Memphis in May is an annual month-long celebration. The first weekend of May is the Beale Street Musical Festival, which is three days of music on four stages at Tom Lee Park along the Mississippi River. The second weekend of May celebrates a different country each year – this year it’s Sweeden. The third weekend in May is the World Championship Barbecue Contest. The fourth weekend in May is the Sunset Symphony with music and fireworks along the Mississippi. But I only go to the Beale Street Music Festival. I have attended it every year since 2002, with the exception of last year. In fact, this was the first time I have been back to Memphis since I moved in October 2011 – and I had the best time! I think I really enjoyed my time in Memphis more than usual, although I always enjoy it, because I didn’t just go to MusicFest. I spent a lot of time hanging out on Beale Street, visiting Graceland and Sun Studio, eating at my favorite restaurants and going to the Grizzlies game 6 playoff game!
Friday May 3rd, I woke up at 4:30am eastern time and was on a plane to Atlanta (because there are no direct flights from Baltimore to Memphis) by 5:30am. I quickly learned that AirTran’s planes are older than Southwest’s, which is usually what I fly. But I was front row in the business class, which was very comfortable. I had just enough time to make my connection in Atlanta and landed in Memphis by 9:30am central time. It was cold and raining in Memphis, which is how it would be all weekend. It always rains for MusicFest, but it is usually in the 80s. I have never known it to be in the 50s during Memphis in May. I got my rental car, checked into the Days Inn Graceland (where I stay every year when I didn’t live in Memphis), unpacked, and was at Graceland before 11am.
I took the VIP tour of Graceland since I hadn’t been in a while and never know when I am going to get back. The VIP tour includes an additional exhibit of Lisa Marie Presley, which I hadn’t seen yet, and a tour of the grounds. Also, you can visit the mansion as many times as you want, so I went through Graceland twice at my own pace. I like to just stand in the foyer, my favorite spot in Graceland, looking into the living room and up the stairs. Don’t think I’m crazy, but you can literally feel Elvis there.
I was back in my room by 1:30, wet and tired. I was drenched from walking to Graceland and then touring Graceland. I took a little nap, watched an Elvis movie (they are on 24 hours in your room at the Days Inn Graceland), showered and was on Beale Street by 4:30 for Happy Hour before the Grizzlies game. It had finally stopped raining. I parked where I used to park for Grizzlies games – and the same guy was still working there. I went to Jerry Lee Lewis’ new place that just opened the week prior. It was ok. There were no Happy Hour prices and it wasn’t crowded yet – but nothing special. But a liquor rep walked in and bought be a fireball shot, which actually went well with my Blue Moon. Around 5:15 I walked over to Rum Boogie, my favorite spot on Beale. The same bartenders were working there. I had a couple of Guinness and my favorite sausage and cheese plate. I noticed that Brandon Santini was playing next door at Mr. Handy Blues Hall, so I went over to see a little of his performance. Such a great blues guy and great harmonica player. I met some guys who were visiting from Boston who bought me a beer and then my friend Tim showed up.
Around 7:30 we went over to FedEx Forum for the Grizzlies-Clippers game 6 playoff game. I had a great seat in the club level, almost center court. It was such a great game, very physical and intense! My favorite Zach Randolph got ejected at the end but got the crowd even more excited while walking out throwing his hands up and tossing his headband into the seats. The Grizzlies won 118-105 and advanced to round two of the playoffs. After the game around 11:30, I walked over to Beale but it was too crowded, so I walked back to my car but couldn’t get out of the parking lot because traffic was just stuck – with the game and MusicFest letting out at the same time.
I walked back to Beale and went to Dyers for a midnight snack – a triple triple with fries. A triple triple is 3 meats and 3 cheeses. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. They have the best cheeseburgers ever! So greasy it runs down your arm when you pick it up. They haven’t changed their grease since 1912 when they opened. By the time I had finished, my greasy late night snack, the traffic had dispersed and I was back at my hotel by 1:15am. I didn’t get to sleep for another couple of hours, so I had been up for 24 hours.
