Memphis is deceitful. Maybe that is their plan, to remain quiet and inconspicuous so that they can keep the city just the way they want it. Living in New Orleans can leave you unknowing of the other festivals and events relatively close cities produce. On a Saturday that was filled with the first crawfish boils of the season I boarded GLO Airlines to head to Memphis. Thankfully it was not raining as I made my way down the airport boardwalk onto the twin propellor plane and into my cozy, single window seat. In less than two hours I was going to be in a city very much like the one I love. A city where music, food, and booze is only second to the people who create the feel of its culture.
Now, you can go to Memphis just for beers at Wiseacre Brewery. Or taste the original works of the New Orleans Ace Hotel’s newest chefs, Michael Hudman and Andy Ticer, at Hog and Hominy or Porcellino’s. You can venture around to Overton Square or Cooper Young areas to see some action. However, in order to soak up the most of Memphis here are a couple of festivals that will solidify your love.
Memphis in May
This is the big one with a marathon/5K, a BBQ contest, an International Week, and of course, the Beale Street Music Festival. It takes over much of the city in the same way Jazz Fest does with New Orleans, but the more the merrier in this instance.
Whether or not you are running the race downtown, choose to complete the morning with lunch at Gus’s Fried Chicken. It will be packed, so order a full meal with a drink, walk the couple of blocks to the river you just ran by, and have a picnic. It’s beautiful scenery if you can manage the lightening-white glare from the Bass Pro Shop glass pyramid. I can't talk about this chicken enough because it’s too killer to put into words. It’s as if hot sauce was baked (fried) into the tender chicken itself and the only way you can get to the meat is to crack the deep brown crust of skin. I messed up and didn’t even order a drink, but the chicken was so tender and moist it wasn’t a problem.
Overton Square Crawfish Festival
Question, why would you go to Memphis to eat crawfish? Answer, because trying new boils and judging the ever-living-hell out of them is what we do best. While you’re in the area stop by Lafayette Music Room: think of a cleaner version of Maison on Frenchmen St. with a live music bar at night and a family- friendly brunch spot by day. Overton Square is a nice place to walk around, bump into friends from last night, and soak up some sun while playing corn hole. It gets better when you add crawfish.
A few festivals spread throughout the year are:
The Bacon and Bourbon festival. Think lots of people from Kentucky, but every restaurant does something special for it.
The Southern Hotwing Festival is the bomb and self-explanatory. Go there. Eat. Be happily disgusted with yourself.
The Lucero Family Picnic is totally bizarre (it centers around an eccentric band from Memphis) and will feature St. Paul and the Broken Bones (of Birmingham, AL) this year.
901fest is new and a part of Memphis in May, but is a paid event that mimics the “locally sourced” feel of French Quarter Fest. This is on my list, but not at the top.
In between all of the music and revelry you may get hungry or thirsty in Memphis but don’t worry, it’s not Cleveland. They have a set-up that truly inspires gluttony.
There is breakfast and then there are doughnuts. Gibson’s is basically the place you want to be 1) because of the melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts of all varieties, and 2) for Don DeWeese the proprietor, orator, and community magician. You cannot enter the shop even once without a hello from Don, a few suggestions about Memphis, and getting to know him personally. He is the personification of Memphis: personable, demonstrative, and insightful.
In between doughnuts and music you can meander into almost any bar and learn the name of the bartender. Some of the best bars to get acquainted with, and fast, are: Earnstine’s and Hazels, Bar Dog, and Wild Bill's. Note: Wild Bill's will bring back memories of your college days with 40s of domestic beer and a red solo cup. It’s a perfect late night stop before you go home.
This is more than enough reasons to go to Memphis, but if you need just a little more nudging visit here. It will provide a full list of every big and obscure festival happening. So, don’t wait. Pack up the car or hop a heavily-discounted plane ride and have fun one weekend. Get out and explore!