We are home at the hotel and proud of it. The day was stellar but we're what we in the Merrick family call "Monkey-Skunked." One of our primary maternal patriarchs was John Donelson Whalley, Lee Ann's step-father, and I hear his voice each time I hear or say the term. Basically, John would drawl in his best Toastmasters' voice, full of authority, "As the monkey said after havin' relations with the skunk, 'I haven't had as much as I want but I'm pretty sure I've had as much as I can stand."
Reference these pics as you read, assuming you have the stamina to read all of this!
We started out the day by looking for a good free parking spot and find one we did. Parking on a side street we hiked down to Beale Street proper to get the lay of the land. It was only a few blocks before we joined the throngs of tourists (pronounce that "tursts") roaming around the sawhorse-blocked street, in and out of the chotski gift shops (our fave was certainly Tater Red's Lucky Mojos and we're very likely to hit it again today, maybe for the license plate style plaque that reads, "My wife says I never listen to her, or at least that's what I think she said," or something like that.
We really wanted to grab a burger at Dyer's, the world famous deep-fried goal of burger-hounds, but we voted against standing in the considerably long line in favor of easing right into a table at Alfred's on Beale, where Colin had a great cheeseburger and I opted for the really tasty Philly Cheese sandwich, which was expertly grilled with onions and just enough for my appetite. Our waitress, Maddie, was really friendly and apologetic for our seating at a back table instead of on one of the porches, but we were frankly happy to be in a quiet spot and told her so. I quaffed a couple of a local draught, Ghost River Copper, perfectly cold and nicely balanced with a mild but very present hoppy finish.
After lunch we checked out the local Gibson Factory, decided not to spend the time to tour, and then headed down to the concert, aiming to hear Lotus, a band not on our original target list but one that Colin had checked out online in the hotel and found promising. WOW, are we glad we did. This performance was one of our festival favorites, and I'm a new fan of this highly thinky rock fusion band. You can gather that, I'd wager, from my pic set above, where it's obvious I was sort of obsessed by the band's lead guitarist, completely in his own groove. My only criticism of the performance, which tore the roots out of a 15 minute jam version of one of their recorded songs, is that the band seemed so immersed in their music they kind of forgot the audience (contrast the upcoming Mumford and Sons show), but they're young, and Colin and I agreed that their performance was so imbued with highly (say HIGHLY) technical aspects that their concentration on that was justified. It's just that if they want to grab the whole package and soar to the next level, they're gonna have to belly up and figure that out. I LOVE 'em.
From Lotus we hit our favorite secret gold mine, the SoCo Blues Shack, for another target performance, Blind Mississippi Morris. He did not fail us. This is blues at its absolute finest, and I have to admit I shed a few tears for no reason I could pinpoint, excepting that my little brother, recently deceased, would have loved this. Completely confident, aswim in his soulwarm bluesiness, Morris bore his way into the hearts of his growing audience, which swelled from our first dozen to a hundred or two by the time we headed out.
Then it was off to hear the Sick Puppies, an Aussie trio that I was introduced to in the indie film Rock Prophecies. We watched a bit, but I came away feeling that their competent mainstream rock is undermined by their falling victim to their own media image. They're just a'ight with me, and Colin's comment, "They're good, but..." pretty much sums it up. I did get what I think is a pretty tasty shot (see flickr stream) of their bassist, Emma Anzia, whom I think is, well, pretty much the bee's knees.
We were off to hear the spawn of a legend.
Devon Allman's Honeytribe could have been populated by any competent blues rockers, he's that good himself. His backers were quite good, though, and Colin was particularly taken by his technically expert drummer. Rocking a custom Les Paul signed by the owner of Gibson, Allman blew out our eardrums, which we sacrificed willingly to his powerful guitar mastery. There's a pic in the stream of the giant audience gathered in folding chairs in the John Hammond Blues Tent for his performance prior to it, and we just strolled right up to that stage like we owned it and parked at the skirt for several songs. WOW again: Greg's genes might even be improved in this version of Allman. We stayed for his take on Ramblin' Man, with its nicely time-modulated chorus (proving that blues rock can think, too) and moved on to The New Pornographers.
