After a hyped and heady set of hip-hop performances by rising stars at the Beale Street Music Festival on Saturday night, the fest’s final day had a more relaxed vibe led by a contingent of veteran roots musicians and modern pop purveyors.
Sunday’s shows began with Memphis blues rockers Dirty Streets and ended with a headline performance by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss capping the three-day concert extravaganza, which made its return to its longtime home at Tom Lee Park and the Mississippi riverfront following a four-year absence.
The weather was unusually dry during the fest, and the new-look park — while still undergoing renovations — was exceedingly pleasant, drawing in what appeared to be solid crowds throughout the weekend.
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Musically, Sunday’s finale featured a range of artists across the fest’s three stages at Tom Lee and the new Blues Stage on Beale at Handy Park.
Here are some of Sunday’s highlights.
Americana queen Lucinda Williams has been a regular visitor to Memphis over the course of her career and been a particularly familiar figure at Beale Street Music Festival.
Born in Louisiana and raised in Arkansas, Williams has had long regional ties to the Bluff City, and her fourth appearance on the music fest stage Sunday afternoon came after a tough couple years during which she suffered and recovered from a stroke.
Williams — who turned 70 in January — arrived in town as a newly minted New York Times bestselling author following the publication of her acclaimed memoir, “Don’t Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You.” She also recently announced a new album, “Stories from a Rock n Roll Heart,” due next month which features guest appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Jesse Malin, Angel Olsen, Margo Price and Tommy Stinson, among others.
She previewed one of her the album’s songs, “Stolen Moments,” a tribute to the late Tom Petty, whom she played with during his final show in 2017 at the Hollywood Bowl.
Mostly, though, the set canvassed her back catalog, as she played several songs off her 1998 classic “Car Wheels on A Gravel Road” (“Drunken Angel,” “Joy,” “Lake Charles”) and highlighted material from her 2014 effort, “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone,” including “West Memphis,” her song inspired by the West Memphis Three case.
Though moving a bit more gingerly than in the past, Williams sang with the usual aching beauty in her voice and seemed to summon even deeper levels of emotion as the performance wore on.
Williams’ set included a couple interesting choices of covers. A slow-burning version of ZZ Top’s “Jesus Left Chicago,” which she performed mid-set, turned into a thrilling guitar weave between Doug Pettibone and Stuart Mathis, members of her backing band, Buick 6.
The set reached its climax with a version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” which Williams turned into a stomping sing-along with the audience, closing a deeply satisfying show.
— Bob Mehr
With the first set on the last day of 2023 Beale Street Music Festival, Beach Weather had the dubious privilege of playing to a crowd still filtering into the the park. Despite the near 90-degree temperatures, by the end of their third song (a rousing performance of “Unlovable,” a song off their new album, “Pineapple Sunrise”), lead vocalist Nick Santino had the crowd starting to dance.
It was Beach Weather’s first time performing in Memphis, and when they asked if anyone in the crowd had heard of them, almost everyone cheered. By the time the alt rock trio closed out with their most well-known song, “Sex, Drugs, Etc.,” everyone was bouncing around and having a good time.
— Gina Butkovich
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Moon Taxi performed a perfect mid-day set with indie-rock songs that allowed the crowd to just sway and take in the vibes of the last day of Beale Street Music Festival.
They opened with an upbeat instrumental filled with bass, drums and guitar to prepare the crowd for their songs including “All Day All Night,” “Let the Record Play,” “Hometown Heroes” and an unreleased song, “Set Yourself Free.”
Fans bobbed their heads, waved their hands and clapped along to the music. If you scanned the crowd, smiles were seen on the faces of fans young and old.
It was a nice set to play in the background as the park slowly filled with festival-goers.
— Dima Amro
Shovels & Rope
The country folk duo had no problem filling up a stage meant for more. And they clearly had fun, with one another and with the music, while doing it. Smiling almost the entire time, Shovels & Rope kept the crowd, mostly gathered in the limited shade offered by the stage, engaged for the duration of the 14-song set.
From Charleston, South Carolina, the duo is made up of husband and wife, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst. After a minute of on-stage debate between the two, it was determined it had been around eight years since the last time they were at Beale Street Music Festival — Hearst was pregnant with their first child at the time. In the time since, they have released at least three albums and maintained their raw, honest feel.
— Gina Butkovich
Young the Giant
If you needed a pick-me-up to get you through the last sets of Beale Street Music Festival, Young the Giant performed a set of energized songs that made fans jump and bop their heads incessantly.
From “Cough Syrup” to “Mind Over Matter,” the fans sang along to all 12 songs Young the Giant performed.
Lead singer Sameer Gadhia stood as the star of the show as he jumped, shook his head and danced across the whole stage, captivating the crowd at the Zyn Stage.
