Memphis indie duo Deering and Down wear their Memphis influences on their sleeve. Yet the 13-year-old duo of Lahna Deering and the Rev. Neil Down started not in the Bluff City, but in the unlikely town of Skagway, Alaska, when Deering’s mother introduced her to Rev. Down, who was known in the community as a musician and band-leader. The quick friendship led to an album, a cross-country tour that included a stop in Memphis, and eventually an album recorded at Yellow Brick Studios in Memphis in 2007. Shortly, thereafter, Deering and Down relocated to Memphis, cutting yet another album, 2009’s Out There Somewhere at the legendary Royal Studios, working with Willie and Boo Mitchell, Teenie Hodges and other Memphis musical legends. Memphis music was always part of Down’s musical vision, and Deering and Down pull off the seemingly impossible, reconciling alternative/indie music with soul in a way that doesn’t seem forced or contrived. Given the rise of other soul-inflected indie bands over the last couple of years, it could be truthfully argued that Deering and Down were ahead of their time.
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For whatever reason, the music at this year’s River Arts Festival seemed oriented toward folk, rock and country, with far less jazz, blues, soul or gospel than previous years’ festivals. But one exception was Clarksdale-based bluesman Terry “Big T” Williams, who played all Saturday afternoon on the festival’s far northern end of Main Street, occasionally accompanied by Latin percussionist Rico Rumba as well. Big T’s repertoire stretches from traditional blues to soul tunes like Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog.” Occasionally, groups of festival goers would stop to listen before heading further down to the art exhibits.
Each year, in the fall, State Representative Antonio Parkinson sponsors a Block Party for Peace in either the Raleigh or Frayser neighborhoods, which are his constituency. This year the event was held at the Ed Rice Community Center in Frayser, so I decided to make a stop there before heading on downtown to the River Arts Festival in the South Main Arts District. There was a significant crowd of people and few places to park, so I had to park on a side street across from the community center, and what I saw there highlighted many of the current problems of Memphis, in that most of the houses on the street were abandoned, and many in a state of collapse beyond repair. Clearly the city had made no effort to enforce its codes, and eyesores like this don’t just look bad, but they also attract crime, drugs and gang activity. Over at the event, however, there was barbecue, a DJ, some business exhibits, lots of young people and more. However, nobody was performing on the stage, so I ended up leaving earlier than I had planned to.
Every once in awhile, a corporation does something worthwhile, and certainly Red Bull’s Sound Select tour with Run The Jewels fits the bill. Run the Jewels is a collaboration between Killer Mike and El-P, and when my homeboy Matt Sonzala told me to come out to Minglewood Hall in Memphis to check them out, I invited my homeboy Tune C and we headed down there. To my amazement, the place was absolutely packed, and many of the people there were like a who’s who of the Memphis recording industry, including rappers Ify, Tori WhoDat and Jason Da Hater, singer Tonya Dyson, and legendary engineer and producer Boo Mitchell. The opening act was a thoroughly gangsta crew from Dallas known as the Outfit, and for a gangsta-style group, they were decent. But it was the Run The Jewels performance that everyone came for, and it was very impressive indeed. Tune and I had hung out with Mike in Atlanta last year, and we got a brief chance to catch back up with him after the show. It was truly a momentous night for Memphis hip-hop.
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Perhaps they rap while they fix your car.
On the Sunday after Grambling homecoming, I drove down from Monroe to New Orleans for a second-line sponsored by a social aid and pleasure club known as the Men of Class. The event was supposed to start from a bar on North Broad Street in Mid-City called the Chocolate Bar, directly across from the Orleans Parish Prison. Unfortunately, the event did not start on time, for a very bizarre reason. Although there was a crowd of fans and second-liners present, and the members of Da Truth Brass Band, nobody from the club that was to parade was present. By the time some of the club members arrived (about two hours late), the band did not seem to want to parade. Somehow, however, this was all worked out, and we began our journey across the overpass into Uptown. No sooner had we reached the other end than we were assaulted by a virtual blizzard of annoying little white insects of some sort. They were everywhere, and nearly everyone around me was involved in waving their hands and arms in front of their face to drive them away. We came to our first route stop on Louisiana Avenue two doors down from Big Man’s Lounge, and when we resumed the parade from there, Da Truth Brass Band broke out with the traditional brass band anthem “Why You Worried About Me.” Ultimately, the route was cut short due to the late start, but we had fun anyway.
One of the awesome things about Black college football is that the football battle on the field is matched by a battle between the two bands in the stands. This is especially true when the bands are two of the best in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), such as Grambling’s World-Famed Marching Band and Pine Bluff’s Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South. Not only did the bands battle back and forth during the course of the afternoon, but the various instrumental sections did as well, particularly Grambling’s Chocolate Thunder drumline and Pine Bluff’s K.R.A.N.K. drumline. The weather was beautiful as well, and Grambling’s much-improved football team had no trouble demolishing Pine Bluff, no small feat considering that last year’s Grambling team did not win a game.