Hip-Hop, Dub and Funk at @Bristerfest with C-Beyohn, @Tyke__T, Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, @SuavoJ, Otis Logan and S.O.U.L.

Bristerfest is a Memphis festival of music, art and film that raises money for Grow Memphis, a worthwhile organization that encourages neighborhood gardens in the inner city of Memphis. Formerly held at the Levitt Shell, Bristerfest moved this year to the former church-turned-performance loft called The Abbey at Cooper and Walker in the Cooper-Young neighborhood of Midtown, and featured two indoor stages and an outdoor stage over three days in May the weekend after Beale Street Music Fest. I was especially impressed by the rap and hip-hop line-up on Saturday night May 10, where C-Beyohn performed with the excellent reggae band known as the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy. They were followed by up-and-coming Memphis rap artist Tyke T backed by drummer Otis Logan and trombonist Suavo J of the band 4 Soul, and the young hip-hop duo S.O.U.L. that has been getting some attention locally over the last year. I must add that attendance seemed very good indeed for this year’s Bristerfest, and hopefully a lot of money was raised for Grow Memphis.

Blues and Funk With The C3 Band Live at West Alley BBQ in Jackson, TN @cdrumbum90

With lots of conflicting options with what to do on my Friday night (the first in many weeks that I hadn’t either had a gig or been out of town), I wasn’t sure what I wanted to choose. My drummer homeboy Mike Mosby had one of his Locked and Loaded events going on, Bristerfest was kicking off in Cooper-Young, Eden Brent was at the Center For Southern Folklore, and the Clarksdale Caravan Music Fest was going on down in Mississippi. But when I saw that my homeboys in the C3 Band were going to be playing at West Alley BBQ in Jackson, Tennessee, I decided to drive up there, both to catch their performance, and to check out the barbecue, which my homeboy Courtney Brown (C3’s drummer) had said was really good.
West Alley BBQ proved to be something like a large juke joint, with two older men tending to oil drum cookers outside along the side entrance. The look of the place would not have been unfamiliar to people who know Ground Zero in Clarksdale, but there were some elements that seemed more in keeping with Red’s Lounge instead, although the place was much bigger. The pulled pork was delicious, just as I had been told, and the club kept great roots blues playing over the speakers until it was time for the band to come up on stage. As I have discussed earlier, C3 is a blues power trio, with a repertoire that stretches from blues to funk to soul. Their performance on this particular night was augmented by a guest harmonica player that sat in, a visiting drummer that gave Courtney Brown a breather, and a superb female singer that closed out the night with a rousing rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” It was definitely a night to remember in Jackson, and West Alley BBQ will be a place to keep checking up on.

West Alley BBQ & Smokehouse
215 W Main St
Jackson, TN 38301
(731) 300-4664

The Rising Star Fife and Drum Band Brings Tradition to @Bristerfest @LevittShell @OvertonPark

I have discussed Otha Turner and his granddaughter Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band elsewhere in this blog in some detail, so here it is sufficient to state that this African-American traditional music with a hundred or more years of history is preserved only by the members of one family in Tate and Panola Counties in North Mississippi, the descendants of Otha (or Othar) Turner. Since Turner’s passing, the torch has been carried by his granddaughter Sharde Thomas, a woman of immense talents as a singer, a drummer, a keyboardist and a fifer.
To those unfamiliar with the hypnotic power of African-American fife-and-drum music, the sound is far more African than nearly any other form of traditional Black music in America. Tunes are rarely fast, but the rolling waves of sound produced by the bass and snare drums create a trance-like effect, and the fife, generally homemade out of bamboo or sugar cane, is played far differently from the traditional military or marching band usage.
The origin of such Black fife-and-drum bands is not at all certain. There is some evidence that Mississippi allowed Black drummers in the militia units even during the time of slavery. It is certain that during Reconstruction, many of the Black mutual aid organizations and lodges had drummers. Drummers are particularly mentioned in connection with processions of the Memphis-based Independent Pole-Bearers Society, which was a lodge. What appears evident, however, is that African-Americans in the post-Civil-War south saw in the fife-and-drum bands, with their patriotic and military associations, a “cover” for clandestine practices that seemed more African in nature. Observers at rural fife-and-drum picnics have described incidents in which dancers seemed to ritually salute the drums (a practice common in Haiti and West Africa), or in which the dancing seemed to take on something of a sexually suggestive nature (also found in Haiti and West Africa).
However, the African-American fife and drum tradition has been in steady decline since the first field recordings of such bands were made in the 1950’s. By the early 1970’s, only two places in the United States were known to have such bands, one in North Mississippi, and one in Georgia. By the 1980’s, the phenomenon could only be found in Mississippi, and by the 1990’s, only in Otha Turner’s family.
Despite the basic, sparse sound of bass drum, snares and fife, the Bristerfest crowd on Saturday loved every minute of the Rising Star’s performance. The rain had ended, and the crowd had grown to well over a hundred people.

Michael Joyner (@memphismiko) Performing on Stage at @Bristerfest @LevittShell @OvertonPark

Michael Joyner is a Jackson, Tennessee singer-songwriter who is now based in Memphis. He released his first EP Sit and Wait in 2008, and in January of this year released his first full-length The Pickins are Slim, and both records are available from his website. Joyner is a singer and writer with many eclectic influences, and at Bristerfest, he performed a new original song about Memphis that was especially outstanding. Even the renewed falling rain couldn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm.

Blind Mississippi Morris & Frank Moteleone-Old Black Mattie-Live at @Bristerfest @LevittShell @OvertonPark

Clarksdale/Memphis traditional bluesman Blind Mississippi Morris performs at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park during the first day of Bristerfest in Memphis, 4/27/13. Of interest here is to note how the more familiar lyric “Coal Black Mattie” (as performed by R.L. Burnside) is changed by Morris into “Old Black Mattie”, perhaps intentionally, but more likely from oral tradition. Occasionally, another variation, “Poor Black Mattie” is encountered as well from certain singers.

Blind Mississippi Morris Live at @Bristerfest @LevittShell @OvertonPark

Clarksdale native Blind Mississippi Morris lives in North Memphis, and is just about the only traditional country bluesman active in Memphis these days. He has recorded a couple of albums, including 1988’s You Know I Like That on Select-O-Hits‘Icehouse Records, and is a frequent fixture on Beale Street, one of the few true bluesmen to appear there regularly. His set at Bristerfest was largely traditional, assisted by guitarist Frank Monteleone, in front of a crowd that had begun to grow after the rain had largely ended.