The full name of the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project) is a little misleading since it covers the latest in pop culture in general and not just music. Probably why it usually goes by its initials, though there is a cool little music studio on one of the floors where you can actually record your own songs.
We came to Memphis for the music, and absolutely did not take that to mean just Graceland. It’s actually a bit of a blessing that Graceland’s so far outside of the main part of Memphis, since Memphis–and rock ‘n roll–is so much more than the Elvis memorabilia.
The Rock and Soul Museum was sort of small, given we’re talking about two giant genres of music (and, for that matter, that it actually starts off properly, with folk, country, blues and gospel), and kind of heavy on the stage costumes, but it had an inventive audio tour that weaved in samples of music from every era from the beginning of recorded music. It also had an entire reconstructed rural church, which was smaller than my NYC apartment. Not a bad general overview and does a great job of showing the cultural roots of music. Took us about an hour, going very slowly between exhibits.
Continuing in this series of posts…
We didn’t spend much time at Graceland, but we did spend a fair amount on Beale Street. Beale Street pretty much qualifies as the downtown and social center of Memphis, especially after lunch (seriously, justwomorethings and I both took redeye flights to Memphis so we would have the whole day after arrival to explore, but the place was a ghost town until about 12pm).
It’s a shorter street than I had pictured, but packed full of bars, diners, quaint kitschy stores and even a couple grassy courtyards. You can certainly tell when you are off it, even without the white trestles marking the street off as pedestrian only. Scheme is sort of the cleaned up “gritty” that tourist magazines like to call character, and the decorators never met a neon sign or a funky trinket that they didn’t like. Live music spills out of all the bars, and a bunch of kids were performing acrobatic tricks in the street for tips while we were there. There was also a supposedly Diving Goat, though we never actually got to see it dive.
The dual authors of this blog recently spent a weekend in Memphis, TN. Why Memphis? Well, my unofficial theme for traveling this summer has been “music history,” and of course, Memphis is a big one (entropyenator shrugged and said she was okay with it). That notwithstanding, we didn’t actually mean to pop in during Elvis Week. We respect the King, but neither of us really want to spring for $30+ to ramble through his house, let alone participate in an Elvis race, an Elvis contest, etc. Our line is more of a hit ‘n photo:
And we did walk up to the stone wall around the property, so we could snap a long-distance photo of the actual Graceland building. Couldn’t get any closer without paying the aforementioned $30+ entrance fee (on top of $10 for parking).
I have to say, I was a little surprised at how…stately and classical it looked. I was expecting something more in keeping with those rhinestone jumpsuits, but nope, not even a far-out paint-job.
Next, food, Beale Street, food, historical landmarks in music, and more food. Oh, and some cats.
Day One (Friday): Really disjointed. I’ve never been to an outdoor music festival before, although I’ve been to outdoor festivals. I guess the major difference is, music fans are way, way more rabid, and therefore ready to invade your personal space, than people who go to state fairs or renfairs or art fairs or food fairs. Also, it had been raining for several days and only let up Friday afternoon, and Jazz Fest was in a horse-racing track. So, horse-shit smelling mud that could suck you in up to the knee if you weren’t careful, and of course, the closer you were to the stage, the deeper it was. I came prepared to ditch my sneakers afterward, but I wasn’t expecting that I would have to throw them out only after the first day.
We hit up some of the historical landmarks in town, including the old Ursuline Convent, the Cabildo and Arsenal (not pictured, and sadly, since the Arsenal had a really cool exhibit on early proto rock ‘n roll acts in New Orléans, and their somewhat forgotten part in creating rock music), and most of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 before we got rained out. Also, a couple more cool local details, like horse-headed iron street posts and sidewalk tiles spelling out street names (not limited to the French Quarter). Lastly, we wanted a taste of the local music scene, and as the Jazz Fest itself ends oddly early for an outdoor festival, with the last acts finishing around 7 PM, we hit up Frenchmen Street Friday night. It was buzzy and jumping, with an alleyway crafts market over there, a brass band busking on the corner here, and music pouring out of every club. We caught the end of the TBC Brass Band‘s act in some club that I can’t remember except that it was one of the few that didn’t charge cover, and I wish we’d happened on it earlier [Edit: Vaso’s! I did remember to note it in my phone’s memo app. Bless smartphones]. I would’ve happily paid to see the whole thing–a little rough and ready, but with true verve.