While the weather continued to be drudgery, the performances were inspired during the second day of the Beale Street Music Festival.
Though they had the misfortune of going on just as the cold rain and wind swept across Tom Lee Park, veteran alt-rockers Cracker — led by singer David Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman — were a game bunch, serving up a selection of crowd-pleasing favorites (“Euro Trash Girl”; “Lonesome Johnny Blues”) for the daytime dwellers at the foot of the FedEx Stage.
Punk poetess Patti Smith followed, making a very rare Memphis appearance, in front of a small but enthusiastic throng of fans. Fending off song requests from the crowd (“One thing at a time,” chided Smith), she guided her band, which included longtime collaborator and foil Lenny Kaye, through a set that kicked off with “Redondo Beach” and closed with “Gloria,” and took in highlights of her catalog from 1975’s Horses to last year’s Banga.
While not the typical festival act, Smith’s easy manner and charismatic presence won over the uninitiated — including some who probably thought they were watching 80s hit maker Patty Smyth.
Smith also spoke of Memphis fondly, noting that she’d stopped for a meal at the Rendezvous and made a visit to Graceland.
“We paid our respects to ... I don’t wanna call him the King, cause Elvis himself said there’s one King and he reigns in heaven,” said Smith. “But still and all he was our (expletive) King. We were very moved actually, very moved to see the (home) of this guy who gave us so much it was a beautiful, moving experience.”
Smith name checked Presley, Jackson Pollock, John Coltrane and her late husband, MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, dedicating a powerful version of “Ghost Dance” to them, and marking the emotional high point of the set.
Back up the park, a rock legend from another era, Jerry Lee Lewis, made his return to the festival, after missing last year’s event while healing from a broken foot. It seems a year away has done wonders for the Killer, who played as if he’d been given a B-12 shot just before hitting the stage.
As usual with Lewis, it was the slowed-down mid-portion of the set that yielded the finest moments, as he delivered a jaunty version of Jimmie Rodgers “Waiting For a Train,” located the ache in Mickey Newbury’s “She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye,” and rolled beautiful piano glissandos across “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Oddly enough, temperatures began to warm up as evening fell. Country superstar Dwight Yoakam did his part to add to the heat index, with a scorching 60-minute set that traversed his songbook while digging deep into the heart of Memphis and Southern roots music.
Working up imaginatively arranged covers of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Elvis’ “Mystery Train” and mingling them with his sharply etched honky-tonk originals, Yoakam (aided by a crack four-piece backing band) did more than enough to convince the masses at Musicfest that he deserves his place among the giants.