Bristerfest is a Memphis festival of music, art and film that raises money for Grow Memphis, a worthwhile organization that encourages neighborhood gardens in the inner city of Memphis. Formerly held at the Levitt Shell, Bristerfest moved this year to the former church-turned-performance loft called The Abbey at Cooper and Walker in the Cooper-Young neighborhood of Midtown, and featured two indoor stages and an outdoor stage over three days in May the weekend after Beale Street Music Fest. I was especially impressed by the rap and hip-hop line-up on Saturday night May 10, where C-Beyohn performed with the excellent reggae band known as the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy. They were followed by up-and-coming Memphis rap artist Tyke T backed by drummer Otis Logan and trombonist Suavo J of the band 4 Soul, and the young hip-hop duo S.O.U.L. that has been getting some attention locally over the last year. I must add that attendance seemed very good indeed for this year’s Bristerfest, and hopefully a lot of money was raised for Grow Memphis.
For those who missed the C3 Band concert last night, here is the bulk of it (minus the opening “I’ll Play The Blues For you, sadly), recorded with my iPhone 5S using the Rode Rec app, which I highly recommend.
With lots of conflicting options with what to do on my Friday night (the first in many weeks that I hadn’t either had a gig or been out of town), I wasn’t sure what I wanted to choose. My drummer homeboy Mike Mosby had one of his Locked and Loaded events going on, Bristerfest was kicking off in Cooper-Young, Eden Brent was at the Center For Southern Folklore, and the Clarksdale Caravan Music Fest was going on down in Mississippi. But when I saw that my homeboys in the C3 Band were going to be playing at West Alley BBQ in Jackson, Tennessee, I decided to drive up there, both to catch their performance, and to check out the barbecue, which my homeboy Courtney Brown (C3’s drummer) had said was really good.
West Alley BBQ proved to be something like a large juke joint, with two older men tending to oil drum cookers outside along the side entrance. The look of the place would not have been unfamiliar to people who know Ground Zero in Clarksdale, but there were some elements that seemed more in keeping with Red’s Lounge instead, although the place was much bigger. The pulled pork was delicious, just as I had been told, and the club kept great roots blues playing over the speakers until it was time for the band to come up on stage. As I have discussed earlier, C3 is a blues power trio, with a repertoire that stretches from blues to funk to soul. Their performance on this particular night was augmented by a guest harmonica player that sat in, a visiting drummer that gave Courtney Brown a breather, and a superb female singer that closed out the night with a rousing rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.” It was definitely a night to remember in Jackson, and West Alley BBQ will be a place to keep checking up on.
During the On Location: Memphis International Film and Music Festival, Le Chardonnay was the location of the neo-soul showcases on both Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturday night, the showcase opened with the superb Memphis jazz/soul vocalist Jamille “Jam” Hunter with her band, and was followed by the blues/soul/rock trio known as C3, consisting of drummer Courtney Brown, guitarist Chris Pitts and bassist Colton Parker, a power trio that I have discussed elsewhere. They were to be followed by Ethan Kent and my homeboy Otis Logan’s band 4 Soul, but as I was on the festival staff, I soon got called away to handle a crisis at the hip-hop showcase at 1884 Lounge at Minglewood.
The conventional wisdom is that there is really only one Black fife-and-drum band left in America, that of Sharde Thomas in Panola County, so it was thrilling to see a second one at this year’s Juke Joint Festival, even if it shared a member with the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band. R. L. Boyce, a blues musician from Como has long held yard parties at his house, and some of these have featured fife-and-drum music. At the Cat Head stage at this year’s festival, Boyce brought out a fife-and-drum band which featured Otha Turner’s nephew, Andre Otha Evans on the flute, rather than the bass drum he customarily plays with the Rising Star. Perhaps it’s a sign that the tradition has some life remaining in it, at least in Mississippi.
Around the corner on Second Street was a keyboard-and-drums duo called The Elements, playing soul, smooth jazz and R & B. Not necessarily an official part of the Juke Joint Festival, this band sets up at that location each year and always attracts a crowd.
Memphis is literally loaded with incredible soul and funk bands, and occasionally local restaurants and clubs feature some of them. Joshua McCain and the Soul Seven have recently started playing every Tuesday night at El Toro Loco in Hickory Hill from 7-9 PM, with singer Jay Bailey as their featured vocalist. I like to come out and support live music, and it is especially enjoyable to have a live music event early in the week.
