BEALE STREET MUSIC FESTIVAL 2018

I’m finally here, on the shores of the Mississippi river in Memphis at the Beale Street Music Festival 2018 (BSMF). It is May 4th, “Memorial Day” in The Netherlands, commemorating the Dutch veterans and fallen. I enter the main gate to the festival with thousands of people to enjoy one of the biggest and most diverse music festivals in the world. The festival park is on the banks of the river stretching about a half mile long section of the Tom Lee Park where 4 main stages are aligned from North to South. One stage is fully dedicated to Blues Music in the Coca Cola Blues Tent. I am in Memphis, the “Birthplace of The Blues”!!

Words, photo’s and video’s: Edwin Birkhoff. Check out Edwin’s full review HERE! For more photo’s & video’s just click on the ARTIST name. (Let op: alle foto’s, video’s en teksten op deze website zijn auteursrechtelijk beschermd. Het is niet toegestaan deze zonder voorafgaande toestemming te gebruiken, af te drukken of te publiceren.)

BSMF is a three day-day event, held annually since 1977 during the first weekend of May and is considered to be the start of the month-long Memphis-in-May festival. There are other events this month. In “International Week” each year a different foreign country is featured, and this year the honor is to the Czech Republic. It entails a series of exhibits, screenings, arts and performances dedicated to the country. The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest has become one of the most popular barbecue contests in the country and is celebrating its 41st year in 2018. The Great American River Run Half Marathon & 5K welcomes runners of all experience levels through the streets of Memphis and along the banks of the Mississippi River, while 901Fest is a unique celebration that includes a salute to all things Memphis.

While BSMF started in 1977, its origins can be traced back to the 1800’s when African-American musicians from the deep South travelled to Memphis to perform at Beale Street. BSMF is known for representing a diverse mix of genres on its lineup every year, from blues and rock ’n roll to rap and pop with a variety of renowned and established artists to local musicians. And considering its great music history, Memphis has a lot of local artists!

The list of bands and musicians that have performed at the festival continues to grow. It includes Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, James Brown, Bob Dylan, Black Crowes, Van Morrison, Foo Fighters, Allman Brothers, Santana, James Taylor, Soundgarden, Lenny Kravitz, Ed Sheeran, Neil Young, and many, many more.

Among the 60 artist in this year’s event are headliners such as Queens of the Stone Age, Odesza, Erykah Badu, Alanis Morissette, Jack White, Incubus, Post Malone, Logic and Tyler, The Creator.

My focus for this weekend is the Blues line-up which is just as diverse and consists of Robert Randolph & The family Band, Tommy Castro & The Painkillers and Delbert McClinton, and locals such as Blind Mississippi Morris, Earl “The Pearl” Banks, RL Boyce and the Love Light Orchestra. Special attention for the great Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater who did one of his last performances during BSMF, while he passed away Friday June 1st from heart failure at the age of 83. I join the world wide blues family in the mourning for his loss and offer my warmest condolences to his family, friends and fans.

I’m ready to fully submerge in the music history of Memphis, where music never stops and you can continue to enjoy Blues Music each day into the wee hours in one of the many clubs on Beale Street.

While on some of the other stages a lot of younger talent is present there is really one performance that can be addressed as such in the Blues Tent. But this talent is no one less than CHRISTONE “KINGFISH” INGRAM who shows within minutes that he would be worth the title “talent of BSMF 2018”, if one would exist. He is the opener for the weekend and he is turning up the heat right away, with blistering guitar solo’s and his deep blues voice.

 

Bob Margolin has called him a force of nature proclaiming, “I truly believe that Muddy Waters and the other blues ghosts who haunt the Mississippi Delta where Kingfish lives are proud that he carries on the spirit of the blues music they pioneered. Kingfish conquers time — past, present, and future.” And I am convinced he is right. The 19 year old Clarksdale born (source: Blues Blast Magazine interview)

And Christone is a show man, he knows how to get the people on their feet, taking a stroll in the audience with his Michael Chertoff LP-Style axe, aka “Gabby”, enjoyed by the audience, while he uses more than just his hands to make his guitar sing. A great opener for what must be a great festival.

ZAC HARMON is up next and this experienced Jackson, Mississippi born and raised award winning guitarist, organist, singer and songwriter knows perfectly how to answer that beautiful start from “Kingfish”.

