When it comes to music, nowhere else does things quite like Memphis. Built on a Bluff and bursting with talent, Memphis has always had a sound entirely its own, and that’s what created Memphis’ music legacy.
Music icons like B.B. King, Elvis, and Otis Redding forever changed the way the world hears music. Our music history has always gone beyond what you simply hear to create an experience – music that gets deep into your bones and shakes your soul, music that makes you want to stand up for something, music that brings people of every race and class together – and that legacy lives on today.
Right here along the mighty Mississippi, you can still hear that original Memphis sound echoing through amphitheaters, performing arts centers, and every single dive bar on any given night.
Memphis’ music history calls to people from all over the world like a siren, and today’s top artists, like Grammy award-winning Bruno Mars, still come here to catch a piece of that soulful sound. We’ve got music museums, festivals, programs, and more, so if it’s music that draws you to Memphis, you’re in for a treat.
Here are some pointers to get you started on your music pilgrimage:
Beale Street Music Festival
Beale Street is sacred ground when it comes to live music performances. Every single night of the week, you can hear the blues, rock ‘n’ roll, genre-benders, and more emanating from the bars and clubs that line this legendary street.
Born of the magic of Beale Street, Memphis hosts the Beale Street Music Festival each May in Tom Lee Park, right on the river. Three days, four stages, dozens of artists, and countless food trucks make this the most wonderful time to be a music lover in Memphis.
Past performers include the Kings of Leon, Meghan Trainor, Hozier, Ed Sheeran, Yo Gotti, and the lineup gets better and better every year.
The International Blues Challenge
You know a city is serious about the blues when it holds a five-day music competition featuring more than 250 of the best blues musicians in the world, and that’s exactly what happens at the International Blues Challenge here in Memphis.
The event is about celebrating the uniquely American sound that originated here, and it happens every January on Beale Street.
Hosted by the Blues Foundation, the competition is judged by blues professionals from all over the world and celebrates the gritty sound that Memphis is known for shaping.
Indie rock and alternative lovers, rejoice! Contrary to what you might think, we’re not just about the blues. In Memphis, we specialize in all types of sound, which is why we’re proud to be the home of Gonerfest.
Each September, Gonerfest brings some of the best alternative bands on the planet to the Bluff City for a three-night rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza. This quirky festival is great for serious music lovers eager to check out emerging, talented artists – don’t miss out!
MEMPHO Music Fest
What do Cage the Elephant, Cold War Kids, Jason Isbell, and Bishopp Briggs have in common? They all played in the first annual MEMPHO Music Fest in 2017.
MEMPHO is the latest chapter in the rich musical history of Memphis. It’s hosted in 4,500 acres Shelby Farms Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country, and will expand in the coming years to include camping for an immersive festival experience.
Part of what makes Memphis such a special home for music is that you can pop into just about any venue, dive bar, or club and hear some of the greatest sounds you’ve ever heard. We won’t list all of them, but here are a few that have been around the longest and made the biggest impact to get you started:
- B.B. King’s Blues Club, which features live music every night of the week.
- Mollie Fontaine Lounge, located in an old, Victorian-style home.
- Rum Boogie Cafe, which rocks as loud as any club in town.
- CC’s Blues Club is as authentic as it gets—and it’s tucked away in North Memphis.
- Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall, a little dive bar that delivers a big dose of the blues.
- Memphis Sounds Lounge, a jazz and blues bar nestled in the heart of Downtown Memphis.
Mud Island Amphitheater
The Mud Island Amphitheater is located right on the Mississippi, so every seat provides an exceptional view. What’s more, this venue is one of the best places in Memphis to experience live music under the stars. Past performers include the Avett Brothers, Norah Jones, Mumford and Sons, and more.
This little beauty has been around since the 1930s and it’s hosted some of the most storied musical acts of all time. In fact, it became the site of the first-ever rock and roll show when Elvis took the stage on July 30, 1954.
Today it remains one of the premiere outdoor venues in the country, attracting local, national and international acts, and hosting 50 free concerts every year. It’s also the home of Moon River Festival, a fall music festival that brings together community and musicians for a weekend of great music and company.
Many of today’s top performers got their start in Memphis, which is why you never know who’s going to show up and play on any given night.
When you’re in Memphis, keep an eye out for our native stars, including Justin Timberlake, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Big Star, Three 6 Mafia, Yo Gotti, Valerie June, and more.
Until then, make sure you visit Memphis Travel to stay on top of who’s playing.