BY MARK JACKSON
I was fortunate to cover the Beale Street Music Fest in Memphis TN. at Tom Lee Park on the river May 1-3. The weather couldn’t have been better with clear skies and temps to accommodate shorts and t-shirts. First things first, the Event Staff were all a class act and very accommodating. These guys and gals know how to put on event that the fans and media should applaud.
Now on with the show: as always the festival had a blues tent with a good variety of acts. I was invited by Amanda Cagan of ABC Public Relations to check out 19yr old Matthew Curry from Normal, IL, and wow, was I glad I took her up. This guy is one to watch for! He has mad skills on the guitar and a voice that is way beyond his years. Matthew has toured with the Doobie Brothers, Eagles guitarist Don Felder, and will start touring with Steve Miller this month. Matthew is also sponsored by Fender on the Fender Accelerator Tour.
The other three main stages had a variety of acts but seemed to lean more towards the Rock and Alternative genre this year, which seemed to pay off considering the crowds for all three days. The highlight for me on the Bud Light Stage would have to be Ed Sheeran. I was pleasantly surprised how good his performance was. I was not expecting a one man show to be such a draw and the girl crush of the weekend. When the gates opened at 2:00 on Sunday, girls made a 300 yard dash carrying signs for the Bud Light Stage to camp out to make sure they had a front row spot for Sheeran who wasn’t taking the stage till 8:40.
The show I most wanted to see on the FedEx Stage was Paramore. I was not a huge fan of Paramore before this night but I’m defiantly hooked now. The whole reason I was looking forward to catching their performance was because I’d heard about the energy level that lead singer Hayley Williams exuded on stage (and it didn’t hurt that they are from Nashville). Hayley’s vocals were on point and that energy level was off the charts. I could hardly keep up to photograph her as she was all over the stage. If you haven’t seen them live I highly suggest you find a show near you and grab a ticket, it will be a night to remember.
The third stage and, in my eyes, the best one this year had to be the RockStar Energy Drink Stage. The line up for this stage had local Memphis band Proserve, Of Mice & Men, Rise Against, Cage the Elephant, Scott Weiland & the Wildabouts, George Clinton, Wale, John Fogerty, In This Moment, Slash with Myles Kennedy, Breaking Benjamin, and Five Finger Death Punch. I spent more time at this stage than the others combined. The First act to kick off the opening Friday night was In This Moment, who I’ve enjoyed listening to and was looking forward to seeing live. In This Moment, with lead singer Maria Brink, is a mixture of Lady Gaga meets heavy metal—Maria’s powerful voice (and good looks) on tracks such as Whore and Blood have quickly made the charts and fans. After this performance, I’m sure she’s gained several new fans as well.
Next up was Slash with Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, another standout performance of the weekend. How can you go wrong with Slash and the vocals of Myles? The show I was most excited to see of the entire Festival was 5 Finger Death Punch. Unfortunately, they have some internal turmoil brewing and it all came to head on stage, early into the set. Apparently, drummer Jeremy Spencer wrote a book last year about the band, his addiction, and life within the band that lead singer Ivan took offense to. Onstage Friday night, between songs Ivan decided to bring up the book and make comments to Jeremy about the book which didn’t sit well with Jeremy. Jeremy ended up throwing a drumstick at Ivan, barely missing a security guard, and then walked offstage to be shortly followed by the rest of the band—leaving Ivan on stage by himself. After an awkward 10 minutes or so with Ivan trying to entertain the crowd the band came back out, but it didn’t get any better from there. The band played another song and at the end of it, Ivan threw the mic over his head and walked off stage and back to his bus, leaving the band on stage. The band stood around hitting notes so Ivan could hear they were still onstage. The crowd at this point began to chant “B.S.!” over and over and some even started throwing things on stage in rage.
After another 15-20 minutes, Ivan came out again and sang their song Never Enough. I don’t know if it was by design or not, but the opening lyrics to the song are “I’m so fed up with everyone around me… no one seems to care”. Ivan sang the entire song standing at the front of Jeremy’s drum set staring at him with his back to the crowd while repeatedly giving Jeremy the finger. In one shot I got, it looks as though Jeremy had the same sentiment. I could tell they were having words as well and again at the end of the song Ivan once again threw the microphone high in the air and walked off for good, as the mic came loudly crashing to the stage. I really thought that we had just witnessed the breakup of this powerhouse group, and once again the crowd was furious and yelling and throwing things. As I can understand the crowd’s disappointment, I could also understand the fact that real life and emotions sometimes seep into shows. It was very awkward to see such a thing happen in front of me, even though I wanted to rock out to all their songs and have this night as a rocked out night. Every time I hear one of their songs or think of the band I will now think of this night and how I experienced something on a personal level with the band that most other fans never got to see or experience. Fortunately, they were able to talk it out and handle their business and keep the band together. After a couple of press releases the next morning, the band was able to spin the situation and get back on track and rock the house in Texas the very next night. The songs that I did get to hear live were awesome and I look forward to getting to shoot the guys again! Brothers will fight but they are still family!