Labor Day weekend is just about my favorite time of year to go downtown and linger. It's the last big holiday blowout of the summer, and I've come to associate it with the low-key all-you-can-consume buffet of Memphis music that is the Center for Southern Folklore's Music & Heritage Festival. It's where I saw Rufus Thomas do the Funky Chicken in person for the first time. Years later, it's where my kids saw Carla Thomas perform "B-A-B-Y" live. It's the kind of family-friendly event where regional legends share space with the best local garage bands. It's a place where you can catch a traditional gospel quartet, followed by a mariachi band, and then stick around for klezmer or maybe some experimental noise rock. It's just about the most convenient way to find out what Memphis and the surrounding region sound like today. Best of all, it's 100-percent free.
It's not all music, either. With six stages scattered around downtown's Main Street mall, the Music & Heritage Festival is also a showcase for folk artists, spoken-word poets, dancers, and storytellers. There are craft-related workshops, cooking demonstrations, and vendors.
This year's festival is dedicated to the memory of blues icon B.B. King, who died in May. Festival-goers will have an opportunity to watch All Day and All Night, a Center for Southern Folklore-produced documentary about B.B. King and other artists who got their start performing on Beale Street.