Beale Street Music Festival 2017 Day 3: Sunday Funday

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It’s Monday, and we’ve managed to make it through three glorious days of the 2017 Beale Street Music Festival. Four stages hosted 60 acts under the most beautiful late spring weather Memphis could ever imagine. Few hiccups, a bevy of tremendous performances and tens of thousands of visitors to the park made for the perfect kick-off to Memphis in May’s annual festivities.
Ani DiFranco - BRIAN ANDERSON
  • Brian Anderson
  • Ani DiFranco

Before I start talking about the music, I’ve learned Memphis in May has gone out of its way this year to become a bike-friendly event and, according to Memphis in May Director of Marketing Robert Griffin, is working to encourage bikes as a preferred method of transportation to and from the park. I’m an avid bicyclist who loves the freedom riding a bike provides in Memphis. Next year, try riding your bikes in a group to the festival to cut down travel time and traffic congestion. I rode from Cooper-Young to the south entrance of Tom Lee Park in a mere 30 minutes, and the same was true going back.

Memphis Police Department spent much of Sunday shooing boats away from the festival grounds. - E.J. FRIEDMAN
  • E.J. Friedman
  • Memphis Police Department spent much of Sunday shooing boats away from the festival grounds.

Ok, let’s talk about some music! Sunday had, what I’d consider, the best lineup of all three days in terms of quality and diversity.

Louisiana-born Memphian Marcella & Her Lovers is coming into her own as a performer. As she and her band become more distinguished, a meaningful passion breathes life into her cajun-influenced brand of soul-driven music. Replete with a newly-minted horn section, Marcella Simien’s wide range and musical dexterity seem destined to propel her towards a wider audience.

A million-selling mother of two who is currently penning her memoir, folk artist Ani DiFranco stopped in Memphis to deliver a politically energized set. In addition to many well-known songs, fans past and present got a glimpse into material from DiFranco’s forthcoming album Binary (due out June 9th). With fellow New Orleanian Terrence Higgins on percussion, DiFranco demonstrated why she is an archetypal music veteran & one of the most successful fully-independent recording artists of all time.

Super Chikan in the Blues Tent at BSMF '17 - BRIAN ANDERSON
  • Brian Anderson
  • Super Chikan in the Blues Tent at BSMF '17

Meanwhile, in the Blues Tent, Clarksdale-native James “Super Chikan” Johnson and his band served up a taste of his signature electrified Delta blues music prompting many in the crowd to get up and dance.

Funky Los Angelino by-way-of Detroit Mayer Hawthorne and his band came to Memphis determined to get on the good foot. Hennessy in tow, Hawthorne grooved his way through several of his most-well known songs, including “Backseat Lover”, “Time For Love”, “Breakfast in Bed” and “Her Favorite Song” to a crowd clearly ready to party.

Mayer Hawthorne - E.J. FRIEDMAN
  • E.J. Friedman
  • Mayer Hawthorne

Despite nearly 45 years together, Australia’s Midnight Oil have lost none of their punch. Currently on an American tour, songs like “Dreamworld”, “Power and the Passion”, “Blue Sky Mine” and “Beds Are Burning” have never sounded as politically current or puissant as they did through the voice of lead singer Peter Garrett.

“I would like to thank the organizers of the Beale Street Music Festival,” rang out Ben Harper’s voice, “which is the best music festival in America.” And to show his love, Harper and his Innocent Criminals tore through 1.5 hours of their extensive musical canon as the sun set over the Mississippi River to an absolute capacity early-evening audience. If you came to the festival a fan of the band Bush, then I think you probably walked away more than satisfied. The band delivered their hit songs with nary a hitch to a sea of devout listeners.

Jill Scott - E.J. FRIEDMAN
  • E.J. Friedman
  • Jill Scott

One of the real highlights of this year’s festival was the ambitious soul of Jill Scott. A consummate performer and consistent favorite of the Memphis crowd, she delighted the audience with a vocal tour-de-force, interspersing classics like “Getting In The Way” and “Golden” with songs from her 2016 album Beautifully Human: Words & Sound Vol. 2.

In the crowd at the River Stage, Nashun Wright sings along to Jill Scott. - E.J. FRIEDMAN
  • E.J. Friedman
  • In the crowd at the River Stage, Nashun Wright sings along to Jill Scott.

On the other side of the festival, those in the Blues Tent had the opportunity to experience Memphis soul music legend Booker T. Jones. Playing as part of a four-piece with his signature Hammond B-3 organ, he played some classic Booker T. & The M.G.’s songs, more recent solo material & even picked up the guitar to deliver a moving version of Prince’s “Purple Rain”.

Booker T. Jones on the Hammond B3 organ in the Blues Tent. - E.J. FRIEDMAN
  • E.J. Friedman
  • Booker T. Jones on the Hammond B3 organ in the Blues Tent.

Ending this year’s festival, no act could have been more anticipated than the reunited Soundgarden. For this Memphis audience—most of whom would have been unable to see them in over 20 years—hearing them perform songs like “Spoonman”, “Outshined” and “Black Hole Sun” provided a heady bookend to an already phenomenal Beale Street Music Festival.

Soundgarden closing out the festival. - E.J. FRIEDMAN
  • E.J. Friedman
  • Soundgarden closing out the festival.

As a long-time fan, I discovered moments that may have veered towards the self-indulgent—Chris Cornell’s vitriolic explanation of the meaning behind the semi-obscure “Kyle Petty (Son of Richard)” before it was played. For the briefest moment, time seemed to stand still over Tom Lee Park as the sonic echoes of familiar refrains brought the festival to a memorable close.


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