by Chris Davis
This video of Lee Baker playing the Overton Park Shell in 1990 is just one of many vintage Shell performances being archived online and showing that even in its leanest years the Midtown venue showcased some amazing talent.
Concerts at the restored Levitt Shell have become so popular it's hard remember how rundown it was at the top of the 21st-Century. It's even harder to imagine that it would be a parking garage today if not for the efforts of Save our Shell, a rag-tag organization that kept the wrecking crews away and the Depression-era venue on life support from 1986 until 2007. That's when the deal was struck between the city of Memphis and Friends of Levitt Pavilion to restore and program the open air theater which, in happier times, had witnessed performances by everyone from Slim Whitman and Elvis Presley to Neil Diamond and The Grateful Dead.
"For all of the people who have been a part of Save Our Shell, this is like a miracle," S.O.S. stalwart David Leonard said in a 2007 interview. Four years later the vastly-improved Shell appears to be one of the city's most hopeful success stories and Leonard is helping to flesh out the Levitt Shell YouTube archives by posting footage collected during the Save Our Shell era. Recent postings include this footage of jazz pianist Phineas Newborn Jr and Victims of Circumstance, an eclectic 80's band featuring Peter Hyrka (Human Radio, Gypsy Hombres) on violin.
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