Bristerfest is a Memphis festival of music, art and film that raises money for Grow Memphis, a worthwhile organization that encourages neighborhood gardens in the inner city of Memphis. Formerly held at the Levitt Shell, Bristerfest moved this year to the former church-turned-performance loft called The Abbey at Cooper and Walker in the Cooper-Young neighborhood of Midtown, and featured two indoor stages and an outdoor stage over three days in May the weekend after Beale Street Music Fest. I was especially impressed by the rap and hip-hop line-up on Saturday night May 10, where C-Beyohn performed with the excellent reggae band known as the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy. They were followed by up-and-coming Memphis rap artist Tyke T backed by drummer Otis Logan and trombonist Suavo J of the band 4 Soul, and the young hip-hop duo S.O.U.L. that has been getting some attention locally over the last year. I must add that attendance seemed very good indeed for this year’s Bristerfest, and hopefully a lot of money was raised for Grow Memphis.
For those who missed the C3 Band concert last night, here is the bulk of it (minus the opening “I’ll Play The Blues For you, sadly), recorded with my iPhone 5S using the Rode Rec app, which I highly recommend.
With lots of conflicting options with what to do on my Friday night (the first in many weeks that I hadn’t either had a gig or been out of town), I wasn’t sure what I wanted to choose. My drummer homeboy Mike Mosby had one of his Locked and Loaded events going on, Bristerfest was kicking off in Cooper-Young, Eden Brent was at the Center For Southern Folklore, and the Clarksdale Caravan Music Fest was going on down in Mississippi. But when I saw that my homeboys in the C3 Band were going to be playing at West Alley BBQ in Jackson, Tennessee, I decided to drive up there, both to catch their performance, and to check out the barbecue, which my homeboy Courtney Brown (C3’s drummer) had said was really good.
West Alley BBQ proved to be something like a large juke joint, with two older men tending to oil drum cookers outside along the side entrance. The look of the place would not have been unfamiliar to people who know Ground Zero in Clarksdale, but there were some elements that seemed more in keeping with Red’s Lounge instead, although the place was much bigger. The pulled pork was delicious, just as I had been told, and the club kept great roots blues playing over the speakers until it was time for the band to come up on stage. As I have discussed earlier, C3 is a blues power trio, with a repertoire that stretches from blues to funk to soul. Their performance on this particular night was augmented by a guest harmonica player that sat in, a visiting drummer that gave Courtney Brown a breather, and a superb female singer that closed out the night with a rousing rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” It was definitely a night to remember in Jackson, and West Alley BBQ will be a place to keep checking up on.
During the On Location: Memphis International Film and Music Festival, Le Chardonnay was the location of the neo-soul showcases on both Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturday night, the showcase opened with the superb Memphis jazz/soul vocalist Jamille “Jam” Hunter with her band, and was followed by the blues/soul/rock trio known as C3, consisting of drummer Courtney Brown, guitarist Chris Pitts and bassist Colton Parker, a power trio that I have discussed elsewhere. They were to be followed by Ethan Kent and my homeboy Otis Logan’s band 4 Soul, but as I was on the festival staff, I soon got called away to handle a crisis at the hip-hop showcase at 1884 Lounge at Minglewood.
William Bell was one of the first young men from South Memphis to walk over and investigate the Stax Records studios as they were being built in the old Capitol Theatre in South Memphis. Although perhaps never as big a star as Isaac Hayes or Otis Redding, Bell is deserving of acclaim for his success as a songwriter, as a performing artist and as the owner of his own independent record label, Wilbe Records. He generally is the last performer to appear at each year’s Soulsville Street Festival in South Memphis, and frequently performs with the Bo-Keys in various locations. William Bell is truly a living legend of Memphis music.
The Mad Lads were yet another Memphis vocal group with South Memphis ties, and they recorded a number of singles and a handful of albums for Stax Records before lead singer John Gary Williams (who was a member of the Memphis Black Power group known as The Invaders) was arrested and charged with being involved in a sniping incident against the Memphis police in late 1968. Later, Williams launched a solo career, and recorded one very elusive self-titled album just as Stax was falling apart in late 1974. Over the years, Williams has put together a number of reconstituted Mad Lads groups, and is now the subject of a forthcoming documentary called I See Hope: The John Gary Williams Story , which is currently in production. The annual appearance of the Mad Lads at the Stax to the Max festival is a big deal to the largely South Memphis crowd that attends.
Memphis was an exception to the rule that Black vocal groups were a largely Northern phenomenon, as the city had a number of great Black doo-wop and soul groups from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. One of the city’s favorites was the South Memphis group known as the Temprees, who recorded for the Stax subsidiary label We Produce in the early 1970’s, and who captured a bit of attention with their soulful reading of the rock/pop standard “Dedicated to the One I Love.” As they are South Memphis native sons, their appearance at the Stax to the Max festival stage is always a huge affair. This year the crowd tried to storm the stage and had to be held back by security, and all this despite the fact that they haven’t had a record out since 1976!
Memphis contemporary soul band The Bo-Keys have been actively involved in preserving the unique legacy of Memphis soul music, and are an annual featured act at the Soulsville Street Festival in April. They frequently appear with soul singer Percy Wiggins on vocals, and they began their set at Stax to the Max with him this year before blues singer John Nemeth (who recently cut a new album in Memphis) came on stage to perform some of the songs from his latest release.
The 15th annual On Location Memphis Film and Music Festival got underway in earnest on Friday April 25 with the awards luncheon at Lost Pizza Company on Poplar Avenue. Folk acoustic duo Sunburnt Moon providing the really cool music for the occasion. Registration then opened at Studio on the Square in Overton Square around 1 PM, with films occurring all afternoon. At 7 PM, music showcases got underway at Le Chardonnay, The Blue Monkey, Otherlands, Java Cabana and Newbys, and these ran until midnight. Highlights of the evening included performances by Mike Mosby and the Hard Hitters Band featuring vocalist Cameron Bethany at Le Chardonnay, Cowboy Bob Sawyer and Low Society at Otherlands, and an all-star hip-hop line-up at Newby’s that included Marco Pave, 5th Child, Truth Universal, Marcel P. Black, Lyriqs Da Lyraciss, Lukah Luciano, A. C. Dutch and the Iron Mouth Battle League and Knowledge Nick, who was also the MC for the evening.
Wednesday night is becoming more of a night for live music in Memphis. In addition to Jerome Chism’s weekly performance at the Silver Spoon in Hickory Hill, Memphis soul singer Rodney “King” Ellis has started hosting a weekly Grown Folks Wednesday event at Memphis Sounds downtown, featuring the superb Fifth Element Band, and singer Jolynn Diggs. The club is down a flight of stairs underground, which gives it a sort of speakeasy atmosphere, and the band plays great soul and blues music all night long. And there’s no cover charge either. Meanwhile, Ellis is said to be hard at work on his forthcoming new album.