Every year Memphis in May kicks off with the Beale Street Music Festival where locals (and well connected tourists) know that rain and mud boots are just as big of traditions as is the music. Revising a famous Benjamin Franklin quote, Memphians often joke that "in this world nothing is certain but death, taxes and rain during Memphis in May." Surrounded by sporadic intervals of severe weather including, tornados, severe thunderstorms and flooding, 2010 certainly was no exception.
Thousands of dedicated music lovers battled Mother Nature's elements and flocked to support their favorite bands in the face of inclement weather. However, many fans were disappointed upon their arrival to Tom Lee Park when they learned of several cancellations. Alice in Chains, 3 Doors Down, Hall & Oates, Alison Krauss & John Hiatt were all forced to cancel due to weather related conditions. In a non weather related cancellation Poison front man, Bret Michaels, was hospitalized for a massive brain hemorrhage. Flamboyant rockers (and my personal favorites) The Flaming Lips were also unable to perform due to the hospitalization of band member, Steven Drozd. All other shows did go on just as the ticket stubs predicted, rain or shine.
Easily the highlight of the 2010 Beale Street music festival was an ethereal sunset performance by indie rock band, Band of Horses. The last minute cancellations of Alison Krauss & John Hiatt bumped Ben Bridwell and his band mates into the headlining position on Sunday. This unexpected God wink dramatically extended the band's set time allowing them to play favorites from their first two albums as well as introduce material from their new album which drops in just 15 days.
At first glance Bridwell's appearance suggests that he's a cross between a bona fide dirty hippie and a recluse who's been living alongside Ray Lamontagne in a log cabin somewhere in Maine. I'm positive that a plethora of BOH "band aids" (and at least one journalist) would be willing to give him a shower and teach him the complexities of man-scaping. Regardless of how you feel about his appearance, the first time you hear his voice live every hair on the back of your neck will stand erect.
The combination of a breath-taking Memphis sunset, Bridwell's enchanting Jim James'esq vocals and a some good old fashioned Southern Comfort transformed an otherwise dreary and disappointing evening into a divine spiritual high. The climax of the set came in the form of a cover when Bridwell belted out Them Two's "Am I a good man" and the entire crowd truly reached ear ecstasy. Although Band of Horse's guitar work lacks some depth in a live setting they are still a young band with plenty of time to learn. And I'm willing to overlook my one criticism the moment Bridwell begins lighting things on fire...because lighting things on fire while on stage is just bad ass.
Band of Horses is now touring with Pearl Jam across the US and UK. Their new album "Infinite Arms" will be released May 18, 2010. You can view their tour dates here. I suggest seeing them live...and when you do feel free to give Ben Bridwell a loofah and my phone number.