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In a little-known chapter of the Beatles' touring history, they made a two day detour to Pigman's dude ranch in Walnut Ridge, relaxing by the pool and presumably working on their Arkansasian accents. Two teenage boys discovered the ranch's location, jumped the fence, and ended up sitting with their idols for a spell. While it may have merely been a bit of downtime to the Fabs, they made an indelible impression on the little burg that hosted them. And it's commemorated to this day, with the annual “Beatles at the Ridge” celebration.
Walnut Ridge now plays host to much the same scene as the “Fest for Beatles Fans,” with merchandise vendors, bands, impersonators, and panel discussions by Beatle-ologists. Say what you will about the original visit's importance to Beatles history, it is a decidedly oddball event, sure to draw a diverse mix of folks to this small Arkansas town, only ninety minutes from Memphis.
The full schedule is listed here, but the highlights include a panel discussion with Bettie and Eva, stewardesses on the charter plane for the entire tour, who probably saw a thing or two, and another presentation by Bruce Spizer, author of the new book The Beatles and Sgt. Pepper: A Fans' Perspective.
With the movement to save the Mid-South Coliseum hitting its stride, the history of the Beatles in the region is bubbling up in all sorts of ways. Exhibit A: the brand new decals designed by Mike McCarthy, including one honoring the Mop Tops' appearance here in 1966. That bring to mind images of numskull Klansmen, record burning, and assassination threats. But to go back even further in time, when the 1960s seemed more an extension of the 1950s, consider a little road trip this weekend up to Walnut Ridge.
The 5th annual Beatles At The Ridge celebration, Friday, September 15 and Saturday, September 16, Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, free admission to all events. Most events are held in or near The Studio, 123 Main Street, downtown Walnut Ridge.
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For all the details, (re)read your copy of Robert Gordon's It Came From Memphis, which vividly evokes a rag-tag cohort of artists, musicians, and other blues fans whose utopian vision was rooted in a careful salvaging of the past – in this case, the genius of blues players like Furry Lewis or Bukka White, who had fallen into obscurity. These were heroes to many in the nascent hippie culture. They ended up throwing a party on a grand scale that included both living legends and cutting edge rock and funk.
Today, we again face the question of who to memorialize from the past and who to scorn. It's a perfect time to revive that spirit of communal action, and it's about to happen in two days' time when the Levitt Shell hosts rebirth of the Memphis Country Blues Festival.
One of the key organizers of the original festival, and a performer there with Insect Trust, was musician and author Robert Palmer. His daughter Augusta Palmer, a documentary film maker, is currently working on a documentary about the original festivals that ran from 1966-69.
“Last year there was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first blues festival,” she recalls. “And Robert Gordon and I curated a panel of people who came and talked. So Marcia Hare/Misty Blue Lavender, and James Alexander, and Jimmy Crosthwait, and Chris Wimmer, who were all part of the original events, came up. We showed a little bit of the New York Channel 13 footage that was shot of the 1969 concert. And then had all the people to talk on stage and answer questions. Yeah, it was a great conversation. Ric was there and that's where we met, actually.”
Reviving the festival was the brainchild of promoters Ric and Stephen Whitney, cousins from Memphis who learned of the original festivals just as they were looking for fresh ideas for community events. Says Ric, “The fact that there was something that happened so long ago, and it was very innovative in terms of bringing together constituencies who didn't necessarily spend a lot of time together, but the common denominator was music. And that was one of the things that we often talked about in terms of things we wanted to do in the city ourselves: to produce music-based shows that brought people together.”
Soon after that, Ric Whitney met with Liz Levitt Hirsch, president of the Levitt Foundation in Los Angeles. “There was a salon she had at her home, actually, and we had a chance to chat about the idea in general. And then we ended up being introduced to the Levitt Shell folks in Memphis. And it sort of blossomed from there. Our biggest goal was to produce a free concert. And it worked well because the Shell produces their concert series each year, and the majority are free shows. We didn't see this as something that we were looking at making tons of money on. We really saw it as an opportunity, really, kinda looking at what's happening in the US today – there's a lot of strife, a lot of miscommunication. So we wanted to come up with an opportunity for people to use music, and particularly the blues genre, as an way to bring people together.”
Palmer, naturally, will be there to document the proceedings, and may screen a trailer for her newest work. It's a powerful moment for both her and the city, “that these two African American Memphis natives are taking on the mantle of the Blues Festival. I think my dad would have been really happy.”
It's especially fitting that the headliner for the show was a performer at the original event: Rev. John Wilkins. Kevin Cubbins, who plays in the band, reflects, “What a lot of people don't know is that this is a return trip for Rev. Wilkins. It's not his first time at the Shell. And that's not even counting the time he played with his father, delta blues and gospel icon Rev. Robert Wilkins, at one of the first Memphis Country Blues Fests in 1968. See, up until 2006, the year he retired from the City of Memphis Park Services, Rev. Wilkins was the groundskeeper and maintenance supervisor at the Shell. He was responsible for everything from keeping the grass cut to keeping the place secured and cleaned up.”
Once again, honoring the past is lighting the way forward. “It's kind of epic,” adds Cubbins. “He was there in the golden days of the late 60's, he was they guy holding the place together during its years of neglect, and now he's taking the stage in it's rebirth. Kinda cool.”
The Memphis Country Blues Festival, Levitt Shell, Saturday, September 16, 7:00 - 10:00 pm, free admission. Lineup: Reverend John Wilkins (son of Robert Wilkins); Blue Mother Tupelo (southern soul and blues, Husband & Wife duo); Cam Kimbrough (grandson of Blues legend, Junior Kimbrough).
