MEMPHIS – The new “Mempho Music Festival,” taking place this weekend, Friday-Saturday Oct 6-7, will feature outstanding live music from national and Grammy-winning acts such as Cage The Elephant and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Grammy-nominated Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, as well as Cold War Kids, Bishop Briggs, Robert Randolph and The Family Band, Hard Working Americans, Southern Avenue, and more.
The festival will also include a special tribute to the music of Memphis, featuring legendary artists Steve Cropper & Friends and Booker T Presents: “A Stax Revue & Journey Through Soul, Blues, and R&B.”
Mempho will be the first major music festival held amid the natural splendor of Shelby Farms Park. Just minutes from downtown Memphis, and 5 times the size of New York City’s Central Park, Shelby Farms is the 5th-largest urban park in America and offers diverse outdoor activities including biking, canoeing, zip lining, and horseback riding. With two stages of music and culinary options for every taste and budget, Mempho will offer attendees an abundance of great music, food, and nature. The menu will of course include Memphis’ legendary barbecue, as well as a wide array of beer, wine, and cocktails.
“The roots of American music can be clearly traced directly to Memphis. The first annual Mempho Music Festival is being launched with a distinct purpose to pay homage to our community’s unique role in shaping and influencing global music culture,” said Memphis native Diego Winegardner, Founder and CEO of Big River Presents, the promoter behind the startup festival.
Chuck Leavell, legendary keyboard player for the Rolling Stones and founder of the Mother Nature Network, said, “As a special advisor to Mempho, I’m proud to help bring one of the greatest musical cities in the world a new kind of music festival. The setting is spectacular and the talent line-up is top notch with a combination of great new artists and some established fan favorites. As an environmentalist, I’m also very pleased that everyone involved has a high sensitivity to keeping the event clean and green, and in harmony with nature.”
MEMPHO MAIN STAGE PACKED WITH TOP BANDS: FRIDAY OVERVIEW
Friday’s First Tennessee Bank Stage acts include such much-revered headliners as Cold War Kids and the Grammy-winning Cage The Elephant.
Cage the Elephant, based in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is known for its eclectic, continuously developing sound and high-energy live sets. The band’s first album includes flavors of classic rock, funk, and blues, while its second release, “Thank You, Happy Birthday,” was heavily tinged by punk-rock-meets-grunge heat – recalling such acts as the Pixies and Nirvana. Its third album, “Melophobia,” was described as a “concerted effort by the band to find its own distinct musical identity”; it earned them a Grammy nod in 2015 for Best Alternative Music Album.
Cage the Elephant’s fourth album, continued the groundbreaking direction for the six-man group, and “Tell Me I’m Pretty” (December 2015) soon won the Grammy for Best Rock Album. The band’s newest album, “Unpeeled,” is a live album released on July 28, 2017.
The group has headlined all over the world, including at such major music festivals as Coachella and Lollapalooza. Seven of their singles – “Trouble,” “Mess Around,” “Cigarette Daydreams,” “Come a Little Closer,” “Shake Me Down,” “Back Against the Wall,” and “In One Ear” – have hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts; each of their four studio albums has hit No. 2. Still, they are most widely known for an early major radio hit, “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” (video below). Cage The Elephant performs from 10:15 to 11:45 pm Friday night.
Just before Cage The Elephant will be Cold War Kids. After forming in California in 2014, indie rock five-piece Cold War Kids had a fast-growing grassroots fan base thanks to touring and unique live performances that swung wildly and unpredictably between neo-blues-pop dance parties to mesmerizing goth-tinged garage rock – all with almost alarmingly intelligent lyrics recalling morose tales of yesteryear, political incorrectness included.
In 2006, the band signed withDowntown/V2a nd released their major label debut “Robbers & Cowards” to cult appeal from fans and critics. Four full-length albums, 11 EPs, seven Billboard- charting singles, 10 years of relentless touring across the globe, and many viral videos later, on April 7 of this year, Cold War Kids released its latest album, “L.A. Divine.”
