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New Daisy Theatre Celebrates 75 Years on Beale Street

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"I wanna die just like JFK!" the singer announced. "I wanna die on a sunny day." It was Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain, and he was on Beale Street, of all places. A short while later, I watched Kamasi Washington on the same stage, introducing the childhood friends who grew up to join his band and help redefine 21st-century jazz. And soon after that, I heard George Clinton exhort the crowd to "Get off your ass and jam!" None of these moments are what one often associates with Beale Street, but they're all in a day's work for the district's longest-running live-music venue, the New Daisy Theatre.

"We get a really eclectic mix of people rolling through there," says co-owner Steve Adelman. "We take a lot of pride in that." The diversity of acts distinguishes the venue on a street known mostly for the blues. And it's a welcome shot in the arm for a local music scene notorious for being a challenging tour destination.

"We're trying to change that perception, one show at a time," Adelman says. "Memphis had sort of fallen off the touring map. You need a certain level of venue to get acts to consistently want to play Memphis. And I think we've done that, so we're happy about that, too. Most of the acts we get are on their way up. They're ascending to 5,000-person venues. We catch them when they're at 1,200, which makes for a lot of great shows."

One such show takes place Wednesday, May 23rd, when the Stone Temple Pilots help the venue celebrate its 75th anniversary. Beyond the band itself, who survived the loss of two previous lead singers before landing The X Factor's Jeff Gutt, Wednesday's show will feature "swag bags given to the first 75 people that enter, with a commemorative shirt, cup and sticker," Adelman notes, adding that "Mayor Strickland will also be announcing the Stone Temple Pilots and giving them a certificate signifying the event."

Big Star at New Daisy - LOUIS D GRAFLUND
  • Louis D Graflund
  • Big Star at New Daisy
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Built in the early 1940s by the owners of the neighboring Daisy Theatre so they could host acts with a larger draw, it wasn't long before it was re-purposed as a movie house. "It was the first African-American movie theater in Memphis," says Adelman. "That's what I'm told. It went through all the things that Beale Street went through. So Beale Street in the 1970s was in disrepair, and somehow the New Daisy survived. And then it was redeveloped in the '80s. The history of the New Daisy is intimately tied to the history of Beale Street."

It wasn't until the rebuilding of Beale Street that the venue really embraced its musical destiny. It fell under the direction of boxing promoter Mike Glenn, and by the '90s, the New Daisy was known primarily for its music — to the extent that Glenn was awarded his own note on Beale for his role in its revival.

The New Daisy has hosted Bob Dylan, Mud Boy and the Neutrons, Al Kapone with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and the homecoming concert of a reunited/reformed Big Star in 1994. The latter show, filmed live and released as the 2014 DVD, Big Star: Live in Memphis (Omnivore), has continued to impact the theater. The same year as the film's release, Glenn sold the venue to new operators Adelman and J.W. Gibson. While Adelman has had a long and storied career operating large venues in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, Gibson is a local investor; yet both were committed to honoring the New Daisy's local historical importance, as exemplified by the redesign of the mezzanine level as the "Big Star Room."

"There's very few people I've spoken to in Memphis who don't have a New Daisy story," says Adelman. "I get a lot of, 'Oh, man, I saw my first show there!' You know, it has a charm, and the charm was, it wasn't perfect. We didn't want to cookie-cutter it out and lose that feel."

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