2012 Beale Street Music Festival: A Review
We reviewed several of the individual sets from the 2012 Beale Street Music Festival and now we would like to give you our overall impression of the event. The Festival kicked off the Memphis in May festivities that are spread throughout the entire month in Memphis. Other highlights include a Barbecue Cooking Contest May 17-19, and a Sunset Symphony on May 26.
While we didn’t have much time to venture around Memphis, the Memphis riverfront is very nice. A massive revitalization project in recent years has pumped economic life into the riverfront and the surrounding blocks, and this seems like the place to be on Saturday nights. There is a trolley that runs beside Tom Lee Park, and the blues, bars, and debauchery of Beale Street are a just a short walk. Some of Memphis’ key attractions, like the Civil Rights Museum, are located in this district. We heard there were certain undesirable areas of town, but they were hidden from our view.
The location for the music festival was perfect. Tom Lee Park stretches over a mile, nestled between the Mississippi River and Front Street. The breeze off the river kept up all weekend, bringing a welcome reprieve to 90 degree temps. The heat and humidity was intense to say the least. The New Orleans Jazz Festival is held over the same weekend, but Tom Lee Park definitely has the advantage over the New Orleans fairgrounds regarding views and breezes. We spent some much needed downtime just outside the Blues tent, and watching the sun set over the Mississippi, we could feel the significance of what Memphis means for music.
The three main stages and Blues tent were set a good distance from one another, with a 15 minute walk from the stages sitting at each end of the park. Rarely did the sound drift over from another stage. The only drawback to the stage setup was the lack of video boards to help the shorter patrons and those in the back see what was unfolding on stage. It’s a curious omission since this is the first festival we’ve been to where they weren’t employed. There were plenty of food vendors making sure everyone stayed adequately fed and there was plenty of water to keep everyone hydrated.
The festival organizers kept a pretty tight grip on the performance schedule. The only instance I saw things get a little out of hand was on the Orion Stage Sunday as they were having 30+ minute delays at times. The sound engineers did an admirable job making sure the music that was pumping out of the artist’s instruments were the same notes that found their way into our ears.
A few random thoughts on acts that we didn’t feature on ConcertTour.org but deserve a special mention:
Wiz Khalifa – There wasn’t another act over the weekend that brought out the passion in the fans like Wiz. The crowd was sandwiched on one other to get as close to the stage as humanly possible, and for good reason. He was a great performer and we will definitely feature him in our future festival coverage.
Al Green – Like Buddy Guy, Al Green was a lot of fun to watch. He has mad stage charisma, and it’s easy to see why he’s stayed relevant after all these years. He wants every one of his fans to walk away from the show saying, “damn I’ve got to see him again.”
Michael Franti & Spearhead – Franti and his crew may have been the most enjoyable to photograph. Guitarist Dave Shul went out of his way to perform for the camera, and Michael Franti just wouldn’t stay still. He manically darted around the stage when he wasn’t jumping off his perch to interact with the crowd, and at one point he jumped over the barricade to mingle with the masses. He made us work for the photos, and they turned out to be some of the best shots of the weekend.
Alison Krauss – Unfortunately, we didn’t see her full set since we were splitting time with Wiz Khalifa, but our initial impression was that she was a bit timid and reserved onstage. It didn’t really affect her performance, as she sounded great backed by Union Station, but it’s a bit unusual for a musician not to relish being bathed in the spotlight. It was kind of a refreshing change, actually.
In all, the Beale Street Music Festival organizers gathered a great bill of performers, and did all of the little things behind the scenes to make the festival a huge success. This is the 36th year of the Memphis in May festivities, and we think its safe to say they have it down at this point. If you are organizing your festival calendar for 2013, I’d definitely give Memphis’ Beale Street Music Festival strong consideration.
Most of our photos from the weekend have been posted to the concert photography page so be sure to check-in to see Beale Street in photos.