Weekend Itinerary: Memphis in May
Even if you don’t love barbecue (wait, you don’t love barbecue?!), you’ll revel in the other fabulous seasonal events that take place in this rock-and-roll wonderland. It all starts with the Beale Street Music Festival (first weekend of month), with 60 bands playing on four stages in Tom Lee Park, located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Blues, rock, gospel, soul, and R & B ring out to all who love the tuneful sounds of the South.
The Memphis in May festivities also focus on a different country each year, such as Chile and Tunisia (second weekend of month), with exhibits, performances, and chef demonstrations.
photo: Monorail between Front Street and Mud Island River Park
And when Memphis culture comes into play, you can’t pass up Beale Street. Go during the day for an uncrowded stroll. Poke around in A. Schwab, and plow through rare blues CDs in Memphis Music.
Take it from me, when you’ve walked the Barbecue Festival, shopped, and explored all day, you’re ready for a peaceful haven. You’ll find it across the river on Mud Island. Mud Island River Park, which you can reach by monorail from Front Street, gives you breathtaking views of the Mississippi River. A five-block-long scale model of that river is a main attraction of the park, as are the museum and the pedal boats you can rent.
photo: Mud Island River Park
Editor’s Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and do most of your visiting on Friday. It’s the more casual, party-style day. Saturday is when the teams do their serious preparation for the judges, and they tend to buckle down to the burning issues at hand.
photo: World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest winners
Head downtown to Main Street, where the Center for Southern Folklore is an imposing name for a really cool spot. Walk in the front door to a colorful store, with everything from a prime selection of regional books and music CDs to original artwork.
Farther inside, you’ll find the performance hall, where folk art and photography galleries hold true treasures for sale. Don’t miss Memphian Frank Lilly’s paintings, which incorporate old newspapers and other found objects. In this same maze of buildings, you’ll see the Belz Museum, which holds an incredible display of ancient Asian artifacts, including jade and ivory pieces.
photo: Frank Lilly’s Sun Flowers at the Center for Southern Folklore
photo: Tea at The Peabody Hotel’s Chez Philippe
The end of the month fills the air with magical notes from the Memphis Symphony Orchestra―which also takes place in Tom Lee Park―with sun-sinking splendor and fireworks over the Mississippi River. Pack a picnic to add a tasty food fugue to the experience.
photo: Fresh seafood at the Flying Fish
Before retiring for the night, walk across the road to the park by the river to watch the barges and boats make their way up and down the big, watery highway. No matter who wins the Barbecue Cooking Contest, you’ll win just by being in Memphis.
For More Information
Memphis in May: www.memphisinmay.org
River Inn of Harbor Town: 50 Harbor Town Square; www.riverinnmemphis.com or (901) 260-3333. Rates: start at $245.
Less expensive accommodations can be found in Southaven, Mississippi, just south of Memphis.
Comfort Inn: 8792 Hamilton Road; (662) 342-5847. Rates: start at $79.
photo: The highly coveted world championship barbecue trophy