As our recent custom dictates, we manage to avoid visiting Graceland, the biggest attraction of Memphis. But this time it actually makes sense. After all Memphis without Elvis would still be a great place, but Elvis without Memphis would not exist.
The blues city is still alive, even if it’s an existence on life support. The main drag - Beale St. - is full of clubs and neons. And they get extra points for keeping the neons lit, even if some of the clubs are not open. But it’s not too difficult to find life music and we are talking the worst possible time: Sunday at the end of the New Year’s weekend.
We have our obligatory ribs (very good) and deep fried catfish (just OK) at Blues City Cafe and when we are trying to leave the manager tells us to get right back inside to the bar area and listen to the Johnny Cash tribute band. Which we do, since we never argue with people who serve us food. Even when they come across as friendly. Besides, there is no cover. So we spend an hour or so sipping beers, relaxing and listening to Johnny Cash covers by Gary Hardy and Memphis 2. We are hardly experts, but we did enjoy Walk the Line movie and the band clearly has it together. The interludes are even better - filled with strings of self-deprecating jokes and stories delivered in the vernacular resembling English enough so that we can keep up. The crowd does not even look too touristy. It’s nice and not threatening. Definitely less pressure and more fun than we had in Nashville.
Earlier in the day we stop by Rock’n’Soul Museum. It is - finally - a good example of deploying this portable, circa 1995 devices, that are used as audio guides in many places. I hate those things with vengeance, but somehow they make sense here, in the music museum. You can listen to some stories related to artifacts on display, but - more importantly - you can listen to the songs and music pieces. I get stuck playing with before and after menu options that illustrate Elvis’s takes on other people’s songs. And it’s a geeky place, which makes me like it even more. You can admire the evolution of the jukebox (although they don’t have an iPod), see the original recording studios equipment, old radio transmitters and of course old radios.
Nicely done Memphis. Not quite the epicenter of the music explosion it once was, but absolutely worth checking out.