Few things epitomize the beauty of Memphis in summer as much as an evening of music at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park. Having endured another sweltering day, Memphians from all walks of life emerge from their air conditioned (or not) workplaces and homes to soak in the real air, sit on the grass with drinks, and let acclaimed performers usher in the cool of the night. Most locals can readily tick off their favorite experiences at the shell, some deeply moved by the memories.
Built in 1936, the band shell was a notable local achievement of the Works Progress Administration, which built twenty-seven such bandstands around the country at the time. Only a few of these remain standing. The shell in Memphis was endangered at various times in its history, and for a brief period in the 1980s it featured no performances. Soon after, Save Our Shell, Inc., inspired by the activism of John Hanrahan, successfully raised funds to perserve the shell. In 2005, the city partnered with the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation to sponsor renovations and a yearly concert series.
Since then, each year has brought new improvements to the free concert experience. As explained by Abbey Judd, Strategic Partnerships Coordinator for the Levitt Shell, there will be new amenities and services this year, and a return of other features that have proven popular.
- Bike valet: like a coat check, there will be an area reserved for bikes to be left without locks. An attendant will issue a wristband for reclaiming your wheels after the show.
- Interns from the Memphis Music Initiative: Students from the MMI will be assisting with various facets of each show, as they apprentice with video, audio, and lighting professionals.
- Arts Advocacy every Friday: ArtsMemphis will host a table to enable anyone who wants to speak out in favor of supporting the arts, including postcards for sending to representatives.
- Community Partners: Through its Amplify Memphis program, worthy nonprofits and other community organizations will have tables to promote their efforts each week. This week's partner will be the Family Safety Center.
- Food vendors: Mempops will have their locally made popsicles at every show. Look for other vendors as well.
Tonight (Thursday) marks the beginning of the Orion Free Music Concert Series, with Memphis native Gedeon Luke & the People kicking off with their unique soul sounds at 7:30. A full slate of eclectic talent will be featured every Thursday-Sunday through July 16 (See link below for the schedule. Full disclosure: I'll be performing in one of the bands). Don't forget to take camp chairs or blankets, and mosquito repellent!