The sun shone over Liberty Park on Friday, with barely a cloud in the sky, as fans began to line up for the return of the Beale Street Music Festival.
After consecutive years of pandemic-related cancellations, the three-day music festival is making a comeback this weekend – albeit at a new location. The event has moved to the Liberty Park fairgrounds while construction continues at Tom Lee Park, its longtime home.
The venue change hasn’t stopped fans in all 50 states from buying tickets. The over 90,000 tickets sold for the event kept pace with the 2018 and 2019 festivals.
Friday night acts included Three 6 Mafia, DaBaby, Van Morrison and Sarah McLachlan.
The Central Avenue and Southern Avenue entrance lines were mostly empty an hour before doors opened at 5 p.m., but not completely desolate.
A group of 10 fans gathered in a tent near the northern entrance to the venue around 4 p.m., dodging the heat as they waited. Some were sitting on the ground, preparing to stand for the next few hours.
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Kelly Howe is a 15-year veteran of the Beale Street Music Festival, but decided to volunteer for the first time this year.
“I was incredibly excited to see the Foo Fighters, but unfortunately they pulled out – God bless them,” Howe said. “But I’m always excited to see Van Morrison, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Mitch Woods & His Rocket 88’s. I’m really into the 90s vibe.”
Howe was impressed with the venue, but thinks there are positives – one being that the terrain is easier to walk on and negatives – such as the heat when standing on the asphalt.
Kenah Rice, 42, attends the music festival with her cousin. This will be her second appearance, and she was nervous to be in a crowd due to COVID-19 at first. However, she said the Beale Street Music Festival was a perfect opportunity to hang out after two years of social distancing.
“It’s time to get out of the house,” Rice said.
Stu Stork and Jack Dobovsky were two of many overseas fans. The duo traveled over 400 miles, from Illinois to Memphis, for the Beale Street Music Festival this year.
“One of our buddies that we lived with last year, he lives here now and he told us to come down and check it out,” Stork said.
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Dobovsky saw the Foo Fighters in Madison, Wisconsin a few years ago and wanted to see them again. But even after the Foo Fighters canceled their Beale Street appearance, the lineup seemed too good for Stork and Dobovsky to pass up.
Dobovsky’s current travel plans have him leaving on Sunday, “like an idiot”, he said – but Sunday headliners, such as Counting Crows and Lil Wayne, have him debating whether to stay a day more.
“They did a really good job piling some people in on that third day, which made me re-evaluate my travel plans,” Dobovsky said.
Alongside the move came a new addition to the Beale Street Music Festival: a Ferris wheel, which marked the center of the fairgrounds, cast an increasingly long shadow over Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium as the sun began to set and the doors were beginning to open.
A slow trickle of fans began to enter the fairgrounds, as entry lines at the North Gate began to meander around Central Avenue. The line had people of all ages.
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As the flow of spectators to the fairgrounds accelerated, each of the three large stages as well as the blues tent attracted fans.
The Zyn Stage, where Amy LaVere became the first Beale Street Music Festival band to perform since 2019, kicked off performances around 5.45pm.
Fans browsed the vendors lined up along Tiger Lane. Some eventually found their way to the Terminix stage where Black Pistol Fire performed.
Meanwhile, on the Bud Light stage, Memphis rapper Al Kapone – wearing a Memphis Grizzlies jersey – rapped in front of a crowd full of fans in Grizzlies gear with a handful of Growl towels.
Kerry Senecal, 24, is attending the festival for the first time with her partner, Jackson Woods, 28. They scoured vendor stands for tapestries and clothes with psychedelic prints.
Woods, who has attended the festival five times, was thrilled to introduce Senecal to the event. They were very excited to see rock bands this weekend, including Weezer and Grouplove. Although they are sad to miss Foo Fighters, they said they are still grateful to attend the festival.
“We’re so happy to be here,” Woods said. “Just good vibes and meeting cool people.”
Lucas Finton is a reporter for Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.