Lucky for us that local musicians keep working over Labor Day weekend. Dozens of the city's bands are headed downtown this weekend for the Center for Southern Folklore's annual Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, now in its 17th year. Partygoers can expect everything from traditional blues, rockabilly, and jazz to fife-and-drum music, Latino rock, and Choctaw Indian dancers on the festival's four stages, as well as a full schedule of food demonstrations inside the Viking Culinary Arts Center.
But it's not all about heritage. As center director Judy Peiser explains, this year's festival draws on the city's contemporary music scene as well. "Over the years, we've showcased and celebrated our rich history, which has given Memphis' younger musicians a chance to listen, learn, and create their own music."
Neo-jazz groups such as Neptune's Army and FreeWorld -- with saxophonist Herman Green -- will take the stage alongside rapper Kavious, hip-hop collective The Iron Mic Coalition, and garage-rock bands The Dutch Masters and The Royal Pendletons. Piano players Jerry Lee "Smoochy" Smith, Jason D. Williams, and Adam Woodard (The Tearjerkers' boogie-woogie man) will share an outdoor stage at the corner of Peabody Place and Main Street, while one-man bands Terry "Harmonica" Bean and King Louie Bankston (from New Orleans) will battle it out in the center's Folklore Store and on the Trolley Stop Stage, respectively. Meanwhile, 9-year-old fiddling champion Ruby Jane Smith will trade licks with octogenarian Roy Harper, a mainstay at the festival.
Dutch Masters' guitarist Eric Friedl, who relocated to Memphis from the West Coast a decade ago, points out that "playing on the same stage that so many great musicians -- people like Rufus Thomas and Othar Turner -- performed on is gonna be amazing."
When Sharde Thomas and The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band perform in the Folklore Hall on Saturday evening, it promises to be a poignant moment for Peiser and everyone involved with the Center for Southern Folklore. "Othar Turner was one of our early sages in the center's development," Peiser says. "Making the Gravel Springs Fife & Drum documentary in the early '70s was a catalyst for us. Now we're passing the torch to his granddaughter Sharde, someone who's learned from a master and put her own spin on the music she's grown up with."
Folk artists, always a big part of the festival, will also be explaining their craft on the Trolley Stop Stage and inside the Folklore Store. Look for puppeteer Jimmy Crosthwait, quilter Hattie Childress, storytellers Annie McDaniels, Lil Bukewicz, and Bobbie Droebeck, and Alabama artists Butch Anthony (who will be accompanied by his fortune-telling chicken, Bob Ross) and John Henry Toney, who will be selling their wares throughout the weekend.
The Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, a free event, will feature music from 1 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, September 4th, and Sunday, September 5th. The complete music schedule is as follows:
Saturday, September 4th
Peabody Place Stage: Ed Finney & Neptune's Army, 1 p.m.; Equoia Coleman, 2 p.m.; The Tearjerkers, 3 p.m.; Kelley Hurt & The Chris Parker Trio, 4 p.m.; Billy Gibson & The David Bowen Band, 5 p.m.; Smoochy Smith & Hooch Morgan, 6 p.m.; Sensational Six, 7 p.m.; Jason D. Williams, 8 p.m.; Kavious, 9:15 p.m.; Iron Mic Coalition, 9:45 p.m.; The Royal Pendletons, 10:30 p.m.
Folklore Store: Dennis Jay, 12:15 p.m.; Leon Hardman & Lady G, 1:15 p.m.; Terry "Harmonica" Bean, 2:15 p.m.; Michaelyn Oby, 3:15 p.m.; Ruby Jane Smith, 4:15 p.m.; Roy Harper & Johnny Bellar, 5:15 p.m.; Debra Pan, 6:15 p.m.; IQ, 7:15 p.m.; daDrum, 8:15 p.m.; The Bluff City Backsliders, 9:15 p.m.; Jackie Johnson, 10:15 p.m.
Folklore Hall: Eric Hughes, 1:30 p.m.; Brown Sugar, 2:30 p.m.; Di Anne Price, 3:30 p.m.; Felix Hernandez with Symbiosis, 4:30 p.m.; New Traveling Harmonizers, 5:30 p.m.; The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band, 7:30 p.m.; Eddie Bond, 8:30 p.m.; Joyce Cobb & Cool Heat featuring Matt Arnold, 9:30 p.m.; The Daddy Mack Blues Band, 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 5th
Peabody Place Stage: Ron Franklin's Natural Kicks, 1 p.m.; The Dutch Masters, 3 p.m.; FreeWorld with Herman Green, 4 p.m.; Spirit of Memphis, 5 p.m.; Sonny Burgess & The Pacers, 6 p.m.; Jerry & Mike Kattawar, 7 p.m.; Mr. Wiley & The Checkmates, 9 p.m.; Exodus, 10 p.m.
Folklore Store: Nancy Apple, 1:15 p.m.; Bella Sun, 2:15 p.m.; David Evans, 3:15 p.m.; Jorge Raul Sandoval & Voices of the Romance, 4:15 p.m.; Kevin Gordon, 5:15 p.m.; Pam & Terry, 6:15 p.m.; The Vance Ensemble, 7:15 p.m.; The Kenny Brown Band, 8:15 p.m.; Barbara Blue, 9:15 p.m.; Blind Mississippi Morris & Brad Webb with Josh Roberts, 10:15 p.m.
Folklore Hall: Gospel Rejoicers, 1:30 p.m.; The Fieldstones, 2:30 p.m.; Ace Cannon, 3:30 p.m.; Memphis Klezmer Orchestra, 4:30 p.m.; Mouse Rocket, 5:30 p.m.; Melatones, 6:30 p.m.; Orange Mound Jazz Messengers, 7:30 p.m.; Darrell Petties, 8:30 p.m.; Billy Lee Riley, J.M. Van Eaton, and Jim Dickinson, 9:30 p.m.