by Andria Lisle
Overcast skies and cool winds from the north: The weather couldn't have been better for the opening night of the newly renovated Levitt Shell's sophomore season. By 6:30 p.m., music fans were already staking out prime real estate on the sloped lawn that has replaced the wooden benches of yesteryear, soaking up the speeches and fanfare that, in the Bluff City, seem to precede the openings of lemonade stands and political campaigns alike.
It was a perfect night to be a Memphian — or a Midtowner, to be more exact. If the audience was in a great mood, concert opener Jimmy Davis was transcendent. Volunteers were friendly without being overbearing, food vendors DeJavu and the Hi-Tone Cafe were serving up jambalaya and pizza slices, and no one frowned at the legion of dog owners who brought their four-legged friends to the park. Cowboy Jack Clement, donned in angelic white and flanked by his agile Nashville band, played hits (and near misses) that spanned his 50-plus years in the music biz, while fans like Robert Gordon, co-director of Shakespeare Was A Big George Jones Fan: Cowboy Jack Clement's Home Movies, lolled on blankets, soaking it up.
At approximately a quarter 'til nine, Clement launched into "Ballad of a Teenage Queen," singing about "the boy next door, who worked at the candy store," in the 1957 song he penned for Johnny Cash. In a world where cell phones, Facebook, and television suck up our time and energy (and, despite all the claims they make for "social networking," distract us from face-to-face interaction), it was a sublime moment that summed up the theme of the entire night — hearkening back to simpler times, when families could pile into the car with a picnic supper, then head to the Shell for a free concert.
You've got four more opportunities to enjoy the Levitt Shell this weekend alone: Multi-generational gospel harmonizers The Brown Singers play Friday at 7 p.m.; modern dance troupe Three Shoes And Bare Feet perform Saturday at 5 p.m.; 10-piece salsa band Carabali plays Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and blues musician/world music artist Corey Harris performs Sunday at 7 p.m.