Memphis in May — the event and the city — is hot. I love, and never miss BBQfest or Musicfest. But if I had to choose, I'm leaving the pig on the grill and rocking out for the weekend.
For the money, there's not a better deal around than Musicfest. This year's three-day lineup boasts 67 performers. If you purchase a weekend pass in advance, the price is $63.50. Do the math. That averages out to $1.06 per act — a third of the price of a gallon of gas. The last time a concert ticket cost that little, Fred Flintstone was there. Just want to go see your favorite groups on one of the days? No problem, grab a one-day ticket in advance and it'll set you back a mere $27.50. Can't beat that with a tenderizer. Need more monetary incentive? Say you want to see the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin. You can pay $80 elsewhere for her alone, or pay less than that for Aretha plus 66 other acts here. 'Nuff said.
Musicfest offers something for everyone, regardless of musical taste. Groovers, hipsters, bubblegum popsters — we've got something for you. Chill out in the blues tent with Pinetop Perkins, Blind Mississippi Morris, or Robert "Wolfman" Belfour, fist-pump and pledge your love of rock-and-roll with Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, hustle and flow with Al Kapone and Three 6 Mafia, or bask in the eternal coolness emanating from Lou Reed. The Musicfest lineup is as varied as the attendees, and often, the event brings bands like Iggy & the Stooges or Big Star back from quasi-retirement. And what better place for musical greatness from all genres to collide than here, the birthplace of rock-and-roll and the home of the blues? Listening to a great live show on the banks of the Mississippi on a warm summer night is a spectacular way to start the month of May.
Sure, BBQfest is fun and it fills the air with the tantalizing smoke of hundreds of grills, but you'd better love pork and know someone with a team and a tent if you want to have a decent time. Until recently, the average Memphian couldn't even get barbecue at BBQfest. Ridiculous!
Besides, if you live in Memphis, you can get fantastic barbecue seven days a week without the hassle of crowds and tickets. It's always available. But three days of incredible music for an unbeatable price? That's only once a year, and it's Musicfest.
— Mary Helen Tibbs
First, let’s agree that BBQfest and Musicfest are both so tremendously popular that they have to be on separate weekends, lest Memphis become a crater under the footsteps of all the tourists who would surely swarm here. But which weekend should your buddies fly in for? Which weekend is the better Memphis memory maker?
BBQfest. Please. Bring your friends in for Musicfest and they’ll have a good time listening to some of the best bands in the world. Bring them in for BBQfest and they’ll never leave this Paradise of Pork (so if you have no room to rent out, you may disregard the rest of this article). Here’s a half-rack of reasons why BBQfest is superior.
One word: delicious. People come from all over to savor our succulent sausages and pull apart our pigs. Ridiculously good food is in sinful abundance as far as the eye can see. It’s rumored that the John Mellencamp song “Hurts So Good” was written after his experiences at BBQfest, because let’s face it: the hangover from a night of BBQ feasting is one of the greatest feelings in the world — far better than the ringing in your ears because you stood too close to the woofer when Aretha Franklin told you what R-E-S-P-E-C-T meant to her.
Staying with the more chemoreceptive senses, the smell of this weekend is worthy to bottle and sell as cologne. Musicfest, on the other hand smells like feet and beer. The aroma of heavenly hickory leaves one simply mesmerized. Musicfest isn’t properly described as an “aroma” but more aptly as a “funk,” as in That shirtless individual certainly emanates a distinct funk, eh, friends?
There is a reason why there is a stereo in your car instead of a microwave. You can listen to your favorite band and still drive. Barbecue will put you in a mouth-watering frenzy that makes driving nearly impossible.
But most importantly, BBQfest is distinctly Memphian. I can see Ben Folds anywhere from Walla Walla to Pittsburgh, but I am coming to Memphis if I want professional barbecue (East Carolina Voodoo Spice and Texas “We try to ‘cue the wrong animal” barbecue doesn’t count as professional). It should come as no surprise that barbecue is sold within the confines of Musicfest. But if it comes between the ribs or The Roots, sorry; I’m going for the ribs.
— Zack Stovall
Mary Helen Tibbs, Zack Stovall