The Ultimate Guide To Memphis In May

Whether it's your first year or you're a Memphis in May pro, here's what you can expect for this year's festival.

Memphis In May Beale Street Music Festival

Courtesy of Memphis in May International Festival

Every year, huge crowds gather along the riverfront in Memphis for the Memphis in May International Festival (or “Memphis in May,” as it’s commonly known). This month-long festival is a lively celebration of music, food, community, and culture. Events like the Beale Street Music Festival and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest evoke the spirit and soul of the city, with its rich musical and culinary traditions. But there’s more than just blues and barbecue. Memphis in May also honors a specific country each year—2023 is celebrating Malaysia—with screenings, exhibits, and performances designed to showcase that nation’s cultural landscape. It’s a time-honored festival that brings people together from all over the globe and serves as a vibrant symbol of the city. 

 Memphis in May International Festival

 Courtesy of Memphis in May International Festival

Where Is Memphis In May Held?

The festival takes place in Tom Lee Park, a (freshly renovated) 30-acre stretch of green space overlooking the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis.

Memphis in May Great American River Run

Courtesy of Memphis in May International Festival

What Events Are Held During Memphis In May?

Three events make up Memphis in May:

Beale Street Music Festival. Easily one of the most exciting music festivals in the country, Beale Street boasts an always-stellar lineup of musicians from genres spanning R&B to country to jazz. This year, headliners include Earth, Wind, & Fire, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Greta Van Fleet, The Lumineers, HARDY, and Jazmine Sullivan. There are three main stages and three days of music. Check out the 2023 schedule here to find out what day your favorite artists are playing. Beale Street is May 5-7 this year.

World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. The WCBCC is a four-day barbecue cooking competition, complete with live entertainment, cooking classes, and food vendors and beer gardens for everyone to enjoy. It’s Wednesday, May 17 though Saturday, May 20. See here for the daily schedule of events.

Great American River Run. Round out the festival with a fun run through downtown Memphis. You can opt to do a half marathon, 10K, or 5K—regardless, everyone who crosses the finish line gets a medal, a race shirt, and an invitation to the after-party (with plenty of food and beer).

Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest

Courtesy of Memphis in May International Festival

How To Buy Tickets And Register For Events

Beale Street Music Fest tickets are on sale now. Three-Day Passes are available until May 4 and are $205. Single-Day Tickets are also available for purchase, either online (for $80-$85) or at the gate (for $95). VIP 3-Day Passes are $995 and include a designated viewing area at each stage, dedicated VIP-only entry lanes and bars serving wine and beer (along with five drink tickets per day, to redeem for complimentary alcoholic drinks), complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, and more. 

VIPit tickets are limited for the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and will be available soon. A typical VIPit experience includes meeting and interacting with competition teams, cooking demos, and a judging class with a certified Memphis in May judge, among other perks. Keep in mind that you must order VIP passes before April 21, 2023 for passes to be shipped; passes purchased after April 21 will be available at Will Call.  

Register now for the Great American River Run. The Half-Marathon fee is $65, the 10K fee is $40, and the 5k fee is $35. There are $5 discounts for active duty and military veterans. The deadline to register online is May 27, 2023. 

What To Eat And Drink At Memphis In May

There are always tons of great food and drink vendors at the festival, from local vegan restaurants to Cajun-influenced eateries. Last year, Island Noodles served wok-fried soba noodles, Yancey’s chicken-on-a-stick was a popular item, and MemPops sold their signature handmade popsicles — just to name a few.   

Beale Street Memphis in May International Festival

Courtesy of Memphis in May International Festival

Memphis In May Planning Tips

  • Prepare for the weather. The weather in Memphis during this time of year is generally very pleasant. That said, the sun can be harsh—make sure you wear (and reapply) sunscreen. 
  • Wear appropriate attire. Pack a poncho in case it rains and wear comfy shoes that can get wet and/or dirty. 
  • Know what you can and can’t bring in. You can bring in a factory-sealed water bottle of 20 ounces or less (or a Camelback-type hydration pack) and a blanket for lounging, both of which are recommended. You can’t bring in outside food or drinks, coolers, or glass bottles (and a host of other items).   
  • Get a ticket for the Kingsford Tour of Champions. Barbecue fans, take note—you have the opportunity to taste barbecue from competing teams when you purchase the Kingsford Tour of Champions ticket. You’ll get to listen to teams talk about their craft and sample all manner of tasty smoked meats. The KTOC is Thursday, May 18 and Friday, May 19 this year. (Tickets will be available when WCBCC tickets go on sale.) 
  • Sign up for the Daily Memphian’s festival newsletter. The Daily Memphian will publish a survival guide in the weeks leading up to the fest, with information on Tom Lee Park’s new layout, parking and transportation, and event schedules and maps. It’s worth signing up to get the most up-to-date info.
  • Make a parking plan. You have a few options for parking—the festival lists these on the website. This is one of the busiest events of the year, so it’s helpful to know beforehand where to park. 
  • Store your belongings in a locker. There are lockers available for rent on the grounds if you don’t feel like toting your stuff around all day

For more information on the 2023 Memphis in May International Festival, visit

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