Story by Dylan Skye Aycock // Editor-in-Chief | Olivia Ladd // Assistant Lifestyles Editor
Photo by Dylan Skye Aycock
The 2016 Beale Street Music Festival began Friday night in Memphis, Tennessee as a part of the city’s annual Memphis in May celebration. Artists including Neil Young, Beck, Julien Baker, Paul Simon, Moon Taxi, Modest Mouse and more filled this year’s lineup. Check out our reviews from Friday, Saturday and Sunday below.
Not long ago, MTSU student Julien Baker was strumming and singing the songs off her debut album, Sprained Ankle, to local crowds of close friends. Now, she’s singing them to thousands on headlining tours and at music festivals across the globe. Baker kicked off the festival Friday on the Fedex Stage with a string of poignent tracks such as “Everybody Does,” “Good News” and “Brittle Boned,” as well as an unplugged rendition of “Rejoice,” to an enthralled hometown crowd. Since last fall, Baker has been featured by the New York Times, NPR, Stereogum, New Yorker and a myriad of others for her debut solo effort. Baker will kick off her European tour later this month following a performance at Shaky Knees Festival on May 15. Check out our Q-and-A with Baker from earlier this year, here. -DSA
Neil Young was without a doubt one of the most exciting shows of the weekend. The 70-year-old rocked out with nothing holding him back as the Friday night headliner. The first song turned into a drawn-out 35 minute jam with collaboration from his much younger bandmates. It was clear his age did not hold him back as he cycled from song to song with a grim expression and fingers of steel that have long mastered the guitar. Young provided plenty of songs from his collaborations with Crazy Horse and legendary hits such as “Are There Anymore Real Cowboys?”
Just as much an advocate as musician, Young, who has been speaking out since his career started in the ’60s, stuck to the theme of family farming throughout the set. To add to the aesthetic, the show began with people dressed as farmers throwing seeds on the stage. He later transitioned to “Monsanto,” with workers spraying the stage with fake fumes before playing songs “Seed Justice” and “Monsanto Years.”
Young then slowed down after for piano renditions of a few songs and started right back up with rockers. He closed out the set and night one with uniting anthem “Love and Only Love.” – OL
Indiana-based Americana outfit Houndmouth brought breezy folk melodies to the Rockstar Energy Drink Stage Saturday afternoon. The band, backed by a small horn section, tapped mostly into their sophomore album, Little Neon Limelight, which was recorded in Nashville along with producer Dave Cobb. The group received a lot of buzz following the release of LNL last spring, with its leading track “Sedona” serving as a set highlight, along with indie-folk rockers such as “Penitentiary” and “Gasoline.” – DSA
Folk punk legends Violent Femmes took the stage Saturday evening with a high energy set. The Wisconsin rockers came out in full swing, complete with a backing band and horn section. They kicked off the set with their most well-known hit, “Blister in the Sun” before diving into a varying selection of pieces. The group took breaks between songs in the setlist while bassist Richtie plucked away for the flashy solos the group is known for and included a few slower songs from their latest release, We Can Do Anything.
They delivered fans the ’80s nostalgia they came for and reinforced their spot as headliners with a new and improved live performance experience. Their set proved that Violent Femmes has evolved since their reunion in 2013, and have come back stronger than ever. – OL
Drawing one of the largest crowds of the festival, Modest Mouse put on quite a performance as Saturday night’s headliners.
Their oft-sad indie rock was given a rambunctious twist in the live setting; one could have even mistaken them for veteran stadium rockers by their ability to please the crowd. The utilization of brass instruments complemented the multiple guitars and keyboards on stage for a fluid sound synonymous with their brand. Modest Mouse has such a vast discography that each song played seemed highly anticipated. At times, the band strayed from their roots and performed songs from their 2015 release Strangers to Ourselves, while scattering in older mainstream hits and a few obscure favorites. Their striking harmonies matched the playful circus vibes of their new music and reinforced the sounds that made them so popular in the first place. The set ended with an encore of “The Good Times are Killing Me.” – OL
The much buzzed about Courtney Barnett slowed things down for a poignant and emotional set Sunday afternoon, which began with selections from the critically acclaimed 2015 album Sometimes I Sit and Think And Sometimes I Just Sit. The sun soon began to set over the riverfront as Barnett chimed along with her electric guitar for her latest single, “Three Packs a Day.”
Barnett’s heartbroken melodies carried a special kind of grace that her alto voice brought to fruition. The most significant moment of the show was when she played “Depreston,” the most depressing and simultaneously hopeful song in her repertoire, as the sun set over the Mississippi River and the crowd sang and swayed along softly.
Courtney Barnett was a fitting act for the last day slump of the festival, reviving listeners and stirring up a special connection with the audience. – OL
Paul Simon — best known as one half of the late-’60s folk duo Simon & Garfunkel — performed on the Rockstar Energy Drink Stage Sunday evening. Simon’s backing band opened with an instrumental rendition of “Proof” before the singer-songwriter joined in for “The Boy In The Bubble.” Simon heavily focused on his songs from many of his solo albums, with tracks like “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,” “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” “You Can Call Me Al” and more. Simon mainly stuck to the crowd-pleasers, although he occasionally tapped into his 2011 album, So Beautiful So What, as well as his forthcoming album, Stranger to Stranger.
Simon, whose currently gearing up for the release of a new solo album, Stranger to Stranger, in June, reserved little room for songs from the S&G catalog other than “Homeward Bound,” a track off the duo 1966 album, Bookends. The singer closed the set with three encores including his new track “Wristband,” a couple covers (Bo Diddley’s “Pretty Thing” and Little Junior’s Blue Flame’s “Mystery Train”), “Still Crazy After All These Years” and, of course, “Graceland.” – DSA
Beck’s Sunday night headlining performance proved once again the 45-year-old singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist will always be at the top of his game. Beck — backed by his equally talented and energized bandmates — kept the set saturated with his most danceable tracks derived from his 20+ year music career. While he occasionally tossed in a song or two from his 2014 stripped-down release, Morning Phase, the majority of his show was reserved for songs from his rousing back catalog. Beck finished the set with a string of festival crowd-pleasers including “Loser,” “Dreams,” “Girl,” “Sexx Laws” and “E-pro.”
To top off the show, Beck slipped on a magenta blazer in honor of Prince and rocked out to a rendition of the late artist’s ‘85 hit “Raspberry Beret.” – DSA
Check out our full archive of Beale Street Music Festival coverage, here.
To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email firstname.lastname@example.org.