Review: Mempho Music Festival, October 2018

Only in its second year, Mempho Music Festival creates a vibrant community grounded in music, energy, nature, and the history of Memphis, Tennessee.
📸 © Baylee Less

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Over the weekend of October 6th & 7th, Atwood Magazine attended Mempho Music Festival at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, TN. Now we’re here to tell you what we thought.

“Memphis deserves a world class music festival; a festival for all people,” Mempho Festival director and founder Diego Winegardner explained after someone asked