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Trolley Tunes

Memphis musicians perform on downtown trolleys.



As the Main Street Trolley rolled past restaurants and shops along the Main Street Mall last Wednesday afternoon, passersby were treated to a free concert on wheels.

Brian "Breeze" Cayolle, sporting his cool guy shades and a bowling shirt, performed tunes from his former hometown New Orleans on a transparent clarinet in the back corner of the trolley throughout the lunch hour. One man recorded the show on his cell phone video camera, and a businessman on lunch break tossed a tip Cayolle's way.

The concert was part of the Memphis Music Commission's new "Memphis Trolley: Unplugged" series in which local musicians will perform on trolleys at certain times of the day.

"We're just trying to create a unique traveling experience for local passengers and tourists as they travel aboard the trolleys. That unique experience is Memphis music," said Johnnie Walker, executive director of the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission.

The Main Street Trolley performances will last from noon to 1:30 p.m. every Monday through Friday, and the Riverfront Loop Trolley will feature musicians from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

"At lunchtime, many downtown professionals are going to lunch, so they'll grab a trolley, and we'll have a musician aboard playing Memphis music," Walker said. "In the evenings, you have tourists and people going to Beale, so we've got musicians on the riverfront loop."

Upcoming performances will feature Beale Street blues singer Barbara Blue, rootsy rockers Deering & Down, folk singer Alex Inman, and classically trained violinist Lila.

Since the performances are unplugged and the space is tight, the acts are limited to mostly acoustic solo acts or duos. But Walker said they have a barbershop quartet scheduled for one upcoming ride.

"We reached out to the Memphis music community, and some people couldn't do it because they have to play electric instruments," Walker said. "That won't work for this. You've heard of MTV Unplugged. Well, we're Memphis Trolley: Unplugged."

The artists are encouraged to play some Memphis music standards, but they're also free to play their own songs or other regional tunes, such as Cayolle's rendition of "Basin Street Blues" on Wednesday's lunch time ride.

Although the music trolley series just began a couple weeks ago, Memphis Area Transit Authority spokesperson Allison Burton said it's already "a huge success."

Walker, who often sits alongside the musicians as they play, said the experience has made for some interesting people-watching.

"Some people get on, and they don't know what's going on. They have a funny stare, so we're there to welcome them and let them know this is a program brought to them by the music commission," Walker said. "Watching the expressions on people's faces has been fun. Once they get on and sit down, they start to get involved in the music."

The performances are scheduled to run until September 1st, but Burton said she hopes the series doesn't end there.

"I'm hoping it doesn't stop in the summer," Burton said. "I want this series to continue."

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