The band is likely best recognized for its hit single and video “Hang Me Out To Dry” (embedded below). Cold War Kids performs from 8:45 to 9:45 pm Friday on the Mempho main stage.
Earlier on Friday will see sets from the Stax Academy Band, Southern Avenue, and Bishop Briggs, with half-hour DJ sets in between each live act. [Scroll to bottom for the full stage schedule.]
SATURDAY OVERVIEW OF MEMPHO FEST MAIN STAGE ACTS
Saturday’s headlining acts include Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals (8:10-9:10 pm) followed by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit (10:10-11:40).
Jason Isbell is a Grammy-winning alt-country/Americana singer-songwriter and guitarist from Green Hill, Alabama. After helping lead the Drive-By Truckers from 2001-07, he launched a solo career and put out a number of albums to much critical acclaim. His third album with backing band The 400 Unit was released this summer, debuting higher on the Billboard 200 than anything he’s previously released at any point, and recently earning him and the band a Country Music Association nod – his first CMA nomination.
A student of the Muscle Shoals music scene, Isbell released several solo albums in the half-dozen years after leaving the Truckers. In 2013, his fourth solo album, “Southeastern,” featuring accompanying vocals by Kim Richey and Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires, received overwhelmingly positive critical reviews, and it led to Isbell’s clean sweep of the 2014 Americana Music Awards. “Southeastern” won Album of the Year, Isbell was named Artist of the Year, and the song “Cover Me Up” was named Song of the Year.
NPR rock critic Ken Tucker listed “Southeastern” at No. 1 on his Top Ten albums of 2013, and the record was lauded by top artists such as Bruce Springsteen and John Prine. His next solo record, “Something More Than Free” (July 17, 2015), debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Rock, Folk, and Country charts. Although Isbell had enjoyed critical success in the Americana genre, this was the first time he received such high ranking across multiple genres – and it merely revealed his broader and exploding fan base. The album earned two Grammy awards: Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Song (for “24 Frames”). In May 2016, Isbell, already a four-time AMA winner, awarded two more Americana Music Awards: Album of the Year (“Something More Than Free”) and Song of the Year (“24 Frames”).
His current band, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, is primarily made up of musicians from the Muscle Shoals area: Sadler Vaden, also of Drivin’ N Cryin’; Jimbo Hart; Derry DeBorja, formerly of Son Volt; Chad Gamble, brother of Al Gamble; and Isbell’s wife Shires. Isbell and the 400 Unit released their second album, Here We Rest, on April 12, 2011, on Lightning Rod Records. The album was produced and recorded by the band. The song “Alabama Pines” was named Song of the Year at the 2012 Americana Music Awards.
Isbell released a new album with The 400 Unit, “The Nashville Sound,” on June 16, 2017. It quickly reached the No. 1 spot on the U.S. Billboard Indie, Country, Folk, and Rock charts, selling over 100K copies in under 2 months.
Preceding Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit will be Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals. Frontman Paak is a singer, songwriter, rapper, drummer, and record producer from Oxnard, California. He released his debut album, “O.B.E. Vol. 1” in 2012, under the pseudonym Breezy Lovejoy. He followed it with the full-length “Venice” in 2014, under his current moniker. Apart from his solo career, Paak is also one-half of hip-hop act NxWorries, alongside record producer Knxwledge.
In January 2016, spoke with Scott Simon of NPR in an interview entitled: “Anderson .Paak: ‘The Dot Stands For Detail’ that discussed “his tumultuous background as a child of mixed-race parents, the significance of the dot he uses in his official monikor .Paak, his apprenticeship with Dr. Dre and how all of these influences shaped his music. Shortly therefacter, he announced he’d signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment.
Later in 2016, Paak was nominated for Best New Hip Hop Artist at the BET Hip Hop Awards and the Soul Train Music Awards, and he won the Soul Train Centric Certified Award. This year, he was nominated for Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Record for “Malibu.”