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The album that Memphis hip-hop artist Don Lifted drops this Thursday has been a long time in the making. Named after the car he drove when living through a particularly harrowing time, Alero will provide him no small measure of catharsis. After nearly seven years, Don Lifted will finally be able to exhale.
With neither the broad social commentary of Marco Pavé nor the street life debauchery of Yo Gotti, Don Lifted, aka Lawrence Matthews, takes his lyrics to a personal place to fashion a work of art-as-therapy. The album details a stressful period when Matthews and his high school girlfriend ventured east for college and they confronted the challenges of living away from home.
"The story takes place from September 2010 and into 2011. It was six months, but it felt like two years," he recalls. "We just were clashing. But also it was just being thrown into the world, adulthood, alone. We both were going through a kind of hell. I slept in the car a lot. I was sick a lot, so I'd take cough medicine so I could record music, instead of being sniffly; so I could go to class, go to work."
The car became a kind of sanctuary for Matthews. "Kappa, Sigma, Omega, Alpha, Kappa, them Deltas/ Futures, degrees and shelters and I am only a nigga/ Carpetbagger from Memphis, they'll never see me as bigger/ I'm clapping, but I'm pretending, depression down to my tendons, these terrors, they cloud my vision." So goes the first verse of the first song. And it's all downhill from there.
Along the way, he struggles with his relationship, his boss, his school, and poverty. But he makes it clear that his hometown was no picnic either. "Family became opponents, all they repping is Memphis/ It offers nothing to poets, offers nothing to loners/ Wasn't born in the system of 3-6, Elvis, and Jordans."
The struggles evoked in Alero also came as he tried to developed his musical skills. "I was trying to record a record in the closet of my dorm," he says. "And my plan was to spend six months making the record, finish the record, then spend the next six months going back and forth to New York. I was gonna get on, get connections, meet people. And I got kicked outta school, so I didn't get to do any of that."
Instead, he returned home. But it wasn't until much later that he could reflect on the experience creatively. In the intervening years, he found his voice as an artist, earning a degree from the University of Memphis. "My major was Studio Arts ... but my main focus when I came out of college was painting. Now, it's photography and video work." Degree in hand, he turned inward to create Alero."I started the first song in November 2014, and I finished writing, recording, and producing it by the middle of 2015. And then spent the rest of 2015 just sitting on it, mixing it, being very meticulous." This period was heavily influenced by his listening habits. "I'm attracted to Kanye West, Common, J Dilla's production. ... But the album I was listening to a lot around the album's creation was Coldplay's Ghost Stories. It was about his divorce. Very minimal. And there was a record by Dawn Golden, who I sampled twice."
Performing such personal material now can still be difficult for Matthews, though he feels he's gained some perspective on the pain. Listeners need not resign themselves to utter despair. By the final cut, "Holding On," Matthews finds room for hope. "We're not holding on for nothing" rings the track's chorus, and at last it seems Don Lifted has drawn strength from his exile. Alero will be available for download September 14th. The CD, including a deluxe booklet of lyrics and original photographs, is for sale exclusively at Shangri-La and Goner Records.
Looking for something fun to do Thursday evening? #MemphisMusic twitter.com/choose901/stat…
Memphis is a vibrant community of people who make, celebrate, love, and learn from art. And for over 100 years, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art has played a central role in nurturing and developing the cultural life of the city we all call home. Our centennial milestone has afforded us a unique opportunity to look back on our achievements, assess the current status of our operations, and contemplate our future.
The Brooks Museum is the oldest and largest art museum in the state of Tennessee. Every year, we welcome tens of thousands of patrons from across the country and the world to experience the illuminating and affirming power of art. Recent improvements to our museum facilities have allowed us to expand exhibition opportunities and educational programs in a way that reach more people from more parts of our metropolitan area than ever, especially such Brooks Outside projects as the RedBall Project, Intrude, the giant, illuminated bunnies that adorned our plaza, and Tape Art; and the free school tours we offer to all Shelby County Schools.
Our collection, which includes works from many continents and more than five millennia, also continues to grow. We are particularly excited about our commitments over the past few decades to African American artists and artists of the African diaspora. Between 2010 and 2016, 92 percent of the artworks we acquired were by African American artists and we have reinstalled or are in the process of reinstalling our galleries of African Art and the Day Foundation Collection of Antiquities.
Every great city deserves a great art museum – but like all art museums, the Brooks is more than a building. Reimagining exactly what an art museum should be in Memphis in the 21st century – and ensuring that we matter to every Memphian – are exciting challenges that we are eager to face.
As part of that work, the Brooks’ Board of Directors recently passed a resolution that adds the option of relocation, outside Overton Park, to our current list of building options for expansion.
The Brooks Museum’s ultimate responsibility is to our collection and the 5,000 years of art that it represents; our supportive members and lovers of art everywhere; and the people of Memphis. Visibility and accessibility are important to us, and we also need to think about how we can continue to attract important art collections to the Brooks, by showing that we are a safe, secure, and worthy place to steward those legacies.
We will work closely with our partners in Overton Park, the Overton Park Conservancy, Mayor Jim Strickland, and the Memphis City Council as we move forward with our decision-making. If and when we elect to relocate, we will do everything in our power to ensure that our current museum facilities enjoy a productive and positive next use that benefits Overton Park and the entire community.
As we enter our second century of service as the city’s museum, we look forward to doing everything we can to be the best possible institution for all Memphians. We are evaluating some interesting possibilities about how best to achieve that goal, and we look forward to keeping you apprised of our progress as we continue this important work.
Should you have any questions, I hope you will let us know.
Deborah Craddock, Board President