That was kinda nice, but not appealing enough to justify our adopted strategy of burrowing into the thick crowd to get in the heart of it for the performance. We only listened to a handful of songs, very competent mainstream rock, performed well, but something seemed missing. A.C. Newman seemed to be trying too hard, if that makes any sense, and Neko Case, though vocally powerful, seemed to be phoning in her performance. I'm not a fan, but the large crowd seemed to be full of them, with a good deal of heartfelt singing. Maybe too mainstream for their name? I'm not sure, and it may well be that I was just beginning to head toward that "monkey-skunked" state. All I know is that "The Band That Touched a Generation" seems to have missed mine, and gauging from Colin's sort of lukewarm response, it may be missing another one.
We had to see Jerry Lee Lewis, and heading down to that stage we discovered that a lot of other people had that notion too. We were at the back central edge of a bunch of folks, and to our surprise we discovered that they were there for a "family show" and there was some middle aged brunette woman singing at the piano, with no Jerry Lee in range. I'm sure this is very legit, but I wonder about the moral perspective of serving up basically an opening act to a 55 minute show. Sheesh. We left, headed back the to Pornographers for a song or two, then moved back to the Bud Light Stage. We wandered about a bit and came back, and Jerry Lee had indeed shown up, rattling out "Whole Lot o' Shakin'" for his adoring throngs. Coming from the first inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I appreciated the chance to see him live (we had taken a pass on his Third Man Records show last week in Nashville on Record Store Day, reasoning that 50 dollars for it was 'way overpriced). Still, I heard Randy Jackson's voice in my head--"Dude, it was just a little pitchy for me." Jerry Lee Lewis--"check."
For this next show we felt the need to burrow, and burrow we did, approaching to with 50 feet of the stage, mercilessly packed into a sea of fans. Luckily, all our immediate neighbors, now our best friends by virtue of proximity, were nice, kept their senses of humor, and only a few lit up cigarettes. There was a lot of smoking at Beale Street Music, btw, giving it, to me, a sort of European vibe. I was sad to see so many young people tarnishing their lungs with this dangerous street drug, but helpless to help without seeming like a fanatic.
My main thought, truth be told, was "Lee Ann would HATE this." But that's not true, really: She'd never get into this situation. I LOL.
M and Sons took the stage to a screaming crowd and tore into their trademark power folk with a vengeance. Now here is a group that can work a crowd. Marcus Mumford is just plain charismatic and he knows it. He's not obviously conceited, just reveling in his newfound power, and the band is tight as a keg. They layer their songs in acoustic glory then pound in an underpinning of power bass guitar to move the spirit, and at times the strong harmonies they were laying down were balanced by those issuing from the crowd, their lips moving in unison with M and Sons lyrics. Mumford and Sons had Memphis in the virtual palm of their virtual hand, and they rolled that hand into a fist and shook it at the sky over the Beale Street Music Festival.
That was about the time Colin headed out of our sardine can to make a phone call. I stayed a little while, hearing one track from their upcoming new (2nd) album, backed by a capable horn section, before weaving through the crowd to find him. We were monkey-skunked.
Sure, I would have loved to stay for Lucinda, but I happily acquiesced to his call to blow the pop stand. We headed back to the room, I uploaded the pics for this post, we took a run at iHop for a late dinner, then we were back in the room and heading for sleepyland.
We'd only had a couple rain shower events all day long, but I'm sure that Sunday will be different. We'd both REALLY like to see Sublime, the Avett Brothers, Lucero, and of course Wilco. Whether the monkey will get us or the skunk will hold us all night is partly dependent on the weather and partly on our stamina. We plan to drive after the concert so that C-man can be at school and I can be at work in the morning, both on time. Hello, Sunday.