Surprise package for Mayor Herenton: This Halloween weekend, the 2005 Voodoo Music Experience, a two-day New Orleans-based music festival, will take over Tom Lee Park. The riverside spread in downtown Memphis is a far cry from City Park in New Orleans, but after Hurricane Katrina hit, staging a fall festival in the Crescent City was not an option. By mid-September, Voodoo organizers decided to relocate to Memphis and refocus on hurricane relief.
With an estimated 60,000 attendees and an eclectic line-up -- performers include The Flaming Lips, Nine Inch Nails, Mickey Hart, The New York Dolls, Queens of the Stone Age, Joss Stone, The Decemberists, The Neville Brothers, and Dr. John -- the Voodoo Music Experience should raise plenty of cash for the New Orleans Restoration Fund. Meanwhile, the city of Memphis will bank plenty of tax dollars from festivalgoers and net priceless exposure via prime-time Voodoo coverage on media sponsor VH-1. Not a bad haul for Halloween.
But the Voodoo Music Experience isn't the only New Orleans festival to set stake in the Bluff City: Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau founder Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos just announced that the fifth annual Ponderosa Stomp -- slated for May 2006 -- will also take place in Memphis.
The roots festival, dedicated to "unsung heroes of rock-and-roll," has, for the last four years, hosted an unprecedented number of blues, R&B, soul, and rockabilly musicians at New Orleans' venerable Mid City Rock'N'Bowl Lanes. Providing a no-holds-barred forum for songwriters like Dave Bartholomew and Tony Joe White, guitar greats James Burton and Link Wray, gutbucket blues singers like Rev. Gatemouth Moore and Clarence Samuels, the Ponderosa Stomp initially served as a bridge between Jazz Fest weekends but soon drew music fans on its own accord.
"Every time I go to the Ponderosa Stomp, someone I've never heard of blows me away," says Memphian Eddie Hankins, host of WEVL FM-90's "Down in the Alley" program. "It has something for every music fan -- crazed rockabilly artists like Matt Lucas are followed by The Hi Rhythm Section. It's the best of the last 40 years of American roots music, along with some garage rock, New Orleans rhythm-and-blues, and a little bit of soul."
Two of Dr. Ike's biggest fans, original Elvis sideman Scotty Moore and his girlfriend, Gail Pollock, have vowed to do whatever it takes to get the Ponderosa Stomp up and running in Memphis.
"It gives recognition to damn good musicians who haven't had it in a long time," Pollock says. Likening the performers to "a bunch of old warhorses," she adds, "Scotty always has such a good time onstage he forgets there's an audience out there. He gets to reconnect with old friends like Earl Palmer and Dale Hawkins and play with these truly fantastic musicians.
"Take Lazy Lester," she says. "Scotty always thought of him as a heavy-duty blues player, but one year, Lester came up and said, 'Scotty, I want you to play with me.' Well, Scotty didn't know if he'd know the material, but Lester asked, 'How do you like Hank [Williams] Sr.?' They went out and did a straight country set."
Memphis is the only city with the same kind of musical history as New Orleans, says Padnos: "Memphis has that feel, the juke-joint atmosphere converging with the barbecue and the record stores. The Stomp had a psychic connection with Memphis. It just feels right.
"We can't take a chance on New Orleans' recovery by next spring," he explains. Padnos, an anesthesiologist employed by Louisiana State University's hospital system, plans to travel to Memphis in mid-October to nail down a venue for the '06 Ponderosa Stomp, tentatively scheduled for May 9th and 10th. The event, he says, will be a benefit, with proceeds split between a relief fund administered by the Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau and the New Orleans' Musicians Fund. Billy Lee Riley, ? and the Mysterians, Hawkins, and, of course, Scotty Moore, have already signed on for the cause.