Looking for Tennessee road trip ideas? Memphis may be most well known for Graceland, Beale Street, and BBQ; but that just barely scratches the surface. If you dig deeper, you’ll discover so much more! A closer look at the city sitting high on the bluffs of the Mississippi River reveals a city rich in history, art, music and culture that will steal your heart. The best way to experience a city is by immersing yourself in what makes its heart beat. In Memphis, the heart and soul of our city is in its music, and it is one of few cities to have such royal musical blood. From the King of the Blues on Beale Street to the King of Rock n’ Roll at Graceland, music is in the air and on the streets
Beale Street. Home of the Blues. Made famous by legends such as B.B. King, W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong and Muddy Waters. Take your pick of the famous blues halls and music rooms B.B. King’s Blues Club, Alfred's on Beale and the Rum Boogie Cafe, pull up a chair at piano bars like Silky O'Sullivan's, or get boot scootin' boogying to modern and classic country tunes at the Tin Roof.
There’s even an International Blues Challenge held here every year in January that brings artists from all corners of the world! The Blues is truly a universal language. It isn’t just music, it’s a feeling. No matter which blues club you choose, take your time and stay awhile. Pull up a chair, listen to the words, feel the sweet singing of the guitar, and let the music of Memphis permeate your soul. Start planning for next year now!
You don’t have to search very hard to find local music in Memphis. Scattered in cafes, bars, and stages across the city, there’s always live music to be found here! Overton Square is an awesome place for enjoying delicious food and listening to talented local artists. One of my favorite spots here is Lafayette’s Music Room, where there's always music and a party. They have the best patio on the square, and with two levels of seating inside, there's not a bad seat in the house!
You've got to love a good piano bar, and Overton square has one of my favorites. In the alley that runs between Babalu and the parking garage, the Zebra Lounge is the perfect place for piano music with a flair. It's quirky and a little cheesy, but that's what makes it so fun! Whether there are five people there, or a packed house of 50, I guarantee you'll have a great time and leave with a smile on your face.
For a quieter scene, you can sometimes catch acoustic artists playing inside the small bar in the back of Bayou Bar & Grill. Consider this a pro tip. A lot of locals don't even know about it. I actually don’t think it has a name, just a small nondescript entrance on the side of the building opposite of Bayou Grill's patio.
Cooper Young is a vibrant area where you’ll find music as well. My favorite spots for great music and yummy eats are Young Avenue Deli, Bar DKDC, and Celtic Crossing. Down the street just a bit, you can also find live music at Railgarten’s outdoor stage. There’s always a party at Railgarten, a creatively designed indoor/outdoor space at a former rail yard near the corner of Central Avenue and Cooper Street.
Looking for music venues? Memphis has that too! The beautiful Orpheum Theater is close to 100 years old and is on the National Register of Historic places. While known mostly for touring Broadway productions, the Orpheum hosts a variety of musical artists throughout the year as well. The design of the theater with its tiered seating, gold leaf ornate decor, and sparkling crystal chandelier will take you back in time to the 1920's, and makes a spectacular setting for artists looking for a more intimate setting.
Minglewood Hall is a small venue that hosts local acts, up and coming artists, and a throwback band every now and then. For those with alternative musical taste, you can find some gritty rock n' roll and urban funk at the Hi-Tone Cafe. It’s not actually a cafe, but it is a long-standing music venue that anyone who’s been around here for a while will know. Over on the Highland Strip near the University of Memphis you’ll find The Bluff, a revamped venue that used to be known as Newby’s, with great local bands that will have you singing along and dancing the night away! Memphis has made a name for itself in the big music venue field as well, with the FedEx Forum bringing in major acts that attract people from miles around.
Outdoor Concerts and Music Festivals
The music season lasts all year long here, with festivals and a multitude of concert series that serve up musical talent for whatever gets your feet tappin’ and your booty shakin’. Let's start with the Levitt Shell’s summer outdoor concert series, a free line-up of over 50 shows from May to October every year. Bring your own chairs or blankets, and enjoy the music in the heart of midtown, just down the road from the Memphis Zoo. Due to current conditions the 2021 free concert season has been put on hold, follow me to get all the latest updates!
Next up is Live at the Garden, an outdoor concert series at the Memphis Botanic Gardens. This one isn’t free, but it still sells out every year! The series is comprised of five concerts from June through September, playing country, pop, and classic rock shows with favorite current artists and some pretty well known blasts from the past! I'm not ashamed to admit that the REO Speedwagon show a few years ago had me all giggly and singing along like it was 1984 again. Cautiously optimistic as events like this begin to open back up, the 2021 season dubbed "Locals Live" features all local artists, along with local vendors for food and drink. It’s the perfect mix of live music with a community feel, so grab your friends and pack your lawn chairs, and head down to Live at the Garden!
The Cooper Young Festival is a lively street fest held in September, with local arts and craft booths, street food, and live music stages that feature the best of Memphis’ local musicians. Memphis loves its street festivals, and you will always find music playing at them. Check here for this year's line up and information!
I thought nothing could top the Cooper Young Fest, until up popped the Memphis Spirit and Soul Fest. Ingeniously set up in the South Main Arts District, this street festival is a collaboration between Old Dominick Distillery and the Tennessee Distiller's Guild. The Spirit and Soul Fest is a celebration of total debauchery with whiskey, moonshine, food trucks, and Memphis Soul Music. I mean, can it get any better?
The music isn't just playing in the city, either. The Mempho Music Festival at Shelby Farms Park is the new kid on the block in the Memphis music fest scene, and it deserves all the props in my book. Bringing new life to this former penal farm turned urban park, this music fest takes full advantage of the sprawling acreage and scenic views. Only in its fourth year, Mempho has already made a name for itself with some major acts, and tributes to a different local music studio each year. The lineup is looking good for this fall!
The absolute highlight of the music season in Memphis is the Beale Street Music Fest, a three day marathon jam-packed with back to back concerts that hit the musical mark every year. Held at Tom Lee Park with views of the mighty Mississippi River in the background, this downtown music fest is a party like no other. Beale Street Music Fest has included past legends Neil Young, Paul Simon, and the Indigo Girls (my personal favorite), heavy hitters such as Green Day, the Dave Matthews Band, and Train, as well as a staggering line-up of current artists like Bastille, Hozier, Khalid, Post Malone, and Ed Sheeran. Lineups are usually announced in January, and I'm sure 2022 will come back with a bang!
Pro tip: If you come to Memphis for this massive music festival, be forewarned it has earned the nickname Memphis Mud Fest. Rain must make the music better, because it rains almost every year. But a little rain doesn’t stop this party. Pack your wellies, grab a poncho, and rock on!
Looking for more articles about the best of Memphis? Check these out!