With such a busy weekend, I managed only a brief tour of the last day of the River Arts Fest on Sunday, but it was long enough to catch Will Graves and his band on stage, with my homeboy Jackie Clark on bass. I also managed to get a brief glance at much of the beautiful unique artworks that were being displayed.
Saturday October 26, the Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy sponsored their annual Grammy GPS event, a day-long conference of panels, workshops and performances intended to encourage new and young producers and artists as they are making their way in the music industry. Panelists for the day included Jonathan Poneman of Seattle’s Sub Pop label, Ben Swank of Nashville-based Third Man Records, and noted Memphis hip-hop producer Carlos “Six July” Broady. The day ended with a gala reception at the Stax Museum next door.
Friday night at K Presha, Memphis’ upscale hip-hop clothing boutique, Memphis hip-hop artist Knowledge Nick sponsored a cypher session with a DJ out of the South Main Street sidewalk which attracted a large number of MC’s, break dancers and spectators. An hour or so in, Memphis rap artist Kinfolk Kia Shine came by on his way into the city from Atlanta and made a motivational speech to the crowd. However, what should have been a night of good vibes and good music came to an abrupt end when the Memphis Police Department showed up, demanded that the music be cut off and then abruptly attacked, pepper-sprayed and arrested people from the crowd at random, apparently in response to a noise complaint from residents who live in the apartments across the street. The police completely lost control, yelling at us, demanding that we first move off the street onto the sidewalk, then ordering us off the sidewalk into K Presha, all the while never stating the statute or ordinance under which they were ordering our peaceful gathering to disperse.
Down Beale Street in front of the New Daisy Theater was another great blues band that seemed to be composed mostly of young teenaged musicians and singers, who seemed to be costumed for Halloween. I soon learned that they were a band called Adam Warren and the Kings of Soul, and the young guitar player was especially impressive, even playing behind his back at one point. I also noticed across the street that Memphis bluesman Preston Shannon has opened a place in the former Lil Anthony’s Cafe location which is called King Arthur’s Home-Cooked Meals and Blues Club. I will be interested to see what kind of live music they book there, and how often Preston Shannon performs there himself.
My homeboy Travis McFetridge was in town from Great South Bay Music in New York, and wanted to check out Beale Street, and my homeboy Antonio Motley (who is one of our city’s best young drummers) was filling in for the regular drummer with the Plantation All-Stars at Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall on Friday afternoon, so I took Travis there, and although there was literally nowhere to sit, we enjoyed a good half-hour of authentic Memphis blues and soul. Another blues band was playing on the outdoor stage in Handy Park as well, and yet another further down Beale in front of the New Daisy. I don’t think I’ve heard so much blues on Beale in one day as I did Friday.
While people associate Memphis rap with Juicy J, DJ Paul, Yo Gotti or Young Dolph, there is another Memphis rap scene that few people outside of the city ever see, the underground world of Memphis’ lyrical hip-hop artists. Memphis’ hip-hop artists work at a decided disadvantage in the city, with limited awareness and budget, and with many of their fans being other hip-hop artists working in the same subgenre, but they often stage their own events to promote themselves and further their craft. I had seen something on Facebook about a Memphis hip-hop showcase at a place called The Hub on E. H. Crump and Lauderdale in South Memphis, so I decided to head down there on Saturday night to check it out. The Hub is located in the former Cuoghi’s Grocery building on the south side of Crump at Lauderdale, and is a comfortable lounge with a stage for spoken word, hip-hop and occasional live music performances. The event on this night was a birthday celebration for notable Memphis producer Kingpin Da Composer, and featured performances by a number of Memphis’ best hip-hop artists including Pyu, Martian Man and Virghost Memphiasco, who recently released his newest album Summer In September.
On this particular evening, there was also an R & B singer, and as a result, a live band, featuring my homeboy Antonio Motley on drums. The overall quality of the performances was first-rate throughout and the event didn’t end until nearly 2 AM. Its sponsor, Liberated Audio is an online radio station that features many of the performers who appeared on the event.
After I left the block party in Crosstown, I headed out to The Grindz Coffee in Cordova because I had heard that they occasionally have jazz there on Friday nights. On this particular Friday night, they were not featuring jazz, but they did have a live neo-soul/funk band called PurElegance that was rather impressive. Unfortunately, the live music on Fridays at Grindz only runs until 9 PM, so I only got a chance to check out three tunes or so as I enjoyed my latte. But the atmosphere is comfortable, and Grindz features good music and coffee.
I had seen online that a block party was being held in the Crosstown neighborhood along North Cleveland Street near the old Sears building that they are hoping to turn into artist’s residences and a medical clinic, so I headed down there around 6 PM, and found things well under way, with plenty of art happenings going on, an outdoor stage with a DJ and later musicians from the nearby Community Music School of the Visible Music College, and a food truck from Revival Southern Food. Crosstown Arts, who was sponsoring the block party, also has taken over the Crosstown Flea Market and it was open special later hours. A corner of the flea market is being turned into a headquarters for the Story Booth after-school program, a Crosstown initiative that is centered around creative writing and music and seems somewhat similar to the superb Neighborhood Story Project in New Orleans. Other highlights included spoken word poetry in the gallery next to the Community Music School, and a hot chocolate tent from Tart (“Taste the Art”), a coffee house that will be opening at Cooper and Elzey in the Cooper-Young neighborhood in late November.
Pyro’s Fire Fresh Pizzas opened in East Memphis on Ridgeway Road about a week ago after one of the longest and most anticipated openings in Memphis history. There was talk about Pyro’s as far back as June, so yesterday a friend and I headed down to check it out.
Pyro’s is a wood-fired pizza restaurant, which is one of my favorite concepts, although it is a concept that has not really caught on in the Memphis market. The ill-fated Fire N Stone Pizzeria was a personal favorite of mine until it closed abruptly. But Pyro’s has some unique features that should give them an edge over previous wood-oven pizza restaurants or other pizza places in general. We were immediately impressed with the reasonably low prices that seem to include all the pizza toppings, which you watch employees put on your pizza at each stage of the creative process before they are placed into the gargantuan oven. It’s also worth noting that pizzas can be made with an Alfredo sauce base, and that’s the first time we’ve seen that in Memphis. Soft drinks come from one of the new Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, so guests have their choice of about 120 flavors of drink. And after the main course, there’s also a dessert menu featuring sweets called “bites” and there’s an espresso bar too. We might also mention that the attractive bar features beer on tap, including Memphis’ new Wiseacres beer, and that there is a flat screen TV for watching those big games. What more could you want? Well, back home we read online about how there’s no tipping at Pyro’s because it pays its employees above minimum wage and provides them with healthcare, so you can feel good about eating at Pyro’s. Their Union Avenue location opens in Midtown in December.
Last Friday night, as David Kimbrough Jr struck up the first few notes of his first tune at The Cool Spot in Holly Springs, I realized something momentous was happening that ought to be preserved for the future, so I recorded the entire show with a recording app in my iPhone. Of course the recordings were made under less than optimum conditions, but I have used the editing software in Audacity to clean the tracks up as best I can. Enjoy this authentic Hill Country blues played by three of Junior Kimbrough’s sons, David, Robert and Kenny. David’s album Shell-Shocked can be purchased on iTunes here. Kenny also recorded an album under the name Kent Kimbrough on Hill Country Records, and that can also be purchased on iTunes here.