Beale Street Music Festival 2012: The Roundup

Sixty five bands took the stage at Memphis’ Beale Street Music Festival earlier this month, and it was a hefty helping of great music to digest. Three stages as well as a Blues Tent stretched over mile long Tom Lee Park that rests along the east bank of the Mississippi River. The 90 degree temperatures added a taste of summer to the spring festival, and finding the elusive bits of shade seemed one of festival goers’ favorite pastimes. Given that all four stages launched acts simultaneously throughout the weekend, it was damn near impossible to catch every band, but here are a few of the highlights.

Florence & the Machine – Florence Welch’s voice is flat out stunning. If you haven’t seen her live, it’s fair to wonder if there is some studio sleight of hand to make her chords pop like they do on the album, but she is the real deal. Her cape flowed in the wind as she navigated her way through a stirring set. She had a few vocal missteps in the transitions, but she was flawless for the most part.

Jane’s Addiction – Musically it was a hard hitting effort from Farrell and Navarro. The stage theatrics and lighting were strange and off tempo, even distracting at times. The marriage of the two proved for a very uneven set.

Michael Franti & Spearhead – Franti and crew put on a fun set. He couldn’t sit still, bopping around the stage, jumping down off stage to work the crowd line and even venturing into the crowd midsong. David Stahl of Spearhead looked like he was performing a guitar solo at all times. These guys were a trip.

Wiz Khalifa – I didn’t come into this show a fan but I left it as one. Wiz is a bad man on stage. The audience disregarded the piping heat and crammed in ever closer to get a glimpse of this dynamic rapper. This guy will be a big, high wattage star. Mark my words.

Evanescence – Ah, I miss Amy Lee and the old band. This new ensemble of musicians just isn’t Evanescence anymore. They need a name change. Lee and crew put on a strong performance, but the new material overloaded the set list and proved very weak when they sat side-by-side with their best from “Fallen.”

Buddy Guy – The blues legend, at 75 years young, was one of the absolute highlights of the weekend. No one wielded a guitar at Beale Street like Guy did. He spent his hour long set in fanatic facial contortions, coaxing the notes from his guitar and singing his flavorful brand of blues. He is one impressive musician that is a must-see performer.

Al Green – Styling in his dapper suit and matching roses, Al Green brought the romance to Beale Street. He played his classics as well as threw in a good helping of covers to build the mood. Once you see him perform, there is no question in your mind why he’s still relevant after all these years.

The Civil Wars – This duo proved an acoustic vibe will work in a festival setting. One of folk music’s hottest up-and-coming bands, The Civil Wars mined the tracks from their debut album and threw in a few interesting covers (Portishead’s “Sour Times” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”). This pair has a lot of talent and their interactions on stage are fun.

The Head and the Heart – The sound check stretched on for-friggin’-ever. The band was starting to have that “someone is getting fired for this” look by the end of the tuning. Once they finally got started, they played a solid set. I thought front man Jonathan Russell was going to bust a vein in his forehead with his intensity at times. I thought these guys were acoustic?

Chris Robinson Brotherhood – This was my first experience with Chris Robinson and his post-Black Crowes band. They have an interesting sound that the Crowes faithful will find easy to take to. The Brotherhood definitely isn’t on par sonically with the Black Crowes at this stage of the game, but they’ve got an interesting sound that grew on me throughout the set.

In all, it was a great weekend feasting on the music of Beale Street. This is a great festival hosted in a fun town. Keep Beale Street on your radar for 2013 if you are looking for a festival rich in talent in a beautiful locale.

Mark Runyon is editor of Concert Tour reports on the latest music news, concert and album reviews and commentary.

Photos © Mark Runyon