Founded in 1987, FreeWorld has been a mainstay of the live Memphis music scene ever since, particularly but not exclusively on Beale Street, mixing soul, rock, jazz, and other influences. This week, the band celebrates its 25th birthday with a career-spanning CD/DVD package and a couple of big events.
Mainstays in the current lineup are bassist/vocalist Richard Cushing, drummer David Skypeck, and sax player Herman Green, but over the band's quarter-century run, they've built a family tree of dozens of Memphis musicians.
"FreeWorld's gotta have, shit, at least 10 drummers," trumpeter Willie Waldman says with a laugh in the 25-minute documentary Eventually Everything Will Happen, wondering over that big family tree.
The celebration, on Saturday, October 6th, begins with the dedication of a brass note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame, which takes place at noon in front of Blues City Café, where the band still plays a popular weekly Sunday night gig. In addition to the brass note for FreeWorld, there will be one dedicated to the band's longtime trumpet player, William "Nokie" Taylor.
The brass-note dedication will be followed by a reunion concert at the Levitt Shell at 7:30 p.m. that night, in which the current lineup will be joined by more than 30 of the band's former members. The concert will also serve as a release party for a new CD/DVD combo that documents the band's history.
The 16-track CD compilation, Yesterday, Today ... Tomorrow, has selections ranging from "Cold Flippin'," from the band's eponymous 1994 debut, to "No Head Funk," from an upcoming Herman Green & Friends album.
While FreeWorld is often rightly thought of as a jam band given their live orientation, musical virtuosity, and penchant for showcasing their members' individual chops, Yesterday, Today ... Tomorrow makes the case that the band's strong rooting in a specifically Memphis sound — a soulful, Southern vibe that insists that individual musicianship serve the collective groove — distinguishes them from many of their peers on the contemporary jam scene.
This quality, along with the band's longevity, inspires former Black Oak Arkansas frontman Jim Dandy to call FreeWorld "the most Memphis band there is" in Eventually Everything Will Happen.
The film, which was written, directed, and produced by Ardent Studio's Jonathan Pekar, will be used as part of the reunion show, with segments shown on the Shell's flanking screens during the concert.
In addition to featuring Cushing (introduced jamming on a sitar), Skypeck, and Green, the documentary features insider stories from other significant former members — it's funny to see horn players Art Edmaiston and Steve Dolan goof on the indulgent stage theatrics of guitar players — and testimony from Memphis music heavyweights such as Luther Dickinson and Ross Rice.
All of these FreeWorld events are free and open to the public, with the CD/DVD package available for purchase.
The Memphis-based, internationally syndicated radio program Beale Street Caravan launches its 16th season on October 3rd.
The Caravan — produced by Sid Selvidge and Kevin Cubbins and hosted by the Memphis Music Foundation's Pat Mitchell-Worley — reaches more than 2 million listeners via more than 400 radio stations. The new season kicks off with live sets from Ruthie Foster and Bernard Allison and will also feature audio recollections from the late, great soul producer Jerry Wexler. The second show of the season, which begins broadcasting on October 10th, will feature performances from the Blues Music Awards, held in Memphis this past spring.
The program will celebrate its birthday locally on October 25th with a party at the Hi-Tone Café.
You can hear Beale Street Caravan at noon on Tuesdays on WEVL 89.9; at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays on WUMR 91.7; and at 5 p.m. on Sundays on WYPL 89.3.