Songs of September
This is the month of midtown music festivals.
photograph by Nathan Black
If May brings music fans downtown in droves for the annual Beale Street Music Festival, September has become the month for Midtown, with four different live music festivals or concert series showcasing both local bands and national touring acts at a variety of venues between the Parkways. Here’s a quick guide to this month’s offerings:
The venerable Overton Park bandshell, which helped launch Elvis Presley’s concert career and was the home base for much of Memphis 1960s and ’70s blues and folk revivals, hosts both spring and fall concert series every year, with each consisting of twentysomething free shows on Thursday through Sunday nights over the course of several weeks.
The lawn of the Shell on a cool, fall night is one of Memphis’ best places to be, especially with a stellar lineup of free music and some of the city’s best vendors offering food and drink.
This fall’s schedule started on August 29th with Grammy-winning Texas roots/polka band Brave Combo and concludes on Sunday, October 6th, with jazz/soul singer (and member of one of Memphis music’s first families) Vaneese Thomas. But most of the action takes place in September, with something in the mix for pretty much everyone. Speaking of first families, the highest-profile show will surely be Lisa Marie Presley on Saturday, September 21st.
Some other potential highlights: Indie country singer Elizabeth Cook — a killer songwriter, great storyteller, and regular on both The Late Show with David Letterman and the Grand Ole Opry — on Thursday, September 5th. Local roots-rock ace John Paul Keith celebrating the release of his latest album, Memphis Circa 3AM, on the Shell stage on Friday, September 20th. The Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s “Opus One” performance with Memphis soul veteran John Gary Williams (of the Stax vocal group the Mad Lads) and classic R&B revivalists the Bo-Keys.
For a full schedule, see levittshell.org.
Another Levitt Shell show intersects with a second September event, the Rock for Love festival, which is a growing annual benefit for the nonprofit Church Health Center and increasingly one of the best and most diverse annual showcases of contemporary Memphis music.
This year’s Rock for Love will occur over three days at three Midtown venues featuring more than a dozen local bands, singers, and DJs.
The signature event will be Saturday, September 7th, at the Levitt Shell, where Grammy-winning Memphis jazz/soul/gospel saxophonist Kirk Whalum will headline a bill that also includes classic-rock veteran John Kilzer; Beale Street stalwart and recent contestant on the television series The Voice, Patrick Dodd; and expert local folk/country singer-songwriter Mark Edgar Stuart.
The Shell show will be preceded and followed by two nights (Friday, September 6th, and an after-party that Saturday night) at Cooper-Young’s Young Avenue Deli featuring a bevy of Memphis bands, including the rootsy groups the Memphis Dawls and the Dead Soldiers. K-97 hip-hop radio DJ Devin Steel will perform between acts on both nights at the Deli. Launching the event on Thursday, September 5th, is a ticketed “VIP BBQ” at Ardent Studios featuring the Bo-Keys.
See rockforlove.org for more info.
Taking place on Saturday, September 14th, this might be the city’s biggest and best street festival.
In addition to all of the other vendors and activities, the festival will feature local music on three stages from late morning to early evening. The main stage headliner will be the Motel Mirrors, a new country duet project that pairs two of the city’s most popular established roots performers — classic songcraft savant John Paul Keith and versatile upright-bass-thumping singer Amy LaVere. The Motel Mirrors released a fine, eponymous, seven-song debut EP in late August.
Among the artists joining the Motel Mirrors on the Cooper-Young main stage are the aforementioned Dead Soldiers, an increasingly polished folk-/country-rock band that’s building a considerable live reputation around town; the reggae band Chinese Connection Dub Embassy; and Merry Mobile, the latest project from talented multi-instrumentalist Paul Taylor.
The Cooper-Young Festival will also feature a “School of Rock” stage showcasing young students from the local music school and a secondary stage jointly sponsored by the Memphis Grizzlies and the Cooper-Young-based Goner Records label and shop. Memphis garage-rock heavyweight Jack Oblivian will headline the Griz/Goner stage.
For a full schedule and info, see cooperyoungfestival.com.
The annual punk and garage rock festival hosted by Goner Records celebrates its 10th year in 2013, bringing a hearty, colorful infusion of bands and fans to town from around the country and from overseas. Think of it as a mini, subcultural Elvis Week.
This year, Gonerfest runs from Thursday, September 26th, through Sunday, September 29th, with eight events over four days at four different Midtown venues. The festivities kick off on at 5:30 p.m. on the 26th with Japanese garage-punk trio Guitar Wolf — one of the earliest Goner bands — performing at the Cooper-Young Gazebo, outside the Goner store.
The new Hi-Tone location, in the Crosstown Arts District on Cleveland Avenue, will be the home for multi-band bills on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night during the festival. The respective headliners: inventive New Orleans performer Mr. Quintron (Thursday), Seattle grunge pioneers Mudhoney (Friday), and subterranean Australian punk legends the Cosmic Psychos (Saturday). There will also be secondary Gonerfest events at smaller Midtown clubs Murphy’s and the Buccaneer.
For more info, see goner-records.com/gonerfest.