For many, Memphis means music. The American city draws music and culture lovers to explore its prominent history all year long. But, there’s no time to visit like May, when Memphis in May lights up the city with festivities and celebrations for a whole month.
Not only is Memphis the birthplace of blues, the city also played a pivotal role in the history of rock ‘n roll. Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, B.B King, and, of course, Elvis, all recorded their legendary music here. Their music legacy shines through in the fabric of Memphis today, and the city has many fantastic attractions celebrating its musical history.
Beale Street is not to be missed, with music venues, famous soul food diners, and notable buildings like W.C. Handy’s historic home. Then there’s Graceland, the King’s home, and a haven for Elvis lovers everywhere. The Sun Studio is another fantastic sight. Often referred to as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll, Sun Studio was used once by Roy Orbison, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and is still used by artists today. Take a guided tour to learn about these musicians and see unique memorabilia. There’s endless amounts of museums to explore across the city, and time could easily be filled hopping from point to point as well as enjoying live music on Beale Street.
Look beyond music in Memphis, and you’ll find even more culture and history. Prominent locations during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement help make travel to Memphis a sacred pilgrimage for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. admirers. The National Civil Rights Museum, located at the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, documents the inspirational and powerful moments of the movement. As well as this, the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum explores life in the Southern states of America pre-Civil War. The museum offers a moving history lesson in life during slavery, and the house is filled with secret passages and trap doors that were used by runaway slaves fleeing north. Both museums should not be overlooked, despite the strong image of music at the forefront of the city.
This year, the Beale Street Music Festival opens the month, a chilled out event with loads going on. Great food, flowing drinks, and an eclectic line-up every year. Join the huge cheering crowds, or lay on a rug by the river, and enjoy your favourite bands in the Tennessee sun. This year’s line up is diverse and inviting: Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, Erykah Badu, Alanis Morisette, Tyler, the Creator, Post Malone, Odesza, and loads more.
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The Memphis in May International Festival International Week brings cultural events to community centers, museums, galleries, performing arts centers and schools throughout the city. Luncheons and lectures unite the resources of local government and professional cultural agencies with speakers, artists and celebrities from a different honoured country each year, opening doors for international commerce and exchange. For 2018, the honoured country is the Czech Republic. Beginning 7th May, the celebrations take form in many events, beginning with ‘One Night in Prague: A Sensory Celebration of the Czech Republic’ with gourmet cuisine and music from the Epoque Quartet.Other events include: exhibitions on Czech scientists; an exploration of the communist regime; and many film screenings. The event is a fantastic cross-cultural celebration.
On 16th May, the annual The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest returns. The contest is a four-day event in downtown Memphis with the Mississippi River as the backdrop. More than 230 teams come from over 25 states and several foreign countries to participate in America’s most prestigious barbecue competition. There’s an outstanding number of competitions across the four days, and it’s the best way to sample some Memphis food. Ribs, hot wings, pulled pork, mac n cheese, beans and everything else southern you can imagine is served up by barbecue veterans.
After the world-famous barbecue contest comes the Great American River Run. Held downtown on Saturday 26th May is both a half marathon and a 5K race. The half marathon course leads racers along the banks of the Mississippi River while 5K runners experience a route through downtown Memphis. The fun all culminates with a massive post-race party that includes food, drinks and live music. If you don’t fancy running, then the spirit of the crowd is unbeatable so spectating is worth the visit.
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Finally, the month closes with 901 Fest. On Memorial Day weekend, the 901 themed party celebrates the city of Memphis with music, food, and fireworks. Acts this year include Southern Avenue, 8Ball and MJG, Frayser Boy, Mighty Soul Brass Band, and lots more. Local brew and food stalls line the river and there’s games like knockerballs to enjoy in the sun. As well as this, local artists & craftsmen are a vital part of the Memphis celebration. Creative people set up stalls selling their unique and fantastic products. The party, and the month of May, ends with a ginormous fireworks show. Every year Memphis in May gets bigger and better, with a spirit of celebration that is unbeatable, all taking place in a city already full of history and culture.
Have you attended Memphis in May before? Share your highlight with us in the comments below.