Every Time I go to a music festival, I figure it’s my last one, but somehow I ended up at the Memphis in May music festival two weeks ago.
My role at these festivals is essentially teen chaperone. What is it about teenagers and music festivals? They love them. I liken it to a herd of antelopes with a smart phone stuck on their horn.
I do like checking out the scene, especially if I have never been before. The Memphis festival was at the Tom Lee Park right along the Mississippi River. Although I have lived in Mississippi all my life, I have never really spent a couple of days hanging out on the banks of this mighty river. That was attractive.
Wife Ginny got a reasonably priced room at the Residence Inn about a 10-minute walk to the festival along the pedestrian-only Main Street. That was another incentive.
Still, I should have done my research. I was amazed to learn you couldn’t bring folding chairs. Say what? They expect everyone to stand for eight hours? Turns out, they ban chairs so they can charge twice as much for VIP areas where you can sit. That’s a big negative.
We were half way to Memphis when daughter Ruth informs me the main act she wanted to hear started late on Sunday. Thus ensued a running battle about departure time. Again, always better to do your research up front.
I did look into the weather, which was supposed to be dry and pleasant. The minute we got there one nasty thundercloud drenched the park, leaving it a wet muddy mess. When the rain cleared up, the sun came out and the temperature exceeded the forecast by a good seven degrees.
The setting itself was quite nice. The park is beautiful with scenic views of the river all along its length. There were four main stages and a couple of smaller ones. Total attendance was around 100,000.
The music was all genres, but mainly contemporary. There was soul, blues, country, rock and fusion-type contemporary pop.
Years ago, I bought some very discrete flesh colored earplugs but of course I left them at home. Earplugs allow you to actually understand the lyrics above the distortion caused by too much volume.
Generally, volume control was reasonable. The number one problem at these things is deaf soundmen who crank the music up thinking everyone is as deaf as they are, but, of course, most of us haven’t had our ears stretched out by hundreds of concerts.
The base drum volume was the worst. You could actually feel the thumps on your chest, making it hard to hear the more complex bass guitar lines.
Most of the acts I had never heard of, which isn’t saying much. I haven’t been enamored much with modern music over the last decade or two. It is way too formulaic, boring and unoriginal. And that was on full display.
A couple of the acts were just horrible. Two female acts dressed in outlandish costumes and bounced around the stage with enthusiasm, but I could hold a better tune.
It wasn’t just me being a critic. Wife Ginny, who impressively still gets excited about new music, turned to me during one of the shows and said, “The band’s okay, but they need to fire the lead singer tomorrow.”
Most annoying were the little speeches they made between the songs, often filled with expletives and life advice that was either decadently bad or hopelessly trite. Shut up and sing! Keep the verbiage to introducing the band if you must.
But the worst is the forced singalong when nobody knows the words or wants to singalong. There’s nothing quite as embarrassing as a band trying to pump up a hot and tired crowd.
Ginny and I were in the top five percent of age. About half the folks our age were teen chaperones. The other half were died-in-the-wool music lovers who were kicking up their heels and snubbing Father Time. Got to admire those people.
By far, the biggest age group was teenagers, followed by twenty and thirty-somethings.
The crowd definitely looked different from a New Orleans Jazz Fest crowd. Hard to say exactly how, but I can tell a Memphis crowd from a New Orleans crowd. They just look different. Slightly different bloodlines.
Wardrobes were pretty drab by music festival standards, although a few people dressed up in funny outfits. Ginny made me wear my last remaining Grateful Dead t-shirt. It was an appropriate one, playing on the Tom Sawyer episode when Tom cons his friends into painting the picket fence for free. Not only did the t-shirt have a Mississippi River theme (Huck Finn) but it was from one of the last Grateful Dead concerts in Memphis. I got 20 compliments on the t-shirt!
I was never a Dead Head, but I did admire their approach to music. It was subtle, complex, creative, and very American and patriotic. Many of their songs were old Amer-ican standards from a hundred years ago that they resuscitated. How cool and creative was that!
The prevalence of tattoos on young people was disturbing. I remember one young woman who couldn’t have been out of her teens, covered in tattoos. I cringe to think what will happen in 20 years when she grows weary of this permanent sign of her youthful impulsiveness. You can change your clothes when they go out of style. A tattoo is forever. What are these people thinking? I guess they aren’t thinking.
The big headliner Sunday was Post Malone, a young star who came from nowhere to go double platinum. His story truly is a rags to riches, hopes can come true, type of story. Indeed, he was by far the best. He played some simple, sweet songs.
Then he did his rap stuff. Yuck. Why is it young music stars feel they must have some rap (or is it hip hop) in their repertoire to prove they are cool? It was of course filled with profanity and depravity. It is about the only musical genre I detest. And I felt this way in my youth as well.
It was embarrassing as a parent to see my child listen to this. “Dad, it was just one song.” I let her know my profound distaste and she got a mini lecture in the car on the way home. Ruth is a good girl with strong Christian principles, but you cannot insulate your child from the declining culture of our world, especially with today’s technology.
You just pray the Holy Spirit protects them.
On a positive note, downtown Memphis is happening. Restaurants galore. People on the streets. Beautiful Main Street is a pedestrian street like they have in Europe. Maybe there is hope for Jackson. Maybe we could make Capitol Street in Jackson like Main Street in Memphis one day.
Jackson used to have the Jubilee Jam music festival. It had a long run but died a few years ago. Jazz Fest in New Orleans is by far better than Memphis in May, but I don’t regret going. It was an interesting experience.
That said, a good night listening to a good band at Duling Hall is more my speed.