After two albums that had done little on the charts, Memphis rock band Big Star was basically falling apart when Jim Dickinson, Jody Stephens and Alex Chilton went into Ardent Studios to start work on an untitled new album. By some accounts, the album was tentatively named Beale Street Green, an indirect protest of the city’s demolition of the Black neighborhoods around legendary Beale Street. By others, the album (or perhaps even the band) was to be called Sister Lovers, since Jody Stephens and Alex Chilton were dating two sisters, Lesa and Halladay Aldridge. Today we know and love it as Big Star Third, but nothing prepared me for the experience of hearing that music played live by an all-star cast of musicians including a string orchestra to kick off the Levitt Shell’s Summer Music Concerts in Memphis. After a brief introduction by John Fry, the owner and founder of Ardent Records, all the songs from the album were performed by a whole host of great singers and musicians, including Pat Sansone of Wilco, Star and Micey, Van Duren, Jody Stephens and Lesa Aldridge herself. This presentation highlighted Alex Chilton’s amazing talent and the timeless quality of his songwriting. It’s just a pity that he didn’t live to see Memphis honor him as they should.
Memphis rap artist Preauxx and his friends painted this brightly-colored mural on the wall of the Midtown Market in the Cooper-Young neighborhood of Memphis. The mural was used in a video, and the convenience store’s parking lot has actually been the venue for concerts in Memphis.
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.
1884 Lounge at Minglewood Hall was the scene for the Saturday night rap showcase during the 15th Annual On Location Memphis International Film and Music Festival in Midtown Memphis. Acts on the stage included D’Mario, Abe, a Memphis rapper who is producer H. Potter’s brother, veteran Memphis rapper Dulaa whose recent work takes on a strong country influence, St. Louis rap artist Peetey Weestro who has been getting some attention with his single “Pull Up, Shut It Down”, and Memphis conscious hip-hopper Preauxx, whose label and publisher Great South Bay Music was the sponsor of the showcase.
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.
Memphians have been enjoying Thursday night parties in the warm weather months for several years now, both on the rooftop of The Peabody Hotel, and more recently on the rooftop of the Madison Hotel. Now a third series of parties and concerts has been launched at the new Tower Courtyard in Overton Square, known as Thursdays on the Square. The inaugural event was held on Thursday April 17, featuring performances by Memphis blues queen Ruby Wilson, Al Kapone (who led the crowd in a chant of “Whoop That Trick” for the Grizzlies), and indie artist Free Sol. Several hundred people attended, and the event will be held every Thursday night through the end of August. Admission is $5.
On Thursday January 23, 2014, New Orleans-born Memphis rapper Preauxx held a listening party for his upcoming EP “Die Willing” at Ardent Studios in Midtown. The event gave many in the Memphis music community an opportunity to hear what he has been working on, and was also something of a pep rally for the artist’s Pledge Music campaign toward the scheduled Spring release of his debut album “Forever. I Will.” The larger room with a DJ was a festive party room, while the engineer’s booth was the place where Preuaxx curated his new music for critical listening. The new songs sound great, and the whole event was a lot of fun. The “Die Willing” EP is available for download on Preauxx’s internet website here.
Check out a video clip from the event here, courtesy of the Memphis Flyer:
On Tuesday December 16, the Memphis Music Foundation and the Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy sponsored a Memphis Music Holiday Party at the 1884 Lounge of Minglewood Hall in Midtown. The event featured some great barbecue and desserts, as well as live music from the Steven Lee Trio featuring trumpeter Johnny Yancey and his son, drummer Nigel Yancey, and the Hill Country blues inflected rock band Turchi. Over a hundred people came to get in the festive spirit, including legendary producer Boo Mitchell and Elizabeth Montgomery of Ardent Records.
Perhaps no restaurant’s opening has been more widely awaited in Memphis than Kelly English’s new Second Line concept next door to his acclaimed Restaurant Iris. As the name suggests, The Second Line is a gourmet casual take on New Orleans cuisine, located in a cheerfully-restored house at Monroe and Cooper in Overton Square. Pictures on the walls and video loops of Louis Armstrong and New Orleans scenes reinforce the theme of the restaurant, as does the menu’s emphasis on po-boys and seafood, but while The Second Line is a more casual restaurant than Iris, it is not by any means inexpensive or a typical bar and grill. With only a dollar’s difference in price between the shrimp po-boy and the shrimp dinner, I opted for the latter, and was quite pleased. The shrimp were fairly large, fried in a well-seasoned batter, and, somewhat unusually, had had their tails removed, so every bit was edible. The accompanying french fries were a thing of beauty, thinly cut (but not shoestring) and fried to a dark golden brown, and also well-seasoned. Although by now I was thoroughly full, I was offered dessert, and bread pudding (which was my mother’s favorite) seems to be the signature, which I will have to try on my next visit. If you go, a couple of cautions are in order. One is that the parking lot across the street, which used to welcome Restaurant Iris patrons, is now off limits to customers of Iris or The Second Line, and if you park there, you will get towed. Parking is scarce, but you can park over in the Overton Square lot (at least for now) and walk over. The other is that The Second Line is quite expensive. The food is very good (and I am sure that it costs a great deal to fly in seafood from the Gulf), but The Second Line is more a place for a special night out than a place that can be frequented regularly. But it is cheaper than driving to New Orleans when you have the urge for Louisiana cuisine.
The Second Line
2144 Monroe Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
On Saturday night December 14th, my drummer partner Mike Mosby invited down to Bhan Thai restaurant in Midtown where he was playing a gig with a Memphis musician, singer and actor named Brennan Villines whom I had not heard of before. He is a gifted pianist and singer, and the band, complete with horns was immensely soulful in that unique Memphis sort of way, which was all the more remarkable considering the fact that they had never played together before. It was an altogether enjoyable evening.