The sun set on the Sunset Symphony last year when the Memorial Day concert ended its 39-year run as the closing event for Memphis in May (MIM). This week, Memphis in May announced the symphony’s replacement event — 901Fest, a celebration of all things local.
The fest, set to begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 28th in Tom Lee Park, will feature performances by Memphis musicians, and all food and arts vendors will be local.
“The mission of our organization is to celebrate Memphis’ culture and heritage. We plan on doing that in spectacular style this Memorial Day weekend by showcasing our musicians, artists, culinary arts, and unique Memphis products. 901Fest gives us an opportunity to turn the spotlight on Memphis and allow Memphians to enjoy our city’s assets," says James L. Holt, president and CEO of Memphis in May.
Several music stages will be set up around the park, and one of those stages will be booked solely with artists nominated through a social media contest spearheaded by Choose 901. From now through March 3rd, Memphians can make nominations for performing artists (and local food vendors) by using the hashtags #901fest and #choose901 across all social media channels. Winners of that contest will be announced on March 21st.
The Twitterverse is already filled with suggestions from Memphians. Among the bands nominated so far are Marcella and Her Lovers, The City Champs, Amy LaVere, the Dead Soldiers, John Paul Keith, and Zigadoo Moneyclips.
Although there will be several stages, MIM marketing director Penelope Huston says the festival will take place in a smaller portion of the park than the Beale Street Music Festival.
“We're taking a smaller footprint of the park, so it will be more intimate,” Huston says.
The food vendors will be serving from both food trucks and stationary food stalls, but all sellers will be local, unlike at Music Fest, which attracts traveling food vendors from across the country.
Attendees can also shop local at the event, which will feature Memphis-based artists and craftspeople.
“When we announced [901Fest], we knew people would get excited about what music and food they wanted to see and eat. But we had no idea that people would get so excited about vendors. The vendor response has been really positive,” Huston says.
The annual airshow, which historically has taken place during Sunset Symphony, will continue this year during 901Fest, and fireworks will close out the night after dark.
The festival will follow the Great American River Run, another new MIM event, which is being held that same morning. The run features a 5K and a half-marathon along the riverfront. The North Mississippi All-Stars will headline a race after-party, and then after that performance, 901Fest will open its gates to the public. Runners registered for the River Run will get free entry to 901Fest. General admission to 901Fest is $10.
“When they decided last year to retire the symphony, there were some people who said, ‘Oh, I loved the symphony.’ But we have had nothing but a positive response to 901Fest,” Huston says. “When we announced the River Run, the response was positive. We didn’t get a backlash of ‘You took away the symphony to host a run.’ People were like, ‘That’s great because Memphis is changing, and that’s a great way to enjoy the riverfront.’ There’s been a change in thinking. There’s this love in the way Memphians think about their community.”