Old South, Meet the New South: The Center for Southern Folklore's 16th annual Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, which runs from Friday, August 29th, through Sunday, August 31st, promises a veritable musical quilt of local sounds, traditional and modern. Festival organizer Judy Peiser calls the free event "an amazing musical landscape."
"We maintain a sense of heritage and tradition with older performers while also connecting with younger players who use music as an expression of their own culture," she explains, citing established artists like Joyce Cobb, a longtime supporter of the Center for Southern Folklore, who will perform alongside such newcomers as Valencia Robinson and Equoia Coleman at the festival. Legendary bluesmen like Daddy Mack and Blind Mississippi Morris will weigh in with more traditional fare, while upstarts Mark Lemhouse and Billy Gibson will put their own twist on the genre.
"Putting younger and older musicians together makes a cultural impact," Peiser says. "We constantly talk about Memphis music traditions; this event is the stamp that validates that statement. We're able to pinpoint those apexes, whether we're showcasing gospel groups like The Spirit of Memphis Quartet or Darrell Petties, a performer who has grown up in that tradition but took it to a different level."
Jim Dickinson, another longtime supporter of the center, agrees. "Where else can you see these musicians?" he asks. "It's amazing that [this event] hasn't gone the way of all the other festivals -- that Peiser still books solely local talent," he says, criticizing once-local events like the Beale Street Music Festival, which now depend on national headliners.
Recalling his onetime band, the Hardly Can Playboys, Dickinson says that his sons Luther and Cody made their professional debut at the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival. "We were wedged in between a spectacular gospel choir and Rufus Thomas on the schedule," Dickinson says with a laugh. "That choir was unbelievable; they were playing on the back of a truck, just pumping the vehicle up and down. A world-class choir, and after their set, they just packed it up and went home to South Memphis."
This year, Dickinson will be backed by The Reigning Sound -- his sons' group, the North Mississippi Allstars, are on the road -- for his Sunday evening performance. As tradition dictates, he'll be following a gospel group, The Pilgrim Wonders. The unflappable musician says he's looking forward to the event, adding that after his set, he'll likely be hanging around the TAJJ Championship Wrestling ring on Main Street. "Anyplace they have wrestling, I'm happy to play," Dickinson says.
Rising star Kavious, a first-time performer at the festival, will be appearing alongside his father, John Moore (aka DJ Disco Hound), and veteran local rapper Al Kapone. "It's an honor to play the festival," Kavious says. While his debut disc, Nuclear Records' Empty Shelves, is selling well according to the up-and-coming rapper, Kavious wants to impress fans with his onstage performances. "I'm an entertainer," Kavious says. "I want to have a good reputation for my audiences. I show up on time, and I deliver." Live, listen for the tune "Where You From," on which Kavious sends shouts out to his own Westwood neighborhood and enclaves across the Dirty South.
Expect many more juxtapositions on the festival stages, as reflected by the region's cultural evolution over the past few decades. The Sacred Heart Vietnamese and Spanish Choirs point to newfound diversity, as do performers like Afro-Cuban drummers daDDrum, an Asian music presentation from the Greater Memphis United Chinese Association, and spoken-word sets from IQ and J'Malo. Of course, festival stalwarts puppeteer Jimmy Crosthwait, guitarist Sid Selvidge, fiddler Roy Harper, Sun rockabillies Sonny Burgess, Eddie Bond, and Billy Lee Riley, and soul royalty Carla, Marvell, and Vaneese Thomas will also perform.
Don't miss Saturday's roots-music program offered by Vaneese Thomas and singer-songwriter Kate Campbell, who will reprise a set they performed at the Bottom Line in New York earlier this summer. Jazz chanteuse Di Anne Price is sure to deliver another memorable performance, as she debuts a song about the Center for Southern Folklore written by her mother, a barrelhouse pianist in her own right. Sunday night's closing set from Los Cantadores was planned, Peiser explains, "to reflect the cultural changes in the local community."
For more information, call 525-FOLK or go to SouthernFolklore.com.
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