The crowd grew to a couple hundred people and they swayed and clapped along with Gadhia. The band’s energy brought the park to life as the sun set over the Mississippi River.
— Dima Amro
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The last time the ambitious neo-soul-and-more star known as Yola made a public appearance in Memphis was in June, for the Graceland preview of director Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” a biographical motion picture about the man known as the King.
Nevertheless, Yola — born Yolanda Claire Quartey in 1983 in Bristol, England — is no fan of royalty. “They spent 250 million on crowning some guy who stole a bunch of stuff from my people,” she said Sunday from the Bud Light Stage, critiquing both Saturday’s coronation of Charles III as King of England and Britain’s history of colonialism and plunder without explicitly mentioning either.
Yola’s show provided food for thought as well as beats for hips. A songwriter as well as a song interpreter with an interest in pop, rock, country, folk, soul and R&B, Yola introduced her song “Diamond Studded Shoes” with a scathing indictment of former United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May, who “walked on diamonds” — a reference to May’s expensive jeweled shoes — “to slap meals from children,” with cuts in social expenditures.
Reported here, this sounds pretty grim; but the charismatic Yola somehow kept her performance upbeat, never letting her political lessons interrupt the furious, righteous flow of her music, which was sometimes propulsive, sometimes romantic and sometimes familiar — even to Yola neophytes. Most people in the audience probably didn’t know most of Yola’s original songs, but they sure knew her covers, and they proved it by signing along to “Sweet Love,” a hit by Anita Baker, and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which Yola simply credited to “Elton.” In addition, Yola sometimes played electric guitar — a skill that explains why Luhrmann recruited her for the role of gospel guitar hero Sister Rosetta Tharpe in “Elvis.”
— John Beifuss
The Beale Street Music Festival often gives early slots to relatively young local artists on the ascent. That was the case Sunday when the Memphis guitar-bass–and-drums trio Dirty Streets opened the Volkswagen Stage with a set of muscular rock ‘n’ roll — their 2020 album is aptly titled “Rough and Tumble” — that would fit on a playlist with the Black Crowes, Blue Mountain, John Fogerty and Foghat.
And maybe the Bee Gees, too? The crowd was sparse at 2 p.m. (located in Tom Lee Park’s southernmost point, the Volkswagen Stage is quite a hike from the main entrance on Beale Street), but it applauded eagerly when it recognized that singer-guitarist Justin Toland, bassist Thomas Storz and drummer Andrew Denham were unrolling a slowed-down and bluesed-up cover of the “Saturday Night Fever” megahit “Stayin’ Alive,” with growled vocals in place of the famous Gibbs falsetto.
“‘Stayin’ Alive’ done down-in-the-hole style,” I wrote in my notebook, about the time the band launched into its next song, coincidentally titled, apparently, “Down in the Hole.” But you can’t stay down in that hole too long, not when Toland is giving you a wah-wah (to quote George Harrison) with some Cream-y dream guitar and Storz’ basslines are strutting like Gene Simmons’ demon boots.
— John Beifuss
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Beginning 5 minutes before her set was supposed to start, Jazmine Sullivan delivered a performance full of throwbacks, sending the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd into a frenzy.
Fans cheered her on as she sang her hits “Bust Your Windows,” “Lions, Tigers & Bears” and “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).”
Her stage presence brought an allure to the music festival with provocative yet elegant dancing. Her vocals carried throughout Tom Lee Park as she held out notes, even though she said she’s “been feeling under the weather.”
Fans sang along, clapped and swayed as she danced around the stage with her backup singers.
The Bud Light Stage ended on a high note as Sullivan walked off the stage and the crowd erupted into cheers and shouted, “You go, Jazmine.”
— Dima Amro
From the very moment the three AJR brothers, including lead vocalist Jack Met in his famous hat, stepped on stage, everyone, including those toward the back of the Zyn Stage lawn, was on their feet. By the first chorus of their opening song, “Bummerland,” everyone was singing along.
Classic AJR songs, like “100 Bad Days,” “Sober Up” and “Burn the House Down,” were intermixed with everything from a voice recording of (they say) their father asking the crowd to “put their f****** hands up” for the next song to a fast-paced cover of Smash Mouth’s “All Star” (with a trumpet solo!) Earlier in the day, AJR had promised to play their new song “The Dumb Song” live. Despite being out than a month, the crowd was singing along to the chorus.
With different lighting and color schemes for each song, it was a thrilling, energetic and whimsical show from start to finish. An easy highlight of the night was the thunderous noise of the crowd singing along, “Now, come in with the timpanis, and take a shot of Hennessy, I known I’m not there mentally, but you could be the remedy, so let me play my violin for you” at the end of “World’s Smallest Violin.”
— Gina Butkovich