Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, and Elvis Presley all represented an area of the country that became an essential part of music in the 20th century. The Mid-South was lifted up on top of the more than capable lungs of its legends, and then… they exhaled. This historic region I refer to is, of course, Memphis, TN. Home of bright lights, bars, and one of the last refuges of the blues.
So what has become of the center of this once great Birthplace of Rock & Roll”? Well, if you judge by the amount of silence that you generally get when you mention it not a lot. Despite the annual Beale Street Music Festival that arrives with the Memphis in May festival, Memphis drops entirely off the map for the majority of the worlds’ touring artists.
The reason for this silence is the general publics dependence on the image of Beale Street as Memphis. In years past, however, the center of musical importance has drifted slightly to the east. It settled in the arts and college district of Memphis, commonly referred to as Midtown. What caused this movement? For the most part, the city’s overly tourist friendly approach has driven away the great venues, restaurants, and city history in exchange for large basketball forums, gift shops, and commercially run restaurants.
However, in the past two years, music lovers in Memphis have had much to cheer about. Memphians Andrew VanWyngarden (MGMT) and the late Jay Reatard (RIP) have brought much indie love to a city more akin to Three 6 Mafia and Saliva.
The opening of Minglewood Hall a mere 11 months ago brought a light that had long been missing in the form of a mid-size, state-of-the-art concert venue. Having already hosted shows with the likes of Ryan Adams, MGMT, Of Montreal, Silversun Pickups, Robert Randolph, The Mars Volta, Dan Auerbach, Girl Talk, and The Wailers, the 1,500 capacity hall allows anyone in attendance to get within inches of their favorite artists in a way few other venues allow. Completely lit by LEDs, the venue is completely green friendly (and not to mention just plain cool looking).
The venue, despite its size, seems to have no problems pulling in acts that quickly sell out other cities in 4,000-5,000 capacity venues. All of this makes it all the more worthwhile to take a trip to a city once entirely dilapidated by a lack of musical hope and creativity.
If you are looking for that gritty Memphis feel, the Hi-Tone Café, also located in Midtown, is the place to sit down, enjoy some good grub, and grab a drink. Featuring an upcoming schedule of the Black Lips, Yeasayer, Electric 6, and Matthew Good, the Hi-Tone has at least a local show nearly every night. However, if your luck is bad enough to end up in town when there is no show, there are certainly plenty of reasons to stop by anyway. Featuring made to order pizza (down to the slice), as well as brunch and dinner menus, there are fewer places worthy of stopping by for a show and a meal.
As noted brilliantly by its Wikipedia article, Beale Street is where tourists will go to hear the blues, but it is in Midtown that the authentic Memphis music scene thrives. This couldnt be truer; for a genuine Memphis experience, Midtown is a must. With countless comfortable bars and restaurants, amazing record stores, and state of the art concert venues, Midtown is the true soul of Memphis music today.