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.
Around the corner on Second Street was a keyboard-and-drums duo called The Elements, playing soul, smooth jazz and R & B. Not necessarily an official part of the Juke Joint Festival, this band sets up at that location each year and always attracts a crowd.
Memphis is literally loaded with incredible soul and funk bands, and occasionally local restaurants and clubs feature some of them. Joshua McCain and the Soul Seven have recently started playing every Tuesday night at El Toro Loco in Hickory Hill from 7-9 PM, with singer Jay Bailey as their featured vocalist. I like to come out and support live music, and it is especially enjoyable to have a live music event early in the week.
After the Memphis concert was over at Butler Park, I walked down to South Congress Avenue and ended up encountering a band called The City from Houston who was performing on the outdoor stage at Mrs. P’s Electric Cock. They played an exciting blend of neo-soul and jazz, and were fun to listen to, but my phone was running out of charge and there was no place to charge it there, so I began walking back toward the convention center.
Memphis, unfortunately, is not as much like New Orleans as it should be, despite some obvious points of similarity. We do have krewes, a legacy of the old defunct Cotton Carnival/Carnival Memphis/Kemet, but the krewes don’t hold parades. In fact, the longest Mardi Gras parade in Memphis runs the two blocks of the Beale Street Entertainment District. But Memphis does have a cool New Orleans-themed restaurant called DejaVu, whose owners are originally from the Crescent City, and we do have some great musicians like Suavo J, so on Mardi Gras Day 2014, DejaVu had an all-day Mardi Gras party with live music and free king cake, featuring another one of Suavo’s numerous alter egos, the MemphOrleans Street Symphony, which seems to be an indoor band that takes influences from outdoor brass bands such as the ones in New Orleans. There were set drums rather than the marching snare and bass, and an electric bass rather than a tuba or sousaphone, but the music had a certain New Orleans vibe to it, and at least on this particular day, much of membership seemed to overlap with my homeboy Otis Logan’s band 4 Soul. Logan himself was on drums. So while I was disappointed about not being in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day (I in fact never have been), I was cheered by the shrimp po-boy, king cake and great music at DeJaVu downtown.
Hardworking trombonist Suavo J looks increasingly like a man on a mission to single-handedly rescue Memphis music, and he is everywhere these days, whether it’s playing with Otis Logan’s awesome 4 Soul aggregation, or the Crescent City-tinged Memphis-New Orleans Street Symphony band, or the more rootsy The Bones. The latter group was playing on Friday February 28 at the Center for Southern Folklore down on the Main Street Mall in downtown Memphis. The weather was cold, and there was only a modest crowd, but the band rocked the house for those of us who were there.
On the second and fourth Monday each month, the 300 South Main Art Gallery sponsors Wine Down Mondays, an event featuring an opportunity to sample fine wines paired with food offerings, a DJ and live music. This past Monday night, DJ Kojak was providing the recorded sounds, and Memphis drummer Otis Logan’s superb band 4 Soul was providing the live grooves, ably aided and abetted by ubiquitous Memphis trombonist Suavo J, straight from his second-place award in the International Blues Challenge with the Ghost Town Blues Band. The atmosphere was just right for the grown and sexy set eager for something to do on a very cold Monday night after work.
Robin Barnes is a relatively new neo-soul singer in New Orleans, backed by an excellent band known as the Soul Heirs. Her performance at the Recording Academy event on January 13 at the U.S. Mint was especially impressive, as was the musicianship of her band members.
Of course, the highlight of the night for me was getting to see my absolute favorite New Orleans brass band, the TBC Brass Band at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street. These young men, most of them from the 9th Ward, had only recently come together prior to Hurricane Katrina, and for a time it seemed that the storm might have brought the band’s brief existence to an end, with members scattered to other cities. But the To Be Continued Brass Band beat the odds and came back together in New Orleans, and is a group that brings a rough, defiant, hip-hop attitude to the world of brass band music. So I was somewhat amazed to hear them start their Blue Nile set with a couple of tunes from the traditional brass band and jazz repertoire, something I had never heard them do before. Their reading of “I Found A New Baby” was joyful, upbeat and flawless, with a skill that belies their youth, and was a tribute to their versatility as a band. Eventually the set moved into their usual more contemporary material, but I left at the end of their show with a whole new respect for the TBC’s musicianship.