The tradition of parties on the rooftop of The Peabody dates to 1939. Back then, young people put on their finest clothes to head to the weekly Sunset Serenades where they danced to the latest jazz sounds from hot national bands like Paul Whiteman, Les Brown and Tommy Dorsey.
Seventy-four years later, the dress code is a little more causal and the music rocks rather than swings, but the top of The Peabody remains the height of glamorous good times in the Bluff City.
“The spirit, I think, remains the same,” says the hotel’s public relations director Kelly Earnest, comparing the Serenades with today’s Rooftop Parties, which kick off their 31st season Thursday. “The Peabody lobby has always been the place to see and be seen here in Memphis, and I think that extends up to the roof.”
The modern-day Rooftop Parties began in 1982, less than 12 months after The Peabody reopened after a six-year revitalization. Traditionally, the events have been held 6-11 p.m. every Thursday April through mid-August. But this year, for the first time, the hotel is extending the season into the fall. Following a three-week hiatus after the Aug. 15 party, the season will pick up again Sept. 12 and continue Sept. 26, Oct. 17 and Oct. 31.
“The weather gets really hot in July and August, and we do see the crowds really dwindle about then,” says Earnest, who estimates the Rooftop Parties average nightly attendance of 1,200. “But then the weather gets beautiful again. People were asking for this, and we really loved the idea of extending the season, so we’re going to give this a test run.”
The extended season means two of this year’s Rooftop Parties will fall on holidays, July Fourth and Halloween. Earnest says the hotel is planning special activities for both nights, which is partly why the entertainment lineup for the first half of the season, only through the end of June, has been released.
What has been released so far shows the Rooftop Parties maintaining their focus on regional talent, with local pop-rock favorites like Kevin & Bethany Paige and Party Planet on the schedule. In recent years, however, the star power of the parties has increased through a partnership with Q 107.5/96.1, which has brought in rising young national acts like Neon Trees and Matt Nathanson to perform mini sets at the events.
At Thursday’s opener, Canadian pop songstress Carly Rae Jepsen of “Call Me Maybe” fame will play an acoustic set and Nashville rock band Hot Chelle Rae will appear April 18.
Admission charge for those and other special nights is $15, but most Rooftop Parties cost $10.
For holders of Peabody Rooftop VIP passes, the hotel has new perks. For a $125 pass available at the door, VIPs get admission to all 23 parties, valet parking, discounts at hotel shops and restaurants, and access to a VIP lounge with food tastings and drink specials. New this year, VIP pass holders get their own queue at the elevators.
“It’s kind of like a Disney Fastpass; if you have that card, you can get to the front of line at the elevator,” says Earnest. “We really try to make the VIP experience VIP.”