After only about four hours sleep, I got up Saturday ready for my second day in Memphis. I tweeted Al Kapone, a great Memphis rapper, asking him for a Meet and Greet before his performance on Sunday. He graciously agreed. I met Tasha at the Graceland shops and we went to Flashback, a retro store in Midtown, while her sister and brother in law were touring Graceland. We visited the Nathan Beford Forrest statue and gravesite then onto Sun Studio. Sorry Cleveland, but Memphis is the birthplace of Rock n Roll, and it started at Sun Studio. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and many others got their start at Sun Studio in Memphis. It is the same studio, with the same tiles, where they all recorded back in the 1950s. U2 also recorded three songs at Sun for Rattle and Hum while they traveled through Memphis on The Joshua Tree Tour in 1987. Needless to say Sun Studio is my second favorite place to visit, after Graceland.
We then went to our favorite place for lunch, The Cupboard. They have the best country cooking. I had my usual four vegetable plate: macaroni and cheese, eggplant casserole, corn pudding and fried green tomatoes. I love anywhere that considers macaroni and cheese a vegetable! Plus the Cupboard has great sweet tea! I finally made it to MusicFest around 2:30, just in time for Sonny Burgess – a rockbilly artist from Sun. He played a great set as usual covering Elvis’ Don’t Be Cruel and Billy Lee Riley’s Red Hot. I was on the front rail and was going to stay there for Jerry Lee Lewis’ set when all of a sudden the sky grew dark, the winds picked up, and it began to rain. Then something big and metallic fell from the stage and landed next to me, so I bolted. I went to the Blues Tent for a bit to wait out the storm, but it didn’t let up. I decided to call it a day, and I was back in my hotel room by 5:00. I ordered from Marlowe’, a favorite restaurant of mine. I ordered two meals, so I would have something to eat Sunday night after MusicFest. I had what they called Marlowe’s BBQ Chips. It was sort of like BBQ nachos, but with homemade potato chips instead of tortilla chips. It was piled high with Pork BBQ, sour cream and cheese. It was so yummy!
After a good night’s sleep, I had a relaxing Sunday morning in bed watching Elvis movies before heading over to FedEx Forum for the Grizzlies Watch Party. It was game one of the second round of the playoffs against Oklahoma City. It was free to get into the Forum and we watched the game on the big scoreboard. I only watched the first half though because I was supposed to meet Al Kapone at the far stage in the festival – and it took a good half hour to walk down there through the mud to get to that stage. But I arrived exactly at 1:30 and secured my spot on the front rail, just left of center. Unfortunately Al Kapone was running late, so we decided to meet up after his set.
Al Kapone’s performance was so great! He had a band and dancers and Mucky Sticky and Alexis Grace joined him on stage for a few songs. I love Al Kapone’s passion for his music and his city – MEMPHIS! He sang my favorites We On Deck, Memphis Pride, Get Crunk Get Buck, and Whoop That Trick, which has become something of a Grizzlies chant during the games. After his great performance, Al Kapone tweeted me saying they asked him to do a 30-minute set on the next stage and we could meet up after. He said he wouldn’t leave until we took a picture together. So I walked back through the mud to the next stage and caught the end of Vintage Trouble’s performance – think modern day Otis Redding.
I was again on the front rail for Al Kapone’s second performance of the day. I think this one was even more energetic than his first. I was excited to see him perform twice. After his set, I waited about 45 minutes but I didn’t hear anything so I left around 6:30 to meet some friends on Beale Street. We hung out at Silky Sullivan’s, then back to Dyers for another Triple Triple (I hadn’t eaten since breakfast). Al Kapone tweeted me about 9:00 apologizing for not being able to meet with me – he had to do a television show across town.
After eating, we went over to the Blues Hall. While watching the band, Brandon Santini came through the door from Rum Boogie. I was surprised and flattered that he remembered my name and where I had moved. It had been about 3 years since we last spoke. We talked for a few minutes, and I congratulated him on his music success. He told us he was playing at Rum Boogie, so we went next door to watch his set. I stayed out way too late and didn’t get any sleep before I left at 4:30am Monday morning for the airport.
To see all 120 photos from my weekend in Memphis, please click here.