With his full band, Paak is a force to be reckoned with. Critics have a hard time putting the act in a box or giving it a label. Check out this introduction to their NPR Tiny Desk Concert:
“Good luck trying to classify Anderson .Paak and his band The Free Nationals. Much of their sound is layered atop a soulful hip-hop foundation; from there, your safest bet is to call it a hodgepodge of genres in the best way possible. Guitarist Jose Rios and bassist Kelsey Gonzalez inject a hard-rock edge … and when you hear them play the first few jazz chords of “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance,” it’s hard to simply call this R&B. … After bursting into the spotlight with his appearances on Dr. Dre’s “Compton” LP, he immediately prepped the release of his own “Malibu.” … Paak can rhyme with best of ’em, and his vocal styling, reminiscent of ’70s and ’80s greats, is invigorating when set against today’s tender R&B elite,” writes NPR’s Bobby Carter. Here’s that performance on video:
Preceding those two acts on the main stage Saturday will be powerhouse bands Hard Working Americans, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Booker T Stax Revue, and Steve Cropper & Friends. [Full stage schedule at bottom.]
Jam-rock supergroup Hard Working Americans formed in 2013 with singer/songwriter Todd Snider, bassist Dave Schools from Widespread Panic, Neal Casal of Chris Robinson Brotherhood on guitar and vocals, Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi on keyboards and Duane Trucks, also from Widespread Panic, younger brother to Derek, on drums.
Funk and soul powerhouse Robert Randolph and the Family Band, led by pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, also includes drummer Marcus Randolph, vocalist Lenesha Randolph and Ray Ray Randolph (bass, guitar). Rolling Stone includes Robert on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Three of the band’s studio albums have charted in the Billboard Top 200. The group’s third album, “Colorblind,” was released in 2006; its song “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” was used in several commercials for NBC as well as in televised competition on TV’s “Dancing with the Stars,” on “Gray’s Anatomy” and “Stomp the Yard.” In 2008, the Discovery Channel used this same song in a popular promo for its summer TV lineup. Their song “Thrill of It” was used throughout the 2007 college football season by ABC during their college prime-time games.
Randolph and The Family Band worked with producer T-Bone Burnett on a fourth studio album “We Walk This Road” (2010). Their newest release, from February 2017, entitled “Got Soul,” has turned heads across many genres, featuring guest performances by Darius Rucker, Anthony Hamilton and Cory Henry of Snarky Puppy. Here’s the title track from an April performance:
FULL MUSIC SCHEDULE: MEMPHO FEST 2017
First Tennesse Bank Stage (main stage)
4:45-5:25 pm – Stax Academy Band
5:25-5:45 – DJ
5:45-6:45 – Southern Avenue
6:45-7:15 – DJ
7:15-8:15 – Bishop Briggs
8:15-8:45 – DJ
8:45-9:45 – Cold War Kids
9:45-10:15 – DJ
10:15-11:45 – Cage The Elephant
12:30-12:55 – DJ
1-2 – The Weeks
2-2:30 – DJ
2:30-3:30 – Hard Working Americans
3:30-4 – DJ
4-5 – Robert Randolph & The Family Band
5-5:30 – DJ
5:30-6:30 – Booker T Stax Revue
6:40-7:40 – Steve Cropper & Friends
7:40-8:10 – DJ
8:10-9:10 – Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals
9:10-10:10 – DJ
10:10-11:40 – Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
11:40-12:10 – DJ
12:10-2 am – Mempho All-Star Jam
AutoZone Stage (featuring acts from the Memphis region)
*For more information on these acts, check out our related story “AutoZone Stage Features Memphis-Area Musicians.”
5-5:45 pm – Dead Soldiers
6:15-7 – Dan Luke & The Raid
7:30-8:30 – Star & Micey
9-10 – Rev. John Wilkins
12:15-1:15 pm – School of Rock
1:45-2:30 – Under The Radar
3-4 – Devil Train
4:30-5:30 – Chinese Embassy Dub Connection
6-7 – Objekt 12
7:30-8:30 – Marcella & Her Lovers
9:10-10:10 – JoJo Slim’s Wednesday
Editor’s Note: ShindigMusic.net’s Jen Nobles contributed to this report.