 

With great energy, a top notch band and blues with a mix of soul funk and gospel seduced the audience with just the perfect interaction.

The GHOST TOWN BLUES BAND enters stage with a great entourage of a big band and shows a unique vision of modern blues. This is certainly not the traditional blues, but represents 21st century modern blues with a mix of funk, rock, country grooves.

 

The show with a horn section showing off in one song is mixed with cigar box guitar licks in another. It’s energetic, wild and difficult to sit down for the audience who clearly appreciates this band, who probably would fit a wide range of festivals.

The frontman and multi instrumentalist, Matt Isbell with a whiskey soaked voice is raw and smashes one of his cigar box guitars at the end of the show. I am still wondering why….

People forget about the seats in Blues Tent and all gather around in front of the stage for the absolute highlight of day one, ROBERT RANDOLPH & THE FAMILY BAND.

 

Pedal steel guitar virtuoso Robert Randolph is leading his band with great intensity to higher grounds. Relaxed and driven at the same time he showcases his innovative funk, soul and gospel mix. His band always in control and fully supportive to this great musician who is one of the main reason why I start to appreciate slide guitar, more and more.

Day one was more than I dreamed of. It is a great feeling to be in Memphis and while the price of a couple of beers in Beale Street still beats the sky rocketing Uber drive home, what is left is an easy decision …

Without hangover, but still not completely fit, due to my earlier decision’s of the day, I again enter BSMF terrain early. It’ll give me a chance to do some shopping and make sure I have my t-shirt and festival poster, signed by artist George Hunt who has been busy over the past 26 years creating paintings for BSMF poster.

On day 2 of Coca Cola’s Blues Tent line-up we see some artist that can regularly be seen in one of the clubs at Beale Street. EARL “THE PEARL” BANKS is first up and he shows his 50 years of experience on Beale Street. Honored with several distinguishing awards such as the “Beale Street Entertainer Award of the Year’ in 2004 and The W.C Handy ‘Authentic Beale Street Musician Award’ in 2009. In 2013 Earl was honored with a Beale Street Brass Note.

At the age of 82, born in Germantown, Mississippi in 1936, Earl deserves a lot of respect, showing a little fragile but still very convincing in his performance. Earl has gathered an inspiring band for the occasion and we can consider it to be a successful start of the day.

Chicago based JOANNA CONNOR is well known by a lot of people because of a you-tube video in which she appeared in purple dress and gave her the reputation as the “singing and guitar playing housewife”. Well, whatever people think of her, she is a great musician, with a Bluesrock repertoire that would make many jealous.

 

What is really funny is that during her gig, it starts to rain and people from all over the festival grounds flee into the Blues Tent for cover. It is at that point when Joanna shows she is fully in control and immediately shifts up a gear or two, making the blues tent enter of the festival for the next half hour or so. It is without any doubt that all the young people entering the tent did not expect such a great concert in the “old peoples tent”

BLIND MISSISSIPPI MORRIS is “The Real Deal” who can be found at Blues City Cafe on Friday and Saturday and in BB King’s on Sunday afternoon.

 

Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi and blind since he was four can also be found on Beale Street on a regular basis. One of the greatest harp players out there and like Earl, sometimes fragile but confident and smooth. Make sure to go out there while you’re Memphis and see these guys!

The story around the performance of EDDY “THE CHIEF” CLEARWATER is a little bit sad. Despite his old age of 83 he probably showed fittest during his performance compared to his peers. One could say he died in armor, with a gig with so much energy.

 

Of course he also had to sit down for a while during the show, but for large parts he was standing there right in front of his band leading it and being a very strong counterpart for many members of his band. I feel blessed I had the opportunity to see him perform and will remember this forever.

TOMMY CASTRO & THE PAINKILLERS has been recording since the mid 90’s and has been productive ever since, with over 20 albums. Born in San Jose, California in 1955, he found his influences in Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Elmore James and Freddie King, playing a nice mix of Chicago and West Coast Blues.

