Ah, the embarrassment of riches in a music city like Memphis. To see artists of the caliber of Nick Black, Marcella Simien, Talibah Safiya, Daz Rinko, the Unapologetic Crew and Future Everything, on two stages, is a stunning night out. The line up represents many of the latest contenders for carrying this city's torch of genre-bending, groundbreaking music. And they're just a sample of local artists who have benefited from the efforts of the relatively new nonprofit, Music Export Memphis
, whose annual fund-raiser tonight features such artists and more.
Since last July, over two dozen bands or performers have received tour support and other funds from Music Export Memphis to up their profiles. The nonprofit tallies that as 60 individual musicians from the heart of the city's scene, all thankful for gaining a little more momentum in a precarious life on the road. As one of MEM's beneficiaries (full disclosure), I should know. Having toured with the Ultrasounds, I can well appreciate the words of my boss, James Godwin, who was named one of MEM's Ambassadors last year. (All told, MEM Ambassadors have played more than 140 shows in more than 100 U.S. cities, plus 10 countries in Europe and Asia).
James & the Ultrasounds in Liverpool, 2018.
“Touring is very stressful on a person’s overall well-being," says Godwin. "So just knowing that we had a decent place to stay after the gig rather than sleeping on someone’s floor or in a seedy motel provides a good deal of comfort and assurance. We couldn’t have done the tour without the grant. We could’ve, I suppose, but we would’ve more than likely frozen to death somewhere between London and Norwich.”
So tonight's fund-raiser for the nonprofit feels more like a celebration of what they've already done. Sure, they would like music fans to stoke the fires for future work by attending their event, but this is also a good time for everyone to just give the nonprofit a hand.
When the Flyer first profiled organization founder Elizabeth Cawein's vision
in 2017, little did we anticipate the group's success rate on the ground less than two years later. Beyond tour support, the organization is stepping up and speaking out in other markets far and wide. As their own information sheet touts:
- MEM's third annual showcase at AmericanaFest in Nashville, The Pure Memphis Happy Hour, drew 250 music industry attendees to see five Memphis bands and landed Talibah Safiya in NPR Music’s Best of AmericanaFest coverage. It also paid out $2,500 to Memphis artists and featured Memphis brands and culture bearers like MemPops, Old Dominick Distillery, Memphis Made Brewing, and IndieMemphis film festival.
- For the first time, we attended A3C hip hop festival in Atlanta, where we produced a showcase featuring an all-Memphis line-up and supported three artists and one producer to attend the affiliated music industry conference, totaling more than $6,000 in support for travel, lodging and conference access.
- In 2019, MEM will produce surprise pop-up events in key markets (including St. Louis, this Saturday, April 20) in addition to our beloved Memphis showcases at industry festivals
- In 2018, MEM launched its Export Bank, expanding opportunities for Memphis musicians through strategic partnerships and ensuring that wherever the Memphis story is being told, music is at the center. MEM has already committed to more than $1,500 in artist payments for Export Bank partners this year.
Ultimately, no endorsements or numbers can say it quite as directly as Memphis' own John Paul Keith, who's just completed a massive tour of Europe to great acclaim. “For years people have been trying to figure out how to help Memphis music," says Keith. "But this is a real, tangible, and welcome help. I can breathe a little easier about the economics of this tour now.”
The Tambourine Bash benefiting MEM, Thursday, April 18, 7-10 pm, at the Century House, 151 Vance Avenue. $50 ticket includes food from The Majestic Grille, cocktails featuring The Spirit of Memphis Music by Old Dominick Distillery, a rock star photo booth, and a silent auction featuring Memphis music items, from private house concerts to signed rare vinyl and more.