VOL. 125 | NO. 90 | Monday, May 10, 2010
A story from The Memphis News
On newsstands throughout the city
Levitt Shell Preps for Spring Season, Big Star Tribute
JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Memphis News
The Levitt Shell has given up themed-genre music nights in favor of a mixed bag schedule of Latin, soul, Americana and Memphis music, which is free to the public. The season opens with a fundraiser by the remaining members of Big Star and special guest artists. Clockwise from top: Trampled by Turtles, Todd Snider, Soul Rebel's Brass Band, Meta and the Cornerstones. Photos: Courtesy of artists
The Levitt Shell in Overton Park took Memphis by storm in its inaugural season by offering free music on themed-genre nights. This season, the schedule is being thrown out the window.
From May 20 to June 20, the Levitt Shell will offer five free weekly concerts featuring local and out-of-town artists in Latin, soul and R&B, Americana, children’s music, and Memphis.
“Last year we had themed-genre nights, and while we are still booking according to those genres, we’re not programming them according to nights,” said Anne Pitts, director of the Shell. “We’re mixing it up week by week.”
The opening week kicks off with the Levitt Shell debut of the Soul Rebels Brass Band performing Mardi Gras funk and reggae on May 20, followed by Blues Music Award nominee for Entertainer of the Year, Super Chikan, on May 21.
Saturdays will again have early concerts for families, the first of which is the Latin-flavored “Baby Loves Salsa” on May 22. That night Jimbo Mathis will perform a mix of gospel, country and soul. And on May 23, Jose Conde and his trio, which performs with “Baby Loves Salsa,” will return for Latin dance music.
But the “big” event on this season’s schedule takes place before the season gets under way when on May 15 the remaining members of the band Big Star take the stage for a fundraiser concert. The group last performed at the Shell in 1974.
“It’s going to be one of those very historic events at the Shell,” Pitts said. “Big Star took their start here in Memphis and of the four studio albums they have done, three of them ended up on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of all time.”
The band was booked just before the death of singer Alex Chilton in March, but the remaining members decided to go through with the concert in Chilton’s memory.
Almost a dozen guest artists will take turns performing with the band as vocalists including Andy Hummel, a cofounder of Big Star, and local soul diva Susan Marshall.
“After speaking with Jody Stephens, the drummer for Big Star, the band really wanted to push forward,” Pitts said. “They want this to be about Alex’s years with Big Star, which produced amazing records that had influence on a lot of artists.”
Tickets for the Big Star concert are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, or $65 for VIP tickets, which includes early admission, a sound check party and a Levitt Shell chair or blanket. Tickets can be purchased at www.levittsehll.org.
During the free shows over the next month, Memphis musicians will be featured as a part of a new series of performances honoring the late Thomas Boggs.
“That is part of a new series called the Thomas Boggs Memphis Music series,” Pitts said. “Thomas Boggs was really crucial to the survival of the Shell and its new generation. He passed away in 2008 before the first concert season as the Levitt Shell.”
Ten Memphis musicians will perform throughout this year’s season, including Todd Snider on June 5, Joyce Cobb on June 19, and Calvin Newborn on June 20.
Also making their Memphis debut is Meta & the Cornerstones, a reggae/Afro-pop group from New York that performs in four languages.
“I saw them play in New York and they are this phenomenal reggae band,” Pitts said. “They don’t have a label or an agent, and it took a lot of going back and forth to get them down here, but they really are a best-kept secret of reggae.”
The upbeat yet earthy band Trampled by Turtles is also new to the Shell.
“They are one of these bands I fell in love with instantly,” Pitts said. “They are a bluegrass, rock fusion band. They’ve got fiddles, they’ve got banjos and they really rock out.”
Concerts on Thursday, Fridays and Sundays will begin at 7 p.m. and run until 8:30 p.m. The Saturday children’s concerts begin at 5 p.m., and the Saturday night concert follows at 7:30.