pit. The kind where it threatens to suck the shoes right off your feet. The plan is to see Hall and Oates (yes, Hall still rocks the mullet and Oates the small afro and ‘stache) then Alice in Chains. The wind is picking up. After “Man Eater” and “Family Man” (I think) the sound shuts down. It appeared Hall and Oates broke Memphis in May. A guy comes on stage and tells us, “Show’s over for tonight. Everyone must evacuate the park.” Hall tells everyone he’s sorry and the tornado siren starts blasting. No Alice in Chains.

So, we make the trek with everyone else, then head to Earnestine and Hazel’s, the aforementioned bar. This place is something else. It’s a former whore house. It has a grill right there next to the bar that serves “soul burgers.” The jukebox only turns one way and is loaded with great blues and soul. Upstairs is dotted with the old working girls’ rooms, peeling paint and all, where people hang out and drink. And, there’s another bar up there with a gentleman who’s been serving up booze for 20 years or more. He’s old-school with the hat, vest and broad smile to match. I can’t remember his name but I do remember this — he had a small glass bottle with a cork in it tucked in his vest with some kind of alcohol that he was all too happy to serve us. I felt like I was time traveling (before the unnamed shot). In fact, I’m not sure he was even real. Every photo I tried to take and everyone else tried to take didn’t turn out. Weird. I have no idea what the shot was … but it woke me up before knocking me down. It was time to go. So we hailed a cab (Memphis has the friendliest cab drivers ever) and headed home for some laser pizza. If you don’t know what that is, ask me.

After getting over the disappointment of an early cancellation the night before, we headed back out. We hit up Central BBQ on the recommendation of our host and the fine gentleman who sat next to me on the trip down to Memphis. Holy smokes — that’s some amazing BBQ. Maybe the best ribs I’ve ever had.

Next, a stop at Sun Records. Hallowed ground around here. It’s where Elvis got his start, along with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison.

We learn that Alison Krauss and John Hiatt can’t get out of Nashville due to the severe flooding. Two more casualties. But this day is about one Band of Horses. First, we take in Booker T & the MG’s. Good stuff and a nice, leisurely way to start the evening. Walking around the park is getting difficult. The mud is thick, and it stinks. You know those galoshes that all the women are wearing these days, with the whimsical patterns and such? They’re everywhere. Whoever decided to paint little ducks and flowers on rubber boots must be rolling in money.

But I digress. Band of Horses takes the stage and, to my surprise, it’s not a packed house. But they rock. Once it started, you can see that people who have never heard them before realize there’s something special here. And the fans … well, it’s just perfect. They played a great set, mixing songs from their new album with some of their best “classics.” Lead singer Ben Bridwell sounds as good as he ever has. Band of Horses is one of those bands that actually sounds better live than recorded. I love when that’s the case. At the end of the show, Bridwell brings out this enormous, wooden guitar. Not sure why, but he’s jamming on it, somehow. There’s some digital element to it where the pickups would be. Then, at the end of the song, he pours lighter fluid on it and sets it ablaze, Hendrix-style. Can’t wait to see them again.

Finally, we decide it’s about time to wrap it up. But first, let’s see 3 Doors Down, and maybe they’ll play that Geico commercial song. You know the one, where the cave men are bowling … “One time … Let me be myself!” So, after almost losing my shoes again, we wait. Someone takes the stage, and announces that two separate private jets have failed to deliver the band. That’s it. Festival over. Oh well. Let’s go get a Southern Comfort daquiri.

Below is some video from the festival. Like a moron, I forgot my camera on Sunday. But thanks to YouTube, I dug up some Band of Horses taken by others. Enjoy.

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