Days before tons of Memphis musicians gather to pay respects to the Thin White Duke, we caught up with Graham Winchester — the Memphis Does Bowie tribute show organizer — to find out more about the unique benefit concert. –Chris Shaw
Flyer: How soon did this idea come to you following David Bowie's death? What was the motivation behind it?
Graham Winchester: It was the day after David Bowie died I had the idea. I read Facebook comments of people saying they wished they could have seen him play live. I also saw that people were having a vinyl listening party in his honor, so I thought, "Why not throw a live show in his honor?" The motivation was to turn a sad and tragic moment in music history into a catalyst for positivity. St. Jude's involvement makes the tribute and the charity work a doubleheader of amazingness.
How open was Minglewood to doing the show?
They have been very cool and helpful about everything. I sent a text to Brent Logan at Minglewood Hall hoping maybe the 1884 Lounge would be open, and it was. He messaged me back within five minutes, and it was a done deal until our Facebook event started exploding with numbers, so we got the big stage cleared for use that night.
What's the response from local musicians been like since you announced the show?
There was an overwhelming amount of musicians asking to play. Everybody was immediately stoked on the idea. Even visual artists, vendors, and caterers have shown their support and have requested involvement, which Minglewood and I are trying our best to organize and make happen. We have so much musical talent in Memphis, and it's been truly touching how many people I admire have reached out about the event.
How about local David Bowie fans?
It's the people's enthusiasm and support that has ignited hype and increased anticipation about the benefit. The reactions to the show have been 100 percent positive. Social media has made me even more aware of the general buzz about what's going down Saturday. Local fans have expressed their desire to dress up, wear Bowie face paint, and create their own tribute by representing Bowie's style. People's sentiments have been full of nothing but gratitude and support.
How did you pick the bands and musicians who are participating?
After announcing the show online, a wealth of talented musicians and bands responded immediately asking to play. Trying to honor a first-come, first-served mentality, I responded to initial inquiries first. I also made sure a few of my bands were playing, since I love Bowie's music and know my bandmates do too. It is a stroke of serious luck that the bands performing and the songs they've chosen truly reflect Bowie's expansive career through all of its eras. Our local musicians and artists are extremely versatile too. I only wish I could have found a time slot for every band and musician that asked to play.
Where does St. Jude come in?
I've orchestrated benefit shows in the past, and it's something that I truly enjoy. I play plenty of regular shows, and it feels nice to give back. I've always wanted to work on a benefit for St. Jude, and I saw this as a shining opportunity. Both St. Jude and David Bowie have had so much global influence, and music is the great healer of the universe.
As for the logistics of the show, how are the sets going to work? How long will each set be?
Bowie's timeless music will go from 6 p.m. sharp to midnight. Most bands are playing two to four songs, and I am allowing five minutes per song with five-minute set changeovers. Most Bowie songs are under five minutes, so that allows for extra changeover time in the end. There is a total of 17 artists/bands performing. Towards the end of the night, Clay Otis and Luke White's new group (that I've luckily been asked to be a member of) is going to do a final eight-song set. I couldn't be happier with the overall lineup.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing? How many sets are you playing?
I'm performing with six groups: Brian Sharpe, Chris Johnson and Landon Moore, Clay Otis and Luke White, the Graham Winchester Band, and the Sheiks and Staniel Brown. As far as what I'm looking forward to? All of it. I am particularly hyped about Richard James singing "John, I'm Only Dancing" and the Incredible Hook doing "All the Madmen." Overall, there is just too much great music scheduled to express my excitement in one interview.
What do you have planned for the grand finale?
To be perfectly honest, I hardly know what to expect of the "Heroes" finale. What I do know is it's gonna be a hell of a finish. The things that are finite are the rhythm section and the five lead vocalists for each verse. However, every musician there will be involved and onstage, whether it's singing the chorus or shaking a tambourine. The musicians and fans are all going to celebrate a night of Memphis community and a night of tribute and benefit to arguably one of the greatest artists to ever live and what is absolutely the greatest hospital in the world.