The Millennium Madness Drill Team and Drum Squad is a Memphis-based youth organization that provides opportunities for young people to be involved in drill team dancing and drumming, and is one of only a few such organizations that still involve young men as drummers, sadly. Although Memphis has a number of majorette teams and drill teams, the overwhelming majority of them don’t have drummers and do their routines to prerecorded compact discs. Millennium Madness travels the country, entering and winning a number of competitions against drill teams from many different cities. Their performance at this year’s Memphis Music and Heritage Festival held the audience spellbound.
The city of Memphis has a formidable blues tradition, so young men who choose to play the blues are up against some legendary competition and a legacy that is at once inspiring and frightening. But Memphis bluesman Preston Shannon has proven himself equal to the task, a worthy successor to past Memphis greats. With four albums under his belt, and plenty of original songs, Preston Shannon is probably the best-known and best beloved Memphis blues singer today, and has appeared all over the country, as well as in movies and television. His performance at the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival was highly appropriate, and well-received.
Also on the Arts Memphis stage of the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival was a local indie rock band called Bean, which I seem to recall hearing at a previous Memphis Music and Heritage Festival. Their music seems upbeat and tuneful, and they have a 7-song self-titled EP which can be purchased for download here.
One of the best aspects of the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival is the close proximity of different styles of Memphis music on different stages, which allows audiences to immediately discover the points of relationship and influence between gospel, blues, jazz and soul. Every year, there are some impressive gospel music groups, and this year was no exception. I was especially pleased by the male quartet known as The Appointed, a traditional Memphis-style gospel group backed by a first-rate band, whose music shows the close relationship between gospel and classic soul.
Like many of the other acts at the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, I had not heard of Artistik Approach prior to last Saturday, but I was extremely impressed with their talent and artistic vision. Artistik Approach is basically a rap group, but one member accompanies the lyrics of the other with beat boxing rather than using prerecorded tracks, which makes the act both unique and self-contained. And despite the limited sonic palette, they can hold an audience spellbound.
Besides the music that was occurring on the official Memphis Music and Heritage Festival stages, there was also a good-sounding band playing on the patio in front of Local Gastropub downtown. I asked the band there what their name was, and was told that it was basically the East Memphis Trio, but with some guests sitting in.
When I walked up to the stage at the north end of the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival, a rap duo was on stage called First Class. Boo Mitchell, the owner of Royal Sound Studios, walked up and told me that the group were his kids, and I could see the family resemblance. They were a decent rap act, and it is good to see the Mitchell family continuing in the music tradition started by the late Willie Mitchell.
I was not familiar with the J-Train Blues Band before this year’s Memphis Music and Heritage Festival downtown, but they apparently have been active in Memphis for quite awhile. During the course of their performance, they mentioned playing down at the old Center for Southern Folklore which was on Beale Street, with saxophonist Fred Ford and pianist Booker T. Laury. At any rate, the J-Train Blues Band is a decent and entertaining blues band, and a good way to start the festival day.
Unlike New Orleans’ Jazz Fest, the Beale Street Music Festival does not feature a considerable amount of local Memphis talent (and almost no roots artists at all), so it is fortunate that there is another festival held on Labor Day weekend every year, known as the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival, sponsored by the embattled yet resilient Center for Southern Folklore. This amazing, free, two-day festival features the music, dance, visual art and foodways of the Mid-South, spread out among two indoor and four outdoor stages on the Main Street Mall in downtown Memphis. Although there is usually at least one headline artist (this year’s was Bobby Rush), the festival line-up is heavily geared to artists from Memphis or the immediate vicinity, and includes all styles from bluegrass to blues to hip-hop to indie rock and jazz. Even drill teams and drumlines make appearances during the afternoon. Not as well known as perhaps it should be, the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival is arguably the best reason to make a trip to Memphis.
The Memphis-based Center for Southern Folklore (@southernfolk) is the sponsor of the Memphis Music and Heritage Festival. Their storefront on South Main Street is worth a visit, but if you can’t get to Memphis, visit http://www.southernfolklore.com/, or http://www.facebook.com/southernfolklore?ref=ts, or https://twitter.com/southernfolk. Consider making a donation. The Center for Southern Folklore is non-profit, and if they did nothing but put on the festival every year, they would be a worthy cause. As it is, they sponsor many other concerts and events all year long.