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3 World Class Music Festivals in the Memphis Area

Thumbing through a Rolling Stone the other day in the barber shop and ran across this year’s list of music festivals.  Memphis is probably best known for the Beale Street Music Festival which kicks off Memphis in Mud May every year, but there 3 fine festivals close by that bring in music fans from all over the world.  Can Kansas or Ohio have a Blues Festival?  Well sure; and they do, but Morgan Freeman and business partner Bill Luckett didn’t name their Blues Club in Clarksdale, MS Ground Zero for nothing.

Clarksdale_MS_080908 (6)I don’t intend to go into a musicology discourse, but if you want to see what real roots Delta Blues and culture looks like, don’t miss the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, August 7-9.  This year’s festival is a tribute to Sam Cook, a Clarksdale native.  While the festival adds a name act or 2 that occasionally push the genre envelope, this festival experience gives you a real feel for the Mississippi Delta music and culture.  Drive some backroads while you are in the area.  Take Mississippi Hwy 1 to Rosedale; eat some Delta tamales and bar B-Q; talk to the locals- they are interesting folks.  For Memphians, or if you have a place to stay in Memphis, it’s a little over an hour drive to Clarksdale, so   you can commute.  Accomodations are a little sparse and book up early, but if you want to be a REAL Delta tourist, stay at The Shack Up Inn.

Eddie Bond

Tim Curry interviews Rockabilly legend Eddie Bond

Next up, in chronological order, a festival I have been affiliated with as a volunteer, and more recently a sponsor, The Memphis Music and Heritage.  Staged by the Center for Southern Folklore in 5 venues varying from out door stages, to small club setting, to restaurant/concert hall (all within a block of each other), the festival presents the rich culture of the Memphis area with demonstrations, story tellers, dancers, cooking demonstrations, and of course music.  This has got to be one of the most eclectic festivals in the world.  Where else, over the course of a couple of days, could you urban gospel groups, Delta Blues musicians, Rockabilly musicians that Elvis and Johnny Cash opened for, rappers, rockers, jazz, Blues and Funk and folk.  This festival is Memphis’ best kept secret. It is held the Saturday and Sunday before Labor Day (September 5 & 6) on Main Street.  Plenty of accomodations Downtown and around Memphis (watch out for Ole Miss and U of Memphis fans in town for the traditional football operner.)    Oh, and did I mention food?  Just let me know you are coming and I will tell you where and what to eat.

Also nearby to Memphis and across the river is Helena, AR, home of the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival. This is the venerable festival that used to be known as the King Biscuit Blues Festival, until organizers lost the right to use the name.   It’s a 3 day festival in October, probably the Mid-South’s most pleasant month weather-wise.  This is a big one.  Lots of acts; lots of food; lots of festival atmosphere.  At this writing they are still putting together the website for this year’s event, but the festival has an impressive social media presence, so follow them on Twitter, fan them on Facebook, and subscribe to their RSS news feeds.

Whether you are from the Memphis and Delta area or some other place in the world, these are truly one of a kind festivals.  Y’all come see us.

Murder of Emmett Till revisited on MLK day

Yesterday, with friends from Memphis’ Social Media Expedition, I participated in a road trip to visit the sites related to the murder of Emmett Till in 1955. Till’s death and the subsequent acquittal of his killers was a monumental event in the then young civil rights movement.
The Emmett Till Memorial Commission of Tallahatchie County, MS has put together a very comprehensive account of the murder, the trial and their impact on America’s history, as well as placing informative historic markers, and charting a driving tour. If you are not familiar with the story, the links above are a must read.
The Bryant store in Money, Mississippi, where the 14 year old Till allegedly whistled at or made flirtatious remarks to a white woman.

The Till murderers used a fan similar to this from the Glendora Gin, Glendora, MS, to weight Till’s body before it was thrown in the Tallahatchie River.

The trial at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, MS led to speedy acquittal of the accused.

Thanks to Dave and Maurrean Barger, Blake Palmer and and Bethany Galloway for letting me tag along. If you are a history buff, this is an easy day trip from Memphis. If you are also a Blues buff, the route also covers many blues sites that have been memorialized in story and song.


Crossroads – Tom Graves

Blues lovers, please note
Memphis Author, Tom Graves, has just published a definitive book on Robert Johnson :
Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson
Availble locally or on Amazon.
Check it out before your next trip down Hwy 61.

Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson

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