Taylor Berger

Taylor Berger is co-owner/operator of the local restaurant group He also works as a development consultant and is an affiliate broker at Trotz Real Estate Services.

Music Fest needs an overhaul

By Published: May 10, 2019 2:45 PM CT

I swore off Beale Street Music Fest sometime in the late 90s when, as a high school kid, I got wasted and couldn’t find my friends and lost a shoe in the mud. So forgive me when I ask in all sincerity, do grownups even go anymore?

<strong>Taylor Berger</strong>

Taylor Berger

After another weekend of rain and more than a few problems down on the river and on Beale, maybe it’s time to reimagine what our signature Memphis in May event can be for our city.

Maybe it should be more about Memphis. Look at New Orleans’ Jazz Fest and Austin’s South by Southwest, for example. Both do a much better job of dispersing throughout the city cores, which boosts existing businesses and excites local residents, while creating an infectious energy that draws thousands of tourists. 

For all practical purposes, Jazz Fest proper is over around dusk each day. This focus on the daylight hours makes for a family-friendly atmosphere where people really get to listen to the music and play outside. Of course more adult action continues after dark, but it’s dispersed across New Orleans’ hundreds of restaurants, bars and clubs. Musicians who played earlier under tents or in parks gather for impromptu sessions enjoyed in established places used to catering to adults. 

Similarly in Austin, the action is spread across the city in a mix of pop-up and existing venues for the annual South by Southwest festival. This gives locals and tourists alike a chance to explore new places in Austin, as well as revisit beloved watering holes. 

What happens in Memphis feels more like a frantic cash-grab to break even on the massive production costs of creating a miniature city at Tom Lee Park every May. The nighttime musical programming is designed to sell the maximum number of tickets, rather than explore up-and-coming artists (South by Southwest) or celebrate our roots (Jazz Fest). The headliners finish close to midnight and we are surprised with what happens when 70,000 people are released on to Beale Street at that time? 

I understand there’s an inertia to Music Fest after 40 years of doing the same thing over and over again. Especially in light of the recalcitrant position taken toward the proposed improvements to the riverfront, maybe it’s time to reexamine Music Fest and what it can be. Look at some other cities. Use a little imagination. We can do better. 


Beale Street Music Festival

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