This Is Memphis: Celebrating The Young Talent of a Musical City In An Historic Place

Clayborn Temple is one of Memphis’ most historic locations. Built in the late 19th century as Second Presbyterian Church, it became known as Clayborn Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church after the Presbyterian ccongregation moved far to the east of Midtown. The building became an important focal point of the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis, particularly the Sanitation Workers Strike of 1968 which resulted in the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unfortunately, at some point, the Clayborn Temple congregation died, and the building fell into disrepair. At one point, the City of Memphis put fencing around it to protect against falling bricks, and it seemed likely that the building would have to be demolished. Fortunately, against all odds, Clayborn Temple was resurrected in 2017 as a performing arts venue, and on November 3, 2018, Blue Tom Records, the student-run record label of the University of Memphis, sponsored its annual This Is Memphis concert in the historic structure. 

Unfortunately, I learned upon entering Clayborn Temple, that the building’s success story may be somewhat premature. There is still significant roof damage and a considerable amount of work remains to be done. However, it is good to see that a plan for renovation is in place, and funding is being raised. Because This Is Memphis is a celebration of the young musical talent of one of America’s most musical cities, the building was an inspired choice of location for the concert, and indeed, a very impressive soul-jazz band called Back Pockets was soundchecking on stage when I entered. 

The Back Pockets proved to be the first band on stage of the evening, and is a large collective with a sizable brass section and a female vocalist. They filled the large room with sound, and were fairly impressive, alternating between neo-soul vocal tunes, and jazz instrumentals. Unfortunately, the videos I took of them proved to be out-of-focus and unusable. Hopefully I will catch them performing elsewhere. 

After a performance from a local singer/songwriter named Sienna, a new band called Estes came on stage. Estes is the latest project of Andrew Isbell, formerly of The Band CAMINO, and it proved to be a melodic, tuneful band reminiscent of The Southern Sea or The Autumn Defense. The songs were well-written and immediately attractive, at once sunny but with a hint of nostalgia. 

Estes was followed by a very soulful singer-songwriter named Phillip Bond who is a senior at the University of Memphis. Unlike a lot of neo-soul artists today, Bond’s original compositions are lyrically daring and more poetic than pop. On this particular night, he performed the first song he ever wrote, “Fool For You” and became somewhat emotional about it, as the song undoubtedly has significant meaning for him. He was also backed by a first-rate band of young musicians. 

Memphis has produced a number of great singer-songwriters in recent years including Amy Lavere and Valerie June, and Bailey Bigger can hold her own with the best of them. A talented singer with a beautiful voice, Bigger is also a consummate songwriter, as evidenced by her original compositions, including “Green Eyes” with which she launched her This Is Memphis performance. With only her guitar, and occasionally one other musician, she managed to captivate the audience in the large venue. Bailey’s album Closer to Home is currently out on iTunes, and she is now signed to Blue Tom Records, working on an upcoming release. 

Another singer/songwriter/activist Jordan Dodson, known as JD, seeks to use her music to promote empowerment for women and African-Americans. Her performance at This Is Memphis included her brief put powerful song “Don’t Shoot,” a reference to the numerous police shootings of young Black men in America. 

This year’s concert was closed out by Dylan Amore, the only rapper currently signed to Blue Tom Records, and one with a growing following in Memphis, Tennessee. He is hard at work on his EP for the label, and also has several previous releases and mixtapes. 

Altogether, it was a fitting tribute to young and upcoming Memphis artists in a beautiful setting, as well as an opportunity for University of Memphis students to learn the business of concert promotion and operation….in short, a win-win for performers, attendees and students alike. 

Kicking Off The Juke Joint Fest Weekend With Carlos Elliot and R. L. Boyce at Bluesberry Cafe

Although Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival is technically only a one-day festival, the events surrounding it run over the course of four days. This year on Friday night the center of attention was Bluesberry Cafe, which featured performances by Duwayne Burnside and his band, followed by Colombian Hill Country musician Carlos Elliot Jr and Como legend R. L. Boyce. Despite the small stage, they were joined by Boyce’s daughter Sherena (a juke joint dancer) and Joyce Jones, the newest female voice in Hill Country blues. Despite the heavy rain outside, there was a significant crowd in the venue, and everyone had a great time.

