Rock, country, hip-hop, soul and blues — just about everything but a sorely needed chorus of “Rain, Rain, Go Away” — were on tap on the north end of Tom Lee Park Saturday as the Bud Light Stage and the Horseshoe Blues Tent slogged through day two of the Memphis in May 2013 Beale Street Music Festival.
In particular, the Bud Light Stage hosted a remarkably eclectic — if largely R&B and blues inspired — lineup throughout the day before it was scheduled to settle into a distinctly soulful groove with the still-very-different final two acts of the evening, the gospel-voiced pop singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw and, from the NBC talk show “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” celebrated hip-hop/soul band the Roots.
Before that, though, music fans had already been treated to a hand-waving, upbeat show from Atlanta rapper Big Boi. Andre 3000’s partner in the best-selling duo Outkast, the rapper/songwriter/producer (real name Antwan André Patton) raced through selections from his two solo albums with a band that included a live drummer, guitarist and deejay.
Earlier in the day, alternative rock held sway. First Austin, Texas’ Heartless Bastards gave a nod to their blues influences with their cover of Holly Springs, Miss., bluesman Junior Kimbrough’s “Done Got Old.” But even that song was transformed by the band’s lean rock sound and leader Erika Wennerstrom’s haunting vocals.
Later, the new funky indie pop six-piece Pickwick, who despite their name hail not from Southwest Tennessee’s Pickwick Dam region but from Seattle, made their Memphis debut, playing selections from their March full-length album.
Pennsylvania National Security Administration scientist turned Nashville singer-songwriter Renee Wahl, a late addition to the lineup, started things on the Bud Light Stage. Her laid-back originals and well chosen covers like her version of the Pam Tillis favorite “Maybe It Was Memphis” combined with performances elsewhere in the park by Dwight Yoakam and Sun Records honky tonker Sonny Burgess to instill a rare strain of country into this year’s festival.
At the blues tent, things were more predictable but no less exciting. Guitarists were the stars of the day with a lineup loaded with six-string slingers that was expected to close out with two of the best and most celebrated, Chicago second-generation legend Ronnie Baker Brooks and southpaw Albert Collins acolyte Coco Montoya.
Before them was a parade of regional guitar greats spanning three generations who showed that more than 100 years after the music first came out of the Mississippi Delta, Memphis remains a hub of the blues.
Memphis teen guitar phenom Will Tucker drew some of the biggest crowds to his prime-time gig. Loaded with nods to inspirations like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robin Trower and Stevie Wonder, the set was a crowd-pleasing showcase for a major talent in the making.
But the elder bluesmen were not to be upstaged. Zac Harmon from Jackson, Miss., gave a dynamic, emotionally wrenching performance that closed with his unique take on Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” dedicated in part to his friend and fellow Mid-South bluesman, the recently departed Michael Burks.
Earlier in the day a large crowd, including homegrown “The Voice” contestant Patrick Dodd, ducked in out of the rain for an always satisfying turn by Clarksdale’s James “Super Chikan” Johnson. With his colorfully decorated homemade guitar and his all-female backing trio, it’s tempting to dismiss Johnson as all show, but perhaps no act this weekend so far grooved as deeply.
Opening the blues tent was Beale Street regular Kevin “Fuzzy” Jeffries and his band the Kings of Beale Street, who earned their first ever Beale Street Music Festival slot by winning a local blues society contest. Jeffries proved more than up to the task, displaying incendiary chops on his set-closing cover of “Little Wing,” a staple of his Beale shows.