Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Holiday in Memphis

Continuing our adventures in Tennessee (NashvilleFranklin) Chrissy and I ventured to the King of Rock and Rolls' eternal home: Memphis

Our first impression on arriving in Memphis was the prominence of the Mississippi River, confusion from a strange giant pyramid and how the general aesthetic was completely different from Nashville. Where Nashville appeared to us to be bright, shiny and busy our first encounter with downtown Memphis was characterised by a duller color palette and generally empty streets. I wouldn't say it was foreboding...but it wasn't far off.

However, as we started exploring the City we found many cultural gems and some distinct areas that were bridging Memphis' past, present and future. As Graceland was the reason for our trip I am glad we took the time to explore the City. We ended up having an awesome time.

Highlights for us include:

Mud Island River Park

Located a short walk, or even shorter mono-rail ride from downtown, Mud Island River Park has 
a surprisingly informative museum (including a very cool replica riverboat) and a great river-walk interpretative model. 

Cool boats viewed from the Park

The river walk is a scale model of the Lower Mississippi River indicating river depth, cities and bridges along/across the river and a huge water enclosure symbolising the Gulf of Mexico endpoint. The level of detail was really something to behold.

With our priority being expediency (so much to see!) we took the mono-rail as opposed to walking. On our return journey we had the luxury of the whole car to ourselves. 

Sun Records

Other than Graceland, the destination in Memphis I was most excited for was Sun Records.
As a fan of rockabilly, the blues, old time country...hell, as a music fan I was excited to see the spot where so many musicians got their start and where so much of modern culture through music was launched.

Like good pilgrims we bought our tickets and patiently sipped our root beers until our tour started. Our tour led us through a commemorative museum chronicling all the greats that recorded in the studio with sound clips from those sessions...Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, BB King, and of course Elvis.

Our tour ended in the actual studio space where our fantastic guide (pictured below) walked us through the Million Dollar Quartet session and invited us to invoke Elvis with an authentic old microphone.

It was an outstanding tour and almost worth a trip to Memphis on it's own.

Beale Street 

Beale Street is one of the most iconic main streets in America and is considered the heart of Memphis. With tons of great live music venues specialising in the blues I can't recommend it high enough.  Head down in the late afternoon to soak in the history, down a couple of "big ass beers" and then boogie woogie the night away.

Most memorable NSFW blues moment: At BB Kings Blues Club the headliner started a monologue about how sometimes the blues ain't a bad thing. "Sometimes when you are on the road, you just really miss your wife and you get the blues. It make you appreciate her when you get home". At this point a hype guy selling CD's of the performers came running out of nowhere towards the stage yelling, "He's going to use his tongue! He's going to use his tongue!" At which point the bluesman took his guitar to his face and started playing the guitar with his tongue with a heavy bassline behind him.


South Main 

On our way to the Civil Rights Museum (which wasn't open the day we were in town) we ended up finding a resurgent commercial area branded South Main. Working in economic development and with business areas it was a pleasant surprise to see so many cool new shops and tactical urbanism initiatives within the area. 

As an old main street it had tons of great old buildings with lovingly restored facades offering both authenticity of it's original time but yet flashes of modern color and design.

Talking to some of the business owners you could understand that they were taking a calculated risk by being there but that they believed in the future of the area. They recognised the assets of the area and were more than happy to suggest other shops, bars or sights to see. Even the ones that were not yet 'revitalized' but still had great character.

Right in the middle of the area is the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel.
The hotel is the location of the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King and serves as monument to his life and the struggle of African Americans to achieve equality.  It is a powerful location that you can't help but lose yourself in contemplation of the mans life, the fight for equality and the general way that humanity treats each other.

As a celebration of MLK's life and struggle it is a macabre monument detailing the path of the bullet that ended his life and the exact location of his death (marked by a wreath).

It was a lot to take in.

Needing a respite from the seriousness, we popped into Earnestines & Hazels for their renowned soul burger and some tunes on their famous juke box. This formal brothel and current dive bar definitely earns it's reputation as one of the best in America. I could see myself beginning and ending a lot of my nights here...

AAA Baseball - Redbirds

Eventually the wife got tired of my constant desire to see what was down the next block and constantly being on the move. She decided to take a night off and give me a free pass to go watch sports. I of course jumped at the opportunity and took in a Redbirds game (AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals).

As the weather was a little iffy I moved down from my cheap seats to a bit of a better viewpoint.

The home team lost - but that isn't anything some late night ribs and blues couldn't cure.

Other Highlights

The historic Peabody Hotel has one of the strangest traditions I have ever heard of at a hotel. The hotel hosts a daily duck march from their fountain in the main lobby to their Royal Duck Palace on the roof. The march is a huge tourist attraction (all my pictures were blurred from elderly Asian ladies jumping in my way to take pictures) and good silly fun.

Avoiding the crowds we took to the roof to see the ducks in their majestic home.

We had a torrential downpour occur while walking around and took refuge under a canopy at Local Gastropub. Watching the rain hammer down and people scramble through the ankle deep water while we ate and drank gave us much amusement...maybe too much....

The crazy giant pyramid.

We had the best chicken ever at Gus's Fried Chicken. It was so simple, yet so good - Hot sauce is applied, then breading then cooked in peanut oil. I would be 400 pounds pretty quick if I had this in close vicinity to my house.

After experiencing Memphis we were finally ready for the next part of our journey - Graceland!

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