Beale Street Music Festival 2022 | Day 1
The Beale Street Music Festival returned to Memphis after a nearly three-year hiatus caused by a pandemic. One of America’s oldest music festivals has made its triumphant return on its 44th anniversary. The three-day event, steeped in the polite manners associated with the southern charm and gracious manners of the region, overcame a plethora of obstacles including those related to the Covid outbreak, logistical issues and weather issues. The festival, which takes place the first weekend in May, is usually located in Tom Lee Park on the banks of the historic Mississippi River in downtown Memphis. However, the 2022 event has been moved to a new temporary location in Liberty Park near the Liberty Bowl due to an elaborate expansion project at the original site.
Day 1 of the festival lost its main headliner just weeks before the scheduled event when the untimely death of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins forced the cancellation of their summer tour. Sammy Hagar stepped in at the last minute to fill the void, and day one went like clockwork for nearly every set scheduled. The weather was near perfect for opening day with sunny conditions and a steady breeze. The event continues to be one of the most economical and eclectic music festivals.
As in the past, there were three main stages of music from multiple genres and a blues tent featuring local and national veterans of the blues music world. For most of opening day, the Bud Light stage was the most popular, delivering an outlandish quadruple rap for a massive crowd of tight-knit fans. Opening day featured a shortened schedule beginning at 5 p.m. to accommodate a regular work schedule for local music fans attending the event. Memphis rapper Al Kapone got the ball rolling with an energetic late afternoon performance. Kapone was backed by a group of veteran musicians who added a new dimension to his rap performance. The set included some of his most recent tracks along with a selection of Bluff City classics like “M’s Up”, “Get it On The Flo” and “Get Crunk, Get Buck”. Kapone, best known for the classic “Hustle & Flow” track “Whoop That Trick,” became a hometown favorite, with the song evolving into an anthem for the city and the Memphis Grizzlies.
The rap fest continued with a well-received set by East Coast rapper Waka Flocka Flame. This was followed by a set from controversial rapper Da Baby. It was the Charlotte-based rapper’s first time to appear at the festival, and his set was also well received by the energetic crowd. The young performer connected with the crowd at the start of the set, making them shout “Free Shiesty” before launching into Pooh Shiesty’s song “Back in Blood.” Sheisty is a rapper from Memphis recently sentenced to prison in Florida for a gun violation. In a fitting finale, Memphis Three 6 Mafia rappers closed out the night on the Bud Light stage. The band played some of their greatest hits from their 30-year-old catalog. Many euphoric fans could be seen simultaneously watching the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team’s playoff victory live on their phones, adding to the excitement of the moment.
The Zinn Stage saw the most eclectic lineup on the first day of the festival. Memphis Americana singer, songwriter and bassist Amy LaVere opened the festival with the very first set of the afternoon. With a group of veteran musicians, LaVere played a delicious collection of music combining a mix of classic country, jazz and soul music.
Former The War on Drugs lead guitarist Kurt Vile then brought his band The Violators to the Zinn stage. Vile played his version of indie rock, backed by his current lineup of accomplished musicians, including Jesse Trbovich (guitar, saxophone), Rob Laakso (guitar, bass, keyboards), Kyle Spence (drums), and Adam Langellotti (bass).
One of the most anticipated sets of the day came next from a decidedly different genre of music. Classic rock icon Van Morrison led a big band through a set of some of his greatest hits mixed with new material. The soulful singer took to the stage in an unusual way immediately at the start of the set, playing a fierce saxophone riff. Dressed in a blue suit and his signature sunglasses and fedora, Morrison sang “Precious Time” from 1999. He also sang “And It Stoned Me,” his classic 1970 hit. played “Wild Night”, written in 1971. He also played classic covers, “Help Me” by Sonny Boy Williamson and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Don Gibson. Morrison, later in the set, launched into a blazing blues medley that mixed “Baby Please Don’t Go” with “Parchman Farm” and “Got My Mojo Working”. The ninety-minute set was perhaps one of the fiery entertainer’s finest performances in recent years, a tribute to the reverence given to the spirit of Memphis.
Next, Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan closed the stage with a decidedly different folk-rock musical direction. It was McLachlan’s first performance at the festival post-pandemic. The singer played a crowd-pleasing 20-song set late into the warm night air.
Black Pistol Fire opened an evening of hard rock performances on the Terminix stage. The group is a Canadian-born, Austin-based rock duo. The band of Kevin McKeown and Eric Owen are an evolving drum and guitar powerhouse following in the footsteps of White Stripes and Black Keys. Their hour-long set was one of the most energetic on the first day of the festival.
The Glorious Sons, a Canadian rock band from Kingston, Ontario, followed with a surprisingly southern rock style, channeling The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. This five-piece band knows how to rock and was well received by rock fans huddled against the massive stage. Los Angeles-based Dirty Honey then brought a more bluesy rock sound to the stage. The band of vocalist Marc LaBelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian and drummer Corey Coverstone ripped through a ninety-minute series of thunderous Blues-infused rock tunes.
Finally, Sammy Hagar closed the stage with his band, The Circle, playing a set filled with rock anthems. Hagar opened with “There’s only one way to rock,” and the crowd responded emphatically. As rap fans celebrated the Memphis Grizzlies basketball team’s victory on the Bud Light stage with Three 6 Mafia, Hagar joined in the celebration. Hagar donning a Grizzlies shirt, yelled, “Damn Grizzlies, those f****** better be good. If my friends in San Francisco saw me wearing this, they’d go crazy. “The band featured former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, who Hagar has collaborated with for decades.
Anthony took center stage to perform Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” mid-set, much to the delight of the rowdy crowd. Hagar added to the atmosphere by periodically tossing cans of beer into the audience. Later, New Orleans trombonist and recent Grammy Trombone winner Shorty joined the celebration to jam with the band on a pair of songs. Hagar ended the set with a Foo Fighters cover of “My Hero” as a tribute to the Foo Fighters with a video of Taylor Hawkins performing on the giant screen.
Meanwhile, the Blues Tent offered some of the festival’s most authentic music featuring local and national veterans of the genre. The Blues tent is one of the unique aspects of the Beale Street Music Festival, separating it from other festivals. Practically the venue is the most comfortable at the festival, with chairs for everyone, a weatherproof tent cover from scorching sun to torrential rain, and has its own uncrowded back bar. Local legend Earl “The Pearl” Banks, who has been playing music on Beale Street for over 50 years, opened Day 1 in the Blues tent. Earl played a set of real old school blues that wowed the crowd.
Janiva Magness went on to sing, a US Grammy-nominated blues, soul, Americana singer and songwriter from Detroit. She was followed by Kenny Brown; an American blues slide guitarist showing off his North Mississippi Hill Country blues style.
The final act in the Blues tent is always the closing act of the festival, and by the time JJ Gray and his band Mofro took the stage, the tent was filled with Blues fans. The band fronted by the charismatic Gray brought their Southern American soul-rock sound from Jacksonville, Florida to close out the first day of the 2022 Beale Street Music Festival.
Check out more photos from Day 1 @ Beale Street Music Fest.