Friday, May 9, 2008

Walking in Memphis

...and walking, and walking and more walking. Oh and some standing, too. That's what I did last weekend.

I was gonna hold off on doing this blog cause I wanted to talk to Maggie about the trip first but we've totally been missing each other and I felt like if I don't get it out, it'll never happen, plus I'm way overdue on blogging, anyway.

So, that said...I went down to Memphis with 2 friends for the Beale Street Music Festival. I'd never gone to any sort of festival like that before so I didn't know what to expect, nor had I ever been to Memphis, so it was a weekend of new things all around.

We arrived in Memphis late Thursday night and it's a good thing we did cause all day Friday there were Tornado warnings in the area. We ended up spending the greater part of the day in the hotel room watching the weather news on several channels in anticipation of hearing that we'd have to try to find refuge in the bathtub or something. Luckily, the tornados didn't come to Memphis (the people in Earle, Arkansas weren't so lucky. I don't think I'll ever forget the name of that poor town) and we headed out for dinner before going to the Festival that night. We went to the famous Corky's for BBQ, which was phenomenal and cheap! The craziest thing there was that the place has a drive through. Think of going to like Applebees and it having a drive through, except it's for this great, amazing BBQ. The line for the drive through was around the corner and out of the parking lot into the street. Speaks volumes for how good the food is, though!

After dinner, we headed to the Festival. The rain was in and out all evening and we were hoping that it was going to stay away but we weren't so lucky. We'd ended up finding parking like 10 blocks from the Festival site and as we started to walk down there, the rain started to come down. We thought we'd stick it out and I swear, by the end of the night it was torrential downpours and I don't think I'd ever been that wet with my clothes on. We planned on seeing The Roots and Jonny Lang and what really ended up happening was that we hung out waiting and got to see like 3 songs from Jonny.

Saturday, after a great breakfast at a local dinner with an oh so friendly waitress named Debbie, we decided to go to the Nike Clearance Store, cause well, yes. That was a bust but I got to see Graceland cause it was on the way! We then went to Stax Soul Museum cause we'd heard it was totally worthwhile. And it really was...more on that later. I kinda want to run through what all we saw and then give my whole explanation of the impact of everything on me so here's about when the summary of the weekend starts to get shorter. Later that evening, we went back to the festival for Arrested Development (it sucks they were on at the same time as Buddy Guy), followed by the John Butler Trio (yeah, um, not really feeling them), and then the legendary Santana. The kicker with Santana...he didn't do "Smooth" but he did "Maria, Maria". Really? REALLY?! That night was a pretty muddy one but all in all good music.

Sunday, we opted for Memphis' oldest restaurant called The Arcade. On the way there, I asked if we could go past the Lorraine Motel (now the National Civil Rights Museum). All along, I had issue with the thought of going there just because I have some pretty irrational hang ups with Martin Luther King's death (maybe I'll talk about that some other time) and I think it would've emotionally crippled me for the day with the impact of what the museum brings to life, but I wanted to see the place, even if it might be hard. Turns out it was right around the corner from Arcade. We ate and then walked past the Lorraine. After that we headed to the festival for Gavin Degraw (new CD in stores NOW! Go get it!). It ended up finally being a gorgeous day...maybe TOO gorgeous cause we all walked away from there with some sunburn and I now have the wackiest tanline on my neckline that is probably going to take all summer to fix. We then left and headed over to the Rock & Soul Museum, which was pretty cool. And then later there was more music at the festival with Aretha Franklin (I heard her and didn't see her cause well, it felt like everyone at the festival was there in that spot to see her) and then Fergie rounded everything out.

So yeah, that summary ended up not being as short as I'd like for it to be but I definitely want to get into how seeing the stuff we did affected me. I pride myself on knowing a lot about music. I know Memphis has some deep roots in the beginnings of Rock & Roll and that there are some strong Soul music impressions that come from Memphis but I think I really didn't have a full grasp on just how important to the music world what happened there was. I knew about Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and of course, there's Elvis. But I guess I just didn't get the process in which it all came about.

There's a great video here that explains the impact that Stax Recording Studio had on bring people together in the name of great music:

The story of Booker T and the MGs is an example of a level of integration that happened all because of music in a time when there wasn't much race mixing going on especially in the South. So the story goes that Stax really just cared about the music and didn't care who came through it's doors. It was all for the sake of getting nurturing the music. But even earlier than that, the same thing was going on back when the migrant workers both Black and White were working side by side and being influenced by each other's music. The whites learned about gospel church music and hymns while the blacks learned about country and listened to things like the Grand Ole Opry (shoot, I even remember watching it as a kid). Even the whole story of Elvis is rooted in the integration (and sure some people say the stealing of black music) of the two. His whole image was built on the fact that people were looking for a white guy who could make black music friendly for "the masses".

I've often heard Justin Timberlake in interviews talk about being from Memphis and how it impacted him as an artist and kinda shoo shooed it away like, "Whatever dude, so yeah you're from where Al Green is from" and now I actually get it. I was there for a weekend and can completely feel the impact the place had on music and in turn on me, so I can't even imagine what it must've been like being in the area as you cultivate your talent. A lot of people say Justin is the new embodiment of Elvis and I guess in some ways I see it but I also get how this kid is completely the real deal (and I'm not saying that I didn't get that he was that before then cause I totally did), especially in understanding the Memphis music world. It's something the city proudly wears on it's sleeve like New Orleans holds jazz. I'm totally going to build a collection of early Rock & Soul music like Booker T, The Mar-Keys, The Bar Kays, and more Otis Redding and all.

One other thing I wanted to mention. When we had breakfast at The Arcade, something in that moment totally swept me, probably from the moment we passed by The Lorraine, and really how could it not. How very fortunate are we to be living in the times we're living in and not the way it was only some 40 short years ago. If things were the way they were then, I likely wouldn't have even been on a trip such as this one. I was there with one white friend and one Puerto Rican friend. We were sitting at a table that probably wouldn't have allowed for me to even sit there only 8 years before I was even born. The Arcade is so in tact that it's still got the counters that once had "Whites Only" signs on it, that you can't help but be reminded of those times....especially when you're around the corner from the place that Martin Luther King lost his life. It was almost eerie.

I am a little black girl who is the daughter of a woman who grew up in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. I grew up in a completely mixed neighborhood where I barely even thought much about the color of people's skin. I've always been the girl who had friends of all different races. I've spent summers in Alabama and still didn't really feel the impact of how things used to be (my mom doesn't much talk about it) because things in my family's area is OURS. All black owned in the post-slavery days. I haven't been to places that would remind me of it cause either things are completely modern in town or it's ours, so seeing this stuff totally quieted me and makes me appreciate and understand how much our ancestors (if one generation ago can even be called that, really) gave so that we can have what we do. I don't know if I would've been strong enough and I am so grateful for what they gave.

And on a somber note, I am done, LOL.

Oh and I forgot to add...on a less somber note. There's something about the word "Memphis" that I like. Like, I had to have a Memphis Basketball t-shirt while I was there cause I just LOVE the word. Weirdo, I am.

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