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.
The Wade Walton Stage, named for the man who owned the blues club and barber shop on the spot when he was living, is always one of the most crowded and boisterous stages during Juke Joint Fest each year, and this year was no exception, as young blues artist Mr. Sipp performed with his band and drew a crowd of dancers directly in front of the stage. Unlike many older blues artists, Mr. Sipp is as equally at home with Jimi Hendrix as he is with traditional blues, and the people loved all of it.
I had never heard of the blues-rock band called Charlie Patton’s War, but I was intrigued by the unusual name and I liked what I heard as I walked past them playing in front of a club on Issaquena Avenue. A little online research yielded the information that they are from Bloomington, Indiana, but they are clearly fans of the Delta blues.
One of the interesting things about Oxford, Mississippi is the extent of their live music scene for being such a small town. Of course the University of Mississippi is there, but there’s almost more live music in Oxford than in Memphis sometimes, and that can make for some interesting dilemmas, such as the one March 28, where Duwayne Burnside and the Rev. John Wilkins were at the Powerhouse, and Eric Deaton, one of the late R.L. Burnside’s disciples, was at The Blind Pig on Lamar. Although I chose to go to the Powerhouse initially, around 10 PM or so I decided to head over to the Blind Pig and catch the end of Eric Deaton’s set. As it turned out, Duwayne Burnside’s brother Garry was over there, and sat in with Eric Deaton’s trio on several songs. Not long after that, Duwayne Burnside and a lot of other people came over from the Powerhouse as that event had ended, and it ended up being a great ending to an amazing night of Hill Country blues in Oxford. And the rain had finally ended too.
It’s a long way from Beirut to Memphis, and Lebanon is definitely not the first place you think of when it comes to blues, but that didn’t stop the Wanton Bishops, a Beirut-based blues/rock band, some of whose members had met outside a well-known Beirut blues bar. After several years of growing popularity in Lebanon, Turkey and France, the Bishops started gaining attention from American audiences as well. Sponsored by Red Bull, the Wanton Bishops ended their triumphant appearance at South By Southwest in Austin with a journey up Highway 61 from New Orleans to Memphis by way of Clarksdale, documented by a film crew. Perhaps the apotheosis of that journey was a recording session in a most appropriate place, Boo Mitchell’s legendary Royal Studios in South Memphis, the place where classic recordings were made by Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, O. V. Wright and many others. For young, blues-loving men from the Middle East, it must have seemed like the dream of a lifetime. Although it took all day, it resulted in one perfect song, and some lasting memories.
After an early morning breakfast at the Magnolia Cafe, I parked my car downtown and set out walking across the bridge to Austin’s Butler Park, where there was an afternoon-long concert being held of Memphis music, scheduled to coincide with the film Take Me To The River, which was screened several times at South By Southwest this year. Despite the threat of rain, there was a decent crowd at the outdoor stage, and although rain started several times during the afternoon, it never continued long enough to run people off, and the day ended with the sun coming out. After an hour of so of DJ mixing from a really cool DJ, the show opened with a performance from the Hi Rhythm Section, and then a number of musicians featured in the film appeared, including Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, Al Kapone, William Bell, Booker T. Jones, Charlie Musselwhite, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson, Otis Clay, Iffy, Miscelllaneous Bosslife and Syl Johnson. Perhaps the high point of the day was when Snoop Doggy Dogg appeared without warning to join William Bell in a version of the classic “I Forgot To Be Your Lover.” It was actually a great day for Memphis and for Austin as well.
I suppose I had vaguely heard of the Magnetic Zeros before, but I certainly had never heard any of their music, and probably wouldn’t have made a point of going to see them if they hadn’t been on the same showcase line-up with the Hot 8 Brass Band. That being said, I was both impressed and amazed with the performance by Magnetic Zeros’ drummer Crash and other members of the band informally playing at the SXSW Hackathon. The songs were melodic and showed the influence of a number of American roots genres of music. Again, I was disappointed at how empty the hall was given how great the music was.
I didn’t quite know what a Hackathon is, but when I saw that the Hot 8 Brass Band was scheduled to perform at the Hackathon at the Austin Convention Center, I walked over there after dinner. Unfortunately, not a lot of people had chosen to come to the concert, despite its being free, and the upstairs ballroom was sparsely filled. Albert Hammond Jr was on stage, and he was not happy at all. “This is why South By Southwest should not be allowed to have a hackathon”, he yelled from the stage shortly after I got there.
When I walked down Red River Street across Cesar Chavez, I heard an incredible band playing on the porch of a house. There was some sort of art party going on there, and I really never found out whether it was supposed to be open to the public or not, but I found the music irresistible and wandered on in, and at any rate, nobody told me to leave. Sensing that these older musicians might be well-known, I asked the man standing next to me if he knew who they were. He said that it was a band consisting of former members of the Texas Tornados and Doug Sahm’s band, but that he thought they were calling themselves the Kramdens now, or something like that. I listened for awhile, and then headed on down to Rainey Street.
My friend Malcolm, the owner of Memphis’ excellent Memphis Music record shop on Beale Street had introduced me to St. Paul and the Broken Bones back in February by showing me a YouTube video. Up until that point, I had not heard of the Birmingham-based band, which had recorded their album in Muscle Shoals, but I loved the soul-oriented style of the band, and their inclusion of live horns. When I saw that they were playing in Florence, Alabama, I planned to drive down for the performance, but a gig came up, and I was unable to go, and in the meanwhile, their debut album Half The City appeared on Spotify, and I found it very impressive indeed. So when I saw that they were performing at the South By San Jose event at the Hotel San Jose in Austin, I knew I had to be there. Fortunately I arrived as they were just setting up, and was able to get a spot directly in front of the stage. The South By San Jose event, known as SXSJ, is always a cool place to see bands anyway. The line-ups are generally great, the events are free and don’t require badges, and the outdoor location makes for great sound and plenty of room. Behind the crowd is always a collection of vendors selling all kinds of goods. As for the band, I was impressed with how tight their performance was on stage, and with St. Paul’s enthusiastic stage presence. The show was definitely a high point for my SXSW this year.