About This Festival
The three-day Beale Street Music Festival is actually the kick-off event for Memphis in May, a month-long, multi-festival event that has been running for forty years and includes events like World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, and the Great American River Run 5K and Half-Marathon. Though it’s not a blues festival per se, it would be impossible to ignore the rich musical heritage of BSMF’s setting. A former hangout of the likes of Louis Armstrong, Memphis Minnie, B.B. King, and Rufus Thomas, the blues tradition that grew up on Beale Street developed into a genre all its own, known fittingly as “Memphis Blues.” Numerous songs—such as “Beale Street Blues” by W.C. Handy and “Furry Sings the Blues” by Joni Mitchell—have name-dropped the location in their lyrics, making it only appropriate that a music festival be staged here. Add in the iconic Mississippi River complete with passing steamboats as a real-life backdrop, and you’ve got a festival that’s rooted in history and full of some of the best contemporary music around.
Music for the Masses
Though there is a blues tent at the festival, a wide range of genres other than blues are also featured, including metal, hard rock, soft rock, rap, folk, country, and bluegrass. Running for nearly forty years and drawing about 100,000 attendees each spring, the festival has earned a reputation as being particularly fan-friendly, affordable, and offering one of the best lineups for any large festival. With ticket prices consistently below $100 for a three-day pass, BSMF is an anomaly price-wise and doesn’t sacrifice on big names in the lineup (most other festivals of comparable offerings are twice that price). In addition, the location’s proximity to downtown Memphis makes it easily accessible for attendees who can come and go as they please, and visit some of downtown Memphis’ small bars and clubs, where there will undoubtedly be live music acts playing as well.
A large part of the appeal of the festival comes from the fact that there are acts to suit a remarkable compendium of musical tastes. Thanks to the wide scope of artists— you can see everything from Snoop Dogg and the Alabama Shakes to Canned Heat and Patti Labelle, to The Avett Brothers and Ed Sheeran to Wale and Slash—a diverse range of spectators attend, giving the festival both an eclectic and inclusive vibe. This all-encompassing nature is undoubtedly part of the reason that BSMF made the list for Fuse’s Top 22 Festivals of 2016.
Though the something-for-everyone lineup and laid-back atmosphere would make BSMF an ideal choice for a first-time festival goer, any veteran attendee will warn you: if it rains, the mud is not a joke. In order to maximize enjoyment, it’s best to come totally prepared with rain boots and to wear things you don't care too much about, because it’s likely they will get ruined in the muck. Though the website promises the event runs rain or shine, there have been some cancellations in the past due to excessive rain, which is perhaps one of the only consistent drawbacks of the festival cited by attendees. If the sun does end up shining, you’ll be glad if you bring a blanket or two to sit on, which organizers encourage. If you’re after a camping experience, this more urban festival may also not be your favorite. There is no camping inside the park, so visiting attendees must find another place to stay. However there are a variety of accommodation options on the festival website, just be sure to book early.
Like any great festival, a variety of food, beverage, and merchandise options are available at the festival. Southern favorites like barbecue, Shucks Corn, and Pronto Pup give the offerings a local spin and attendees consistently rave about the cheap beer offerings. Other vendors sell everything from art and jewelry to clothes and decor, to ensure you don't go home empty-handed.