The annual Cooper-Young Festival, which returns to the hip Midtown neighborhood for its 26th year Saturday, regularly attracts crowds in excess of 100,000 to its funky mix of food, shopping and people watching.
But this is Memphis, and appropriately music is at the heart of the event. This year Cooper-Young attendees can look forward to more music than ever before with Motel Mirrors, the new teaming of local roots stars Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith, headlining the festival.
“With their first record coming out we thought it was perfect timing to have them headline the festival,” says the Memphis Music Foundation’s Cameron Mann, who as a member of the festival’s presenting organization, the Cooper-Young Business Association, sits on the committee that books the music for the main stage. “Amy lives in the neighborhood just blocks from the stage, and her label is also in the neighborhood, so its just seemed right.”
Joining Motel Mirrors on the main stage on Young Avenue is an eclectic lineup that also includes country rocker Dead Soldiers, R&B artist Singa B, reggae band the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, progressive band the Merry Mobile, singer-songwriter Mark Edgar Stuart, and blues band Reemus Bo Deemus.
“Our ethos in booking the stage is two things very simply,” says Mann. “One, you have to play original music, and, two, you have to be a Memphis band or within the Metro area. Cooper-Young being the heart of Memphis, we really want to support local bands and local, original music. From there we just try to keep it as diverse as we can.”
Because Cooper-Young is a free festival, budget constraints in recent years have forced the Cooper-Young Business Association to farm out entertainment on its other two stages to sponsoring organizations. This year the music school chain School of Rock takes over the stage in the parking lot of First Congregational Church where it will feature revolving lineups from its two Memphis locations. And on the east end of Young, neighborhood record store Goner Records, in partnership with the Grizzlies, will present a schedule of punk and alternative rock topped by the teaming of Jack Oblivian with the Sheiks.
Away from the official stages, however, Cooper-Young attendees increasingly have had other music options to consider. Over the past few years unofficial or guerrilla stages have been a common sight at the festival. But this year local media company Brister Street Productions has taken things to a new level.
Working with an organization called TRDON, Brister is making its first foray into the festival by putting on two unofficial stages of music — one in front of Black Lodge Video and another across Cooper Street in the parking lot of the recently changed-hands Mid-Town Market — under the banner of the Go Local Stages.
“The new owner of the Mid-Town Market, this is his first Cooper-Young Fest, so he wanted to make a big deal of its because that’s probably the biggest event in his neighborhood,” says Brister Street co-owner Jack Simon, who adds the market will also be the site of late-night Cooper-Young after-party featuring a deejay and $10 admission. “We’re going to have a good light show, fire dancers, face painting. We’re painting a mural on the side of the market. It’s just going to be an awesome show.”
The Go Local lineup predictably leans heavy on the space and jam rock, highlighted by sets from Devil Train, the fire dancers-accompanied Agori Tribe, and Spaceface.
The Mid-Town Market Stage also features one of the few nonlocal bands to ever play Cooper-Young Fest — Norman, Okla., art rockers Stardeath & the White Dwarfs. The Warner Brothers recording artists, who are currently touring with Spaceface, are well known for their collaborations with fellow Sooners the Flaming Lips and bring an unexpected outsider cred to the usually defiantly local festival.
“It’s an awesome booking because as nice it is to stay local, it’s also cool to have some national touring talent,” says Simon. “We’re not trying to outdo anybody; just trying to bring all the local people together. It’s a community festival, and we’re just happy to be a part of the festival.”
9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday at the corner of Cooper and Young. Admission: Free. For more information, visit cooperyoungfestival.com.
Acts and times subject to change
School of Rock Stage (all groups are from School of Rock)
11:30-12:15 p.m.: School of Rock Memphis Blue Band
12:30-1:15 p.m.: School of Rock Germantown
1:30-2:15 p.m.: School of Rock Memphis Red Band
2:30-3:15 p.m.: School of Rock Germantown
3:30-4:15 p.m.: School of Rock Memphis Green Band
4:30-5:15 p.m.: School of Rock Germantown House Band
Memphis Grizzlies/Goner Records Stage
12:30-1:15 p.m.: Moving Finger
1:30-2:15 p.m.: Mouserocket
2:30-3:15 p.m.: NOTS
3:30-4:15 p.m.: Ex-Cult
4:30-5:15 p.m.: Jack Oblivian and the Sheiks
11:15 a.m.-noon: Reemus Bo Deemus
12:15-1 p.m.: Mark Edgar Stuart
1:15-2 p.m.: The Merry Mobile
2:15-3 p.m.: Chinese Connection Dub Embassy
3:15-4 p.m.: Singa B
4:15-5 p.m.: Dead Soldiers
5:15-6:30 p.m.: Motel Mirrors featuring Amy LaVere and John Paul Keith
Go Local Mid-Town Market Stage
10-10:30 a.m.: Perfekt Daze
10:45-11:15 a.m.: Dedra Owens
11:25 a.m.-noon: Wink and the Signal
Noon-1 p.m.: The Soul Thieves
4-4:25 p.m.: Freddy Wycheck
4:30-4:50 p.m.: Adlai
5-5:30 p.m.: Preauxx
5:30-5:45 p.m.: Concrete Soul
8-8:50 p.m.: Agori Tribe with Fire Performers
9-9:50 p.m.: Stardeath & the White Dwarfs
10-10:50 p.m.: Spaceface
11 p.m.-until: After party
Go Local Black Lodge Video
1-1:45 p.m.: Way Back When
2-4 p.m.: Devil Train
5:45-6:15 p.m.: The Sheiks
6:30-8 p.m.: Devil Train