Cover photo: Aaron Bradley
As far as festival lineups go, it’s easy to fall into a trap of “If I haven’t heard of it, I don’t care about it.” We’re only human and many of us can’t afford a $100 gamble on an event we may not enjoy. Allow me to attempt to take a little of the risk out of the transaction for you.
Here’s a rundown of what I know from the Mempho Fest lineup, and my thoughts on what I had to research and listen to for the first time. I put together a little playlist with a handful of tunes by each act to serve as an introduction. Please note that I’m not a music critic, just a regular person who loves festivals and wants Memphis to win and have more cool stuff.
The Dead Weather is my favorite Jack White project. Don’t @ me. But I have enjoyed select tunes by The Raconteurs and I’m happy to see them back at their rocky, grindy, bluesy antics. And honestly, I wanna see Jack White in person because he seems like such an interesting fellow.
On the playlist: What’s Yours Is Mine, Now That You’re Gone, Steady As She Goes, Salute Your Solution, Level
Her performance of “The Joke” was one of the standouts of this year’s Grammys, if not the best vocally executed of the night. The song resonates for its timely subject matter. Her powerful interpretation of it that night earned the respect of viewers who hadn’t heard her name before that moment. But for those of us who’ve been following since “The Story” we know that heartfelt lyrics and soaring vocals are her signature. This set will be chill but rousing nonetheless.
On the playlist: The Story, The Joke, Late Morning Lullaby, What Can I Say, Hold Out Your Hand
Look, you don’t have to be their #1 fan to understand that icons are coming to Mempho. It’s a big get on Mempho’s part and who knows what they had to sacrifice to make it happen. The multipart Showtime documentary is required viewing. Then, show up and pay homage.
On the playlist: C.R.E.A.M., Protect Ya Neck, Method Man, Triumph, Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit
DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia
It doesn’t get more M.E.M.P.H.I.S. than this. We may be lucky enough to get a mixed bag of snippets of lots of Three 6 songs but the playlist has songs specifically produced by DJ Paul or feature good verses by him.
On the playlist: Who Run It, Big Bizness, M.E.M.P.H.I.S., Sippin on Some Syrup, Back Da F*!k Back
It has made my heart so happy to see this former Memphian go from playing small rooms around town to festival stages all over the world. To go from seeing her play at The Beauty Shop to watching her debut on Letterman, and everything since blows my mind. From her folky, soulful vibe to her distinctive tonation, and her striking appearance, she’s just delightful and I root for her, big time.
On the playlist: Workin’ Woman Blues, Wanna Be On Your Mind, Shakedown, Astral Plane, The Hour
Marcella & Her Lovers
Anytime you can see Marcella Simien live you should do it. She’s magnetic and expressive, and the band always plays tight. There’s not a lot of their work on Spotify but the EP that’s there is a solid idea of what you can expect. They’re Memphis-based so there are lots of opportunities to catch them at a local set and enjoy their excellent choice in covers, too.
On the playlist: We Rewind, Put That Bronze, Heart’s On Fire
Lord T & Eloise
Aristocrunk is always a fun party. They know how to set a tableau so I’m hoping they bring 20 unnecessary people to simply pose on stage. This is glam rap by genuinely talented people who are clearly influenced by their Memphis roots. You’ll smile and dance.
On the playlist: Ch-Ching, Deplane, Splurge, Million Dollar Boots, Black Limousine
Stuff I Didn’t Know Before This Post
I took a spin through their discography and realized I’d heard “Wish I Knew You” in a commercial somewhere, I think, and also from my best friend April’s car. Some of their earlier stuff reminded me of the funkier end of Incubus. April says they remind her of a blend of the Black Keys and The Avett Brothers. Now I’m solidly looking forward to the set.
On the playlist: Wish I Knew You, Change, Sunny Days, Monster, All My Friends, Next to You, When I Die
Iz pretty country. So much slide guitar, my friends. So much. That’s not usually my jam but her voice is pretty and reminds me of Martha Wainwright, at times. I found myself toe-tapping to her relatable tales of frustration.
On the playlist: Hurtin’ (On the Bottle), Desperate and Depressed, Tennessee Song, Four Years of Chances
On first listen, I felt like I was too old to get into it. I tried again on a different day and managed to connect. I wound up liking all the tracks from “Everything I Could Never Say” more than “Finding It Hard to Smile,” but I see the appeal in general.
On the playlist: alone time, broken, make believe, don’t worry, you will, strangers
I’m so sad I’m so late to this party. I feel like a dummy, but I’m here now and very much looking forward to PJ Morton. I love a good Bee Gees cover and his version of “How Deep Is Your Love” is its own wonderful beast.
On the playlist: How Deep Is Your Love, Sticking To My Guns, Claustrophobic, Blah, Blah, Blah, Say So
Oh, it’s good and moody. With albums titled “The Hearse,” “Who Killed Matt Maeson,” and “Bank on the Funeral,” it’s like he’s trying to tell us the story of his demise and maybe we’ll relate but if not, at least he has released his demons. It’s ripe for contemporary dance routines. Surely someone on “So You Think You Can Dance” has flung their body into someone else’s to his music.
On the playlist: Cringe, Me and My Friends Are Lonely, Put It On Me, I Just Don’t Care That Much, Go Easy
I was completely sold on them in the opening pulses of Over & Over. It’s big, clashy, distorted, noisy, beat-driven music that will get you charged up for a difficult task or being John Wick. This is going to sound incredible through massive speakers. Can’t. Wait.
On the playlist: Over & Over, Black and Red, In the Dark, Keeper, Wanna Don’t Wanna
It’s electronic and dub-steppy at points, and there’s an anthemic quality to their stuff that’ll be fun to absorb in a sea of people. Their top 5 on Spotify is actually a good intro to them.
On the playlist: I See You, Twisted, Bottom of The Deep Blue Sea, Everybody Gets High, Underground
Mark Edgar Stuart
The smartest thing I can do here is to let better writers and Memphis music experts give this man the respect he deserves. Read this or this from the Memphis Flyer.
On the playlist: Things Ain’t Fine, I’ll Be Me, Almost Mine, Arkansas Is Nice, Remote Control
Smith & Thell
Right off the bat, the Swedish duo’s most popular song reminds me of that Lumineers–Mumford & Sons era of stomp-clap-group shouts “hey” but like if Ellie Goulding was singing it. There’s legit a song called “Hey, Hey, Oh, Bae.” It’s good festival fodder.
On the playlist: Forgive Me Friend, Statue (The Pills Song), Alice, ROW, Somebody Like You
They’re from here and though I’ve heard the name, I hadn’t taken the time to seek it out and give a listen. That’s a shame cause I love it. Listening to them feels like being wrapped in the warm glow of the sun, carefree, riding around doing all your favorite things all day.
On the playlist: You…, Falling, Cut It Close, How You Taste, When Your Eyes Don’t Shine
Mempho Fest is October 19 & 20 at Shelby Farms Park. Get tickets at memphofest.com, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.
If you’re passionate about any of these acts, feel free to drop your favorite song in the comments. Sharing is caring.