The 2015 Beale Street Music Festival began yesterday in Memphis, Tennessee as a part of the city’s annual Memphis in May celebration. Artists including the Flaming Lips, Slash, the Pixies, AWOLNATION and Breaking Benjamin filled day one’s lineup, but we stuck to the Bud Light Stage, the largest of the festival, for sets from Lenny Kravitz, Jenny Lewis and Ryan Adams.
Fresh off his cameo during Katy Perry’s Super Bowl Halftime show, guitar virtuoso Lenny Kravitz took the stage around 11 p.m. for a career-spanning set. He commanded the stage for almost 90 minutes, starting with “Dirty White Boots,” a highlight from his 2014 release Strut, and following up with his Grammy-winning cover of The Guess Who’s American Woman” and the psychedelic “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over.”
While many people focus on Kravitz’s influence from Jimi Hendrix, his live performance was more reminiscent of a Sly & the Family Stone or ’70s-era James Brown show. The emphasis wasn’t just on the charismatic Kravitz, but it was on his band as a whole. During drawn-out renditions of “Always on the Run” and “Let Love Rule,” he shifted the focus from himself to his back-up singers, trumpet player, saxophone players, bassist, rhythm guitarist and drummer for individual, free-flowing solos.
These riveting jam sessions did have one drawback, however. After the 15-minute “Let Love Rule,” the band was given a four minute warning, so he was forced to cut his set short, but not without a uptempo version of “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and a lengthy outro. Despite the rushed conclusion and the exclusion of songs like “Fly Away,” “Again” and “Mr. Cab Driver,” Kravitz shut the first night of Memphis in May down in style, proving his spot at the top of the festival’s bill. – J.C.C.
One of the most fun and upbeat Friday sets came from Los Angeles indie-pop veteran Jenny Lewis.
Dominating the stage in her now-signature white suit adorned with rainbows and a guitar to match, the ex-Rilo Kiley frontwoman reveled in both old and new favorites for her sunset riverside set. Lewis breezed through a string of rollicking tracks off her 2014 album The Voyager, produced by festival-mate Ryan Adams, before slipping into the simple, yet boldly-sung “With Arms Outstretched.” However, one of the most defining moments of her performance was the electric guitar-heavy Rilo Kiley anthem “Portions for Foxes.”
Lewis invited her five-piece backing band on stage for the campfire ballad show-closer “Acid Tongue,” a song about tripping in Dixie, performed with the band lock-armed behind her, providing haunting harmonies. – D.S.A.
Succeeding Lewis’ set on the same stage was singer-songwriter Ryan Adams and his band The Shining. Adams, surrounded by a stage full of vintage arcade cabinets, towering amps and an old-fashioned Dr. Pepper machine, rolled though a 70-minute set, pulling songs from his prolific catalog spanning two decades.
The first half of the set showcased material off the beloved rocker’s latest self-titled/produced release, including “Gimme Something Good” and the ’80s rock inspired track “Stay With Me.” Adams then dipped into some older songs from his time with The Cardinals before slowing things down with his evocative closer “When the Stars Go Blue.”
Occasionally taking a break from the music, Adams connected with the audience by joking around with the crowd, taking multiple stabs at U2’s latest album and at one point proclaiming, “They tell us to play all of our hits at festival shows,” but that “we don’t have any, so we can play whatever the f— we want.”
While he may not be a mainstay on Top 40 radio, Adams’ BSMF performance proved the 40-year-old singer doesn’t have to be a chart-topping artist to draw in a huge crowd. – D.S.A.
The 2015 Beale Street Music Festival continues today and tomorrow with performances from Ed Sheeran, Paramore, The Avett Brothers, John Fogerty, Cage the Elephant, Hozier and more.