Close your eyes and imagine this: A blocked off street; Bright neon signs abound; dozens of Creole restaurants beckon; Hurricanes, “big ass beers” served from sidewalk bars. Of course, it’s Bourbon Street. No, I’m not talking about Bourbon Street in New Orleans. I am describing Beale Street in Memphis, TN.
Since neither of had ever visited Memphis, we were surprised by the striking similarities between the two.
Of course Beale Street is a key piece of the Memphis’s Rock and Roll legacy – defining the Memphis Blues style and launching the careers of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas and more. Dozens of bars encourage visitors to sit down and enjoy a delicious alcoholic refresher and some live music; and the street, on this hot afternoon, was filled with a cacophony of musical styles pouring from each door.
We stopped for a moment at Silky O’Sullivans – an Irish bar featuring enormous Miller Lites for $4 and a cool outdoor patio where we sat for a time and watched a lone guitarist struggle through, and commit some type of musical crime against everyone from The Band to Jason Mraz (though that last one may not have a case, he was pretty close).
Then we headed over to Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall, which is the juke joint for Rum Boogie Café next door. We had lunch, a decidedly Creole meal of Red Beans and Rice, and listened to a private concert by “Two Weeks Notis.” It was one of those performances when I felt sorry for a good band, working so hard, playing the blues so precisely to so few when Jason Mraz was packing them in across the street.
Unfortunately, its continuing transformation from historic district to touristy imitation of Bourbon Street diverts attention from what makes the city and this street specifically great – its deep roots and unquestionable role in the formation of “American” Music.
Don’t get us wrong, it’s a fun place to visit and drink. Like the musical genre developed here, it’s a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, but it’s mostly a lot of drinking.