Photos courtesy Flickr user Lindsey Turner
Memphis in May kicks off this weekend with the Beale Street Music Festival, where nearly 70 bands will perform across several stages over three days in Tom Lee Park. The festival, which has been a May staple in Memphis for almost 40 years, brings big-name acts from near and far, in addition to a short list of local bands, each year. Performers who’ve graced the stages along the mighty Mississippi River include B.B. King, Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers, Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews Band, Yo Gotti, Alice in Chains, Ben Harper, The B-52’s, and tons of others across all genres.
Music Fest has become known for its diversity of acts. Some of my personal favorites over the years were performances by James Brown, MGMT, 311, Florence and the Machine, The Flaming Lips, Bush, Stone Temple Pilots, Parliament Funkadelic… the list goes on.
As much as the festival is beloved for music, the experience itself — often a rain-soaked weekend of trudging through mud, guzzling festival-priced booze, and eating funnel cakes and fried everything — becomes just as memorable as any band’s show. We’ve asked a few of our friends to weigh in on their favorite BSMF moments and best (and funniest) memories. To protect the (sometimes not-so-)innocent, we’ve redacted names.
“Favorite memory of Music Fest.... wait I don't remember anything from Music Fest.”
“Bob Dylan playing in the pouring rain.... and then nearly dying of pneumonia.”
“STP opening with 'Shine on You Crazy Diamond' was a defining moment in my life!”
“Foo Fighters. It was pouring down raining, and the show went on. I loved dancing in the rain.”
“Definitely the Foo! I'll never forget standing in the monsoon watching them.”
“Snoop Dogg 2009 was hilarious: It was pouring rain, and you just saw a field filled with folks trying to light their joints under umbrellas and huge clouds of smoke wafting up from the crowd. There were tons of police just standing around the outer perimeter of the crowd, bobbing their heads to the music. Believe that was one of the more rain-heavy years, when I saw several poor gals drunkenly walking barefoot through puddles of... um... uck.”
“I love the international acts. One of my faves was Ratones Paranoicios from Argentina.”
“The first time I ever crowd-surfed was during a Green Day performance ('97, I believe) where Billie Joe took off his pants on stage and was wearing like leopard print briefs. I surfed pretty far across the crowd, and on the way down I kicked a chick in the forehead with these massive Doc Martens I was wearing. Oops!”
“2002: Saw 3-Six Mafia and a girl from my English class' boobs. Back in the day, music fest was all boobs, and that ruled. Oh yeah, and 3-Six came out through a big paper sign like a high school football team.”
“1994 — Beck was kicked off stage for inciting a riot because folks were moshing.”
“I lost one, ONE flip flop every year!!!!”
“2014: Walking in, head over heels in love, singing the chorus to "Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode and having another couple come alongside us to declare that we were hanging out with them from that point on, period. Later on, while watching STS9, the girls were hooping, and I look over my shoulder and see an old friend, multiple hoops on his shoulder. Hadn't seen him in 12 years! It was Magick.”
“Pouring rain, as usual. Young girl in a clear parka rockin' out to the Parliament Funkadelic. Full nude under the parka. She was a free spirit.”
“Walking up Beale, I saw these dread-headed kids setting up bongos and all different sized xylophones in front of the Elvis statue. They were called The Bliss Gypsies, some college kids on summer break from Berkley. I was fascinated by the sound, never heard anything quite like it, and haven't since.”
“I never liked Elvis Costello until I saw him at Music Fest. His medley of ‘Allison/Suspicious Minds’ was a great tribute to the city.”
“Beer soaked sandals. It's not a bad thing, necessarily, if you don't care about your sandals. #TheYear2000”
“Watching my ex wife get sloppy drunk and fall endlessly into the mud around the port-a-potties at Chevelle.”
“2001: Drinking my first couple of underage beers in the parking lot waiting for the shuttle. Some dude on the bus had a shirt pocket FULL of huge joints and was chewing on stems. I went and saw String Cheese, and I got pee splashed on my leg from one of my buddies avoiding the port-o-potty lines.”
“I remember sneaking in an entire 5th of Evan Williams in my sock one time.”
“Seeing a drunk-as-sh*t Pete Yorn play an incredibly short, half-assed set.”
“Always getting a Pronto Pup. Even my vegan friend would get one every year”
“Pronto Pups! I dropped one on Riverside trying to eat it, drunk, while walking back to the car. Still tried to eat it after the fall. Five-second rule, right? Took one bite and it was all gritty and gross. Called it a ‘street dog’ and mourned all the way back over not being able to eat it.”
What is your favorite BSMF memory? Share with us in the comments!
Here's to making new memories this weekend. We hope you manage to keep both your flip flops (in fact, wear actual shoes — not flip flops!) and eat plenty of Pronto Pups (minus the street grit). Gates open at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 29th, and at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 30th and Sunday, May 1st. This year’s lineup includes Paul Simon, Weezer, Modest Mouse, Cypress Hill, Beck, Violent Femmes, Mavis Staples, and many more. For more information, visit memphisinmay.org.