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VOL. 129 | NO. 110 | Friday, June 6, 2014

Local Connection

Memphis Jams on Beale to showcase area bands at Handy Park

By Bill Dries

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When The Chinese Connection Dub Embassy takes the stage in Handy Park on Beale Street Friday, June 6, the band’s reggae beat and style will be something new for a park that has seen everything from church choirs to jug bands to blues bands playing “Mustang Sally” and similar hits for tourists.

Darlene Gore and Terry Blaine dance to Sensation, a cover band in Handy Park on Beale Street. Memphis Jams on Beale Street will showcase local bands at the park on Friday nights this summer.  

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The Chinese Connection Dub Embassy opens yet another series of summer outdoor concerts in a city that already features similar type events in Overton Square, Laurelwood Shopping Center and Cooper-Young, as well as the Thursday rooftop parties at The Peabody hotel.

But the Memphis Jams on Beale concert series is a departure for an entertainment district that is in transition.

The free concerts begin at 6:30 p.m. every Friday evening at least through Aug. 1. It includes Marcella and Her Lovers, Jack Oblivian & The Shieks on the same bill with Tyler Keith & The Apostles, The Grifters and Dead Soldiers.

“We just realized there was a need to really have a venue where local bands could feel like they could be showcased to Memphis,” said Jon Shivers, event coordinator for Beale Street Management. “I don’t think we do enough to really showcase the great local talent we have instead of bringing in people from the outside.”

That was the case in large part with the country music summer concert series of past years in Handy Park. The shows sometimes featured a local country music artist but were dominated by talent from outside Memphis, in some cases nationally known artists or those on their way to national fame.

This year, the country music series has moved to Snowden Grove Amphitheater in DeSoto County.

And Shivers, who works as part of the interim management of the street by the Downtown Memphis Commission with assistance from various city divisions, saw an opportunity to not only book more local acts but to forge a connection with local music entities. Those entities include the Memphis Music Foundation, Goner Records and Shangri-La Records.

“We’ve never gotten an opportunity to do something with them,” he said of Goner and Shangri-La. “We thought, ‘Let’s partner up with them.’ They can tell us who is hot and they can tell us who is really good in the community and who would really draw well and what people actually want to see and what Memphians want to see.”

Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris, in taking on the interim role of day-to-day management of the district, has said his goal is to expand the street’s identity to include events and venues that will prompt Memphians to rediscover the street as tourists continue to discover it.

That means Shivers believes the crowds at the Memphis Jams series will be mostly Memphians or a healthy mix of Memphians and tourists.

“I think it’s going to be an audience that maybe Beale Street has lost over the past couple of years, that we normally don’t get on a Friday night and maybe they are just hanging out – they’ve moved out to Midtown or East Memphis or even further out in the suburbs,” he said. “We are trying to provide a good experience for people to come down and enjoy the street and show them what they’ve been missing over the past couple of years and draw that new crowd or that crowd that used to come.”

The New Daisy theater has been for decades an exception to the district’s norm of a live house band or two with a regular engagement over several years that plays mostly to tourists. But it’s different because it is a concert venue and not a bar or restaurant. It books local bands as well as national acts that draw a predominantly local crowd. It is one stage in a three-block district that has more than 25 stages of live music.

As the concert series begins Friday, club owners in the district will be watching and comparing the size of the crowds to the healthy crowds that came for the summer country music series and were a Thursday night boost for business on Beale.

And Shivers said those on stage will be watching for what happens after the gig is over.

“I definitely think that this may change some of maybe how clubs look at these bands that are performing who don’t normally play Downtown or on Beale Street,” he said. “It may change their minds when they see how many people come out and who’s coming out and how good a time people are having.”

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