Only half year ago I saw him back home in The Netherlands and I was surprised by the low number of visitors, although I enjoyed the show a lot. But to be honest, I now found out that there is a big difference between the Tommy Castro before an audience of 25 compared to the when Tommy Castro for an enthusiastic audience. Wow, he’s putting up a show, interactive with the audience, having a blast at stage and playing his soulful bluesrock with great inspiration. Next time he will perform in The Netherlands i will personally make sure to promote him!

It is up to MARCIA BALL to end day 2 of BSMF and whether it was the fatigue or just because her music is just a little bit different, but for me and most of the audience it was just not as inspiring as the other performances. Trust me nothing to complain about quality, but I guess it has more to do with personal taste.

I am afraid that I will be forced again to spent some time in Beale Street while Uber prices are even higher compared to Friday. What punishment….

I barely made it on time, suffering from more than just fatigue, for the BISCUIT MILLER AND THE MIX. Surrounded by some bottles of water to make sure I could bring my hydration level up to acceptable levels I enjoyed the man “With one of the biggest smiles in the blues” (source: Big City Blues Magazine) And that appeared to be very positive for my wellbeing.

 

David Miller born in South Side, Chicago, Illinois in 1961 is a bassist, singer and songwriter and won a Blues Music Award in the Instrumentalis Bass category. His interaction with his band, especially with Myron Robinson aka Dr. Love on drums, creates an amazing rhythm section on which both guitarists “Bobby B” and Alex ”Southside” Smith can flourish.

Really nice slow blues mixed with soul and funky songs this is a great way to start day.

REBA RUSSELL was a great surprise to me. With her husband and bassist Wayne she has released 6 cd’s over a 10 year period. She moved to Memphis when she was 13 and was influenced by all that could be found in Memphis. She calls herself a latent folk singer and that can be heard during her show.

 

She sings with passion and emotion, with fun and happiness. She tells her story and can probably be considered quite unique. Her band is superb and Reba comes across as a very nice person and when you put that all together it makes it really nice to sit down, relax and listen.

RL BOYCE is a blast! That pretty much sums it up! The singer, songwriter and guitarist born in 1955 in Corno, Mississippi was out there to have fun.

I would not be able to swear to anybody’s grave that he was out there all sober, but that didn’t matter anybody enjoying the show. Flirting, smiling and laughing around with some of the ladies in the audience he seduced many of them to come out and dance on a hot Sunday afternoon.


It probably was ment to be, because all I saw was happy faces. Musically it was somewhat one-sided, but please remember R.L Boyce is a 2018 Blues Music Award nominee for a reason!

LOVE LIGHT ORCHESTRA has probably some fo the best musicians out there at BSMF 2018, being a combination of well recognized session musicians who have been around for long. They bring you back to the times of Big Band Blues from the 50’s and 60’s.


Singer John Nemeth shows his soulful vocal versatility throughout the show. the ten man band with a very strong horn section is somewhat modest at the beginning of the show but that rapidly changes while each and every band member takes their chance to show of a little. Absolute superb quality, beautiful songs, nice and quiet, what more could you wish for?

The website of DELBERT MCCLINTON states “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love Delbert McClinton and those who haven’t heard him yet. Delbert is always working on that second group.”

From Lubbock, Texas, at the age of 76 Delbert shows his primary interest for a very specific group of people. The ladies in front of the stage. At some time during the concert it even distracts him a little bit too much, although he very professionally recovers. To be honest, his behavior at stage also distracts me from listening to the concert. Also the band seems to notice and I do not feel any inspiration coming from stage, with exception of 16 year old Yates McKendree, son of Kevin McKendree on keyboard. Yates does not only show he is a great keyboard player, but when he picks up the guitar he shows a very special way to play the instrument with his thumb over the neck of his guitar.. During live performance it looks really special and nice, although I have some doubt whether this will stand out when it really becomes technical. Anyway, it sure is a nice performance.

Day 3 ends and I again feel forced to go to Beale Street, this time without even checking whether Uber prices would or should make a difference. It was my first weekend in Memphis and I will be out for another week or so to attend the Blues Music Awards and some of the parties on Beale Street during the week. I could not have wished for a better start. The festival is absolutely fantastic. Amenities, food and location is perfect. transportation is somewhat difficult but with a little patience and some extra pocket money to spend on Beale Street nobody can complain. I have looked forward to finally visit Beale Street Music Festival and enjoyed every minute of it. It will now just be a questions of when I will be back and not if…


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