High-Quality Coffee From Monroe’s RoeLa Coffee Roasters

1339 RoeLa Coffee Roasters

Monroe, Louisiana is a coffee-challenged city, and that has always surprised me. Coffee bars have come and gone there over the years (mostly gone, sadly), and aside from a Starbucks on Forsythe Avenue with unusually-limited hours and The Daily Press convenience stores, there aren’t many options. So when I saw on Facebook that something called RoeLa Coffee Roasters had opened in downtown Monroe on DeSiard Street, I was thrilled beyond words. My exhilaration turned to bitter disappointment when I discovered that the DeSiard address is basically a roastery and is not usually open to the public (although it is sometimes open for special events). RoeLa turned out not to be a solution to Monroe’s coffee-by -the-cup crisis, but I sent a text to the company to see if there was any place to buy RoeLa coffee retail in Monroe. As it turned out, there was such a place, the former Tiger Mart convenience store at 18th and Forsythe, now called Now Save, and better yet, they were open until midnight. Whole bean coffee from a local roaster at a convenience store seemed a long-shot, but after browsing the store for a period of time, I found a bag of something called Talla Bena blend. (Talla Bena is a wide spot in the road south of Tallulah in Madison Parish). Since I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it until I got home to Memphis, I also bought a bottle of RoeLa Creola Iced Coffee, which proved to be delicious and refreshing. I made the Talla Bena blend coffee in the week after I returned home from Monroe, using my automatic pour-over machine from Bodum. The coffee had a smooth finish, with notes of caramel and chocolate, and was quite delicious. Since it is not available in any Memphis stores, I’ll have to order some more of it from their website.

RoeLa Coffee Roasters
523 DeSiard St
Monroe, LA 71201
(225) 939-2537

Change Is The Only Constant: Photos, Etc.

Recent upload problems at Flickr forced me to find an alternative, so some of the more recent posts here at the Frontline have photos that are hosted on Google Photos instead. In some ways, I love the change. Google Photos is easy to use, and the sharing code doesn’t require tweaking to remove unwanted banners or watermarks as Flickr’s does. But one thing disappoints, namely that pictures cannot be embedded with different size options, and the one default that is available is fairly large. That doesn’t present a problem when dealing with ten photos or fewer in a post, but anything more than that and it begins to be annoying. So in these posts, only one photo will be visible, but clicking on it will open the gallery containing other photos from the event in question. Check it out, and let me know what you think. Thanks.

The TBC Brass Band Live at Le Maison Creole in Harvey, and the Zulu Club in New Orleans @TBCBand @TBC_BrassBand

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I had heard from friends in the TBC Brass Band that they were playing for some event at a place called Le Maison Creole in Harvey, a town on the West Bank, so when I left the Midsummer Mardi-Gras, I headed over there and caught up with them. I never could determine whether the event was a birthday party or a wedding reception, but the TBC band played for about 20 rousing minutes of second-lining and partying, and then headed back across the river to the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club for another gig at a party. Although it was nearly midnight, there was a fairly large crowd along Broad Street in front of the Zulu Club, and I was really quite excited. The Zulu organization, although called a social aid and pleasure club, functions more as a Mardi Gras krewe, and now I was getting to witness a party there for the first time. The band members started playing on the sidewalk in front of the club, and then we all marched into the clubhouse, which was already quite crowded with people. Perhaps because of the late hour, the TBC played a shorter set than they had at Harvey, but the crowd seemed excited nonetheless.

Book and Record Shopping in St. Louis

Although I was in St. Louis for a Recording Academy event, the event wasn’t until the evening, so I had the better part of the day to go around to local book stores and record stores, and St. Louis is really a dream come true to anyone who collects books or records. As the day progressed, I made my way around to Left Bank Books, the Book House, STL Books, Vintage Vinyl and Euclid Records, the last of which was only a couple of doors down from where our event was being held.

SXSW Day 2: Sandy’s Frozen Custard And Hamburgers

After I left Waterloo Records, I headed across the lake to South Austin, and as it was the hottest afternoon yet, when I saw Sandy’s Frozen Custard, I stopped there for a custard, which was very good and refreshing. I learned that Sandy’s was one of the first fast-food restaurants in Austin, having been opened in 1946 on the location where it still stands, founded by a family who had moved to Austin from the Midwest.

Sandy’s Frozen Custard and Hamburgers
603 Barton Springs Rd
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 478-6322

Sons of Mudboy @CTDickinson @LutherDickinson @SteveSelvidge @memPT Live at @LevittShell #SidSelvidgeTribute

The band Sons of Mudboy AKA Three-Legged Dog is the logical outgrowth of the super Memphis group Mudboy and the Neutrons, which I have discussed at length in the past. Sons of Mudboy consists of Steve Selvidge, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson and Paul Taylor, and as such was the perfect group to close out Tuesday night’s celebration of the life and work of Steve’s dad Sid Selvidge. The band played an acoustic set, which was followed by a fairly lengthy documentary about Sid Selvidge in which the late singer-songwriter discussed the impact of Furry Lewis and Black culture on his music, and also where he discussed the origins of the name Mudboy and the Neutrons. Then the band Son of Mudboy came back out and closed out this most important night of Memphis music with a final electric set.

Getting Soaked at Miami’s Bayside Center

By the time I got back to the Hilton, the rain was coming down heavily, so I decided to drive over to the Bayside Center and do some shopping, which, I soon discovered was a mistake. Not only did it cost $10 to park the car, but I got drenched to the bone, because the majority of the Bayside Center is roofless, in keeping with the modern trend toward “lifestyle centers” rather than malls. Neverthless, I found a place to get another cortadito, and eventually the rain lessened enough that I could walk out to the bayside promenade. When it isn’t raining, the Bayside Center is worth a visit, with a considerable array of shops and restaurants, including Miami’s Hard Rock Cafe.