I really can’t even first recall when or how I first heard about the Kashmere Stage Band from Kashmere High School in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood of Houston, Texas, but I expect it grew out of my interest in Skipper Lee Frazier’s Ovide Records label, and the superb Texas Funk compilation that Jazzman Records released. Soon enough, I learned the story- that these young African-American kids from a rough neighborhood in Houston’s Fifth Ward were molded by Conrad Johnson into the best high-school jazz band in America, not once, but over and over again from the late 1960’s through the mid-1970’s. They released 45-RPM singles, and a handful of albums which are now all priceless collector’s items, and I once got to meet the man himself, who welcomed me into his home and answered my questions about the band while I was on a trip to Houston. Mr. Johnson passed not long after I met him, but further honors and new recognition for the Kashmere Stage Band and its accomplishments were everywhere following the release of the Texas Thunder Soul compact disc on Now Again Records, and the Thunder Soul documentary, which had been unveiled at South By Southwest a few years back. One of the outcomes of all the recent recognition was a reunion of former members, which in turn led to a reunion band called the Kashmere ThunderSoul Orchestra, and when I saw that this band was scheduled to play at 10 PM Wednesday night at the Palm Door, I decided I had to be there, no matter how far the walk.
The band had already begun their performance before I got there, but they were only in their first song. The years have diminished none of the funk or soulfulness from these great musicians, and their talent, showmanship and good spirits were available for everyone to see. I was especially impressed with the youngest member, the drummer, who was incredibly funky, and although the band played some medleys of Earth Wind & Fire and other cover tunes, their originals such as “Kash Register” were the most exciting by far. At the end of their long set, the crowd cheered for nearly a full five minutes, a tribute to the lasting legacy of a man named Conrad Johnson who believed in the potential of inner-city youth rather than the obstacles they faced.
Memphis, unfortunately, is not as much like New Orleans as it should be, despite some obvious points of similarity. We do have krewes, a legacy of the old defunct Cotton Carnival/Carnival Memphis/Kemet, but the krewes don’t hold parades. In fact, the longest Mardi Gras parade in Memphis runs the two blocks of the Beale Street Entertainment District. But Memphis does have a cool New Orleans-themed restaurant called DejaVu, whose owners are originally from the Crescent City, and we do have some great musicians like Suavo J, so on Mardi Gras Day 2014, DejaVu had an all-day Mardi Gras party with live music and free king cake, featuring another one of Suavo’s numerous alter egos, the MemphOrleans Street Symphony, which seems to be an indoor band that takes influences from outdoor brass bands such as the ones in New Orleans. There were set drums rather than the marching snare and bass, and an electric bass rather than a tuba or sousaphone, but the music had a certain New Orleans vibe to it, and at least on this particular day, much of membership seemed to overlap with my homeboy Otis Logan’s band 4 Soul. Logan himself was on drums. So while I was disappointed about not being in New Orleans on Mardi Gras Day (I in fact never have been), I was cheered by the shrimp po-boy, king cake and great music at DeJaVu downtown.
When I heard that a place in Raleigh called Precious Moments at Lorenzo’s was sponsoring a Down Home Blues Night on Sunday March 2, with a band called the C3 Band, I had to go and check it out. Live music outside of Beale Street is not all that common in Memphis, and is extremely rare in Raleigh, and the venue seemed to be a new one as well, so I wanted to support it. But that particular Sunday proved to be a cold rain that started turning into a freezing rain and sleet event. Even so, the band was there, and a small crowd of brave souls who came out to party. The C3 Band is only a few months old, and consists of Courtney Brown on drums, Chris Pitts on guitar and Colton Parker on bass, and is something of a blues power trio. While they can certainly play the blues, they can effortlessly shift into funk, soul or rock, anchored by Courtney’s aggressive drumming style, and seem to be a group with potential far beyond the basic blues category. Their covers can range far and wide, from Frankie Beverly and Maze, to Bobby Rush, to Clarence Carter. At the end of the night, when I thought they had no more surprises, they went off in left-field with a totally unexpected cover of Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey.” I left even more impressed than before. (The C3 gig on Sunday nights has become a regular weekly event at Precious Moments at Lorenzo’s in Raleigh).