The Memphis Black Expo is held each year in February at the Cook Convention Center downtown. It features fun activities for kids, exhibits from local businesses, a car show, a dance and majorette competition, and live performances from gospel groups, rappers and singers.
Once Beale Street had been cleared of nearby residents and had its traditional ambience removed so that it could become a tourist mecca, those who used to party there had to find other places to kick it, and the place they seemed to choose was North Thomas Street in North Memphis. The area is off the tourist maps, and probably with some reason, since it’s a fairly rough area, although the historic American Sound Studios once held forth at the corner of Thomas and Chelsea, and the original store, warehouse and studio of Select-O-Hits was literally a stone’s throw away at 605 Chelsea. But what keeps Thomas Street jumping these days is a strip of classic juke joints that routinely fill to overflowing and occasionally get out of hand, particularly if the police come to shut down the party because there’s just too many people in the joint. CC’s Blues Club, painted in the Packers-loving owner’s favorite colors is the most well-known and venerable of the spots. It’s a virtual monster of a club, a whole city block long, and worlds of fun, particularly when there is a live band. And despite the large size, the club often fills to standing room only on weekends. Not all the establishments on Thomas feature live bands, but Mack City (the former Hughes Uptown) occasionally has been known to. One Block North, just off of Thomas on Marble Avenue has been misrepresented on the internet as a place where live music goes on. It isn’t that, but it is a neighborhood bar with incredible blues and soul records playing on weekends. If you’re ever in Memphis looking for a more authentic blues experience, forget Beale Street and head to North Thomas Street. You’ll spend less, meet some authentic Memphians and enjoy better music.
Memphis music is a RENEWABLE resource. The way we renew it is by mentoring and encouraging young people who want to play an instrument. Seeing young men such as these come to sit in at a gig is very encouraging.
John Saint Holiday was a new name for me, but his band of all-stars, thrown together for the occasion, provided some of the best blues I’ve ever heard on Beale Street. Judging from what I read online, he is an actor and writer in addition to being a musician, and he is from Batesville, Mississippi, which has probably produced quite a few great bluesmen. His drummer, at least for tonight, was an old acquaintance of mine, Cedric Keel, who provided a rock-steady foundation. Altogether an inspiring evening of blues at the Rum Boogie Cafe.
On December 8, Memphis hip-hop fanatics gathered at Newby’s near the University of Memphis campus to celebrate the release of Knowledge Nick’s new album Memphis: The Soul of Hip-Hop. The evening featured performances from C-Beyond, Jason Da Hater, Memphis veteran Tom Skeemask, Royal T and of course Knowledge Nick himself. Everyone who paid the price of admission got to take home a copy of Nick’s excellent new album.
After a steak dinner at Crescent Steak House and a dessert at Angelo Brocato’s, I drove back to my hotel and tried to decide whether to go to a gig my homeboy Edward Jackson was on at the Blue Nile, or to hear Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson at Snug Harbor, or to check out the @Hot8BrassBand at the Howlin Wolf on South Peters. I soon realized that the Howlin Wolf was a block from the Courtyard by Marriott where I was staying, so I walked down there and checked out the Hot 8 Brass Band’s weekly Sunday night set. Even though I was exhausted from four hours of second-lining, I had a ball. The Hot 8 Brass Band have recently released a new album entitled The Life and Times of the Hot 8 Brass Band, and I bought a copy at the gig. You can keep up with new releases and scheduled appearances of the band by visiting http://www.hot8brassband.com/#12c/custom_plain or liking them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hot-8-Brass-Band/7758779639.