Allstars, Three 6 Mafia kick open Music Fest with crowd-pleasing anthems

Three 6 Mafia's DJ Paul (middle) dances with dozens of fans at the Orion Stage during the first day of Memphis in May's Beale Street Music Festival.

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Three 6 Mafia's DJ Paul (middle) dances with dozens of fans at the Orion Stage during the first day of Memphis in May's Beale Street Music Festival.

As in life, time seems to fly by at the Beale Street Music Festival. Not that long ago, the North Mississippi Allstars and Three 6 Mafia were among the festival’s fledgling acts, musical upstarts representing the new generation of Memphis music.

But as the 2012 edition of the three-day concert event kicked off on Friday evening, the Allstars and Three 6 had come to occupy a rather different position: the two groups having evolved into Mid-South institutions epitomizing the wide spectrum of Memphis music that’s defined the past two decades.

Led by the Dickinson brothers — guitarist Luther and drummer Cody — the Allstars were in fine fettle on the Bud Light stage as they savored the fading bits of daylight, conjuring an impressive kickoff to the weekend’s entertainment.

The band’s prodigiously built bassist Chris Chew, who’s developed a second career as a tour bus driver, and who will soon be taking a hiatus from the group, was a welcome sight on stage as his rock steady rhythm and infectious presence seemed to galvanize the Dickinsons.

The three-piece combo, aided by a trio of sweet-voiced backing singers, and the odd guest, including British bluesman Ian Siegel, delivered a crowd-pleasing set, carving new filigrees into familiar favorites like “Keys to the Kingdom” and “Let My Baby Ride.”

Their performance reached a crescendo as Luther broke out an electric diddley bow — a distinctly fashioned one-string guitar — and made the instrument come alive to the strains of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” while brother Cody strapped on a washboard; together they summoned the “world boogie” sound their departed father, Memphis producer Jim Dickinson, fashioned as his mantra and legacy, while family matriarch Mary Lindsey Dickinson watched approvingly from the side of the stage.

After the Allstars were through reconfiguring their blues roots, Three 6 Mafia took the Orion stage ready to celebrate their own distinctive trinity of weed, women, and 808 beats. Led by Juicy J and DJ Paul, and a rather large onstage entourage, the rappers powered through two decades worth of crunk anthems and generally flaunted their paradoxical status as Bluff City cultural outlaws and esteemed Academy Award winners.

“Y’all remember the old Three 6?” asked Juicy J. “How many of you have been down with Three 6 for the last 23 years?”

The question heralded a blitz through the group’s back catalog, as sharp, celebratory versions of songs, including “Tear Da Club Up”, were greeted riotously by a surprisingly young crowd that still seemed to know every lyric. “I’m so old I don’t remember that (stuff),” joked Juicy J, momentarily forgetting the intro to “Sippin on Some Sizzurp”

DJ Paul’s call for “some sexy women” was followed by a bum rush of young ladies from the crowd hurtling over the barricades and onto the stage, creating a lively dance party, with the group members clearly relishing their iconic status among Memphis’ college-age crowd.

The evening’s headlining acts took over with the appearance of speed metal merchants Megadeth. The Los Angeles-based outfit delivered its typically brutish noise with front man and guitarist Dave Mustaine driving the squall from center stage.

Mustaine’s fellow redhead Florence Welch offered a rather more ethereal presence as she led her group, Florence + the Machine, through its Bud Light stage turn. The highly theatrical British chanteuse, clad in a flowing black frock and surrounded by her large ensemble, delivered a shimmering selection of arty pop-soul songs, as well as a lovely a capella rendition of Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right,” that kept the massive crowd in rapt attention throughout.

— Bob Mehr: 529-2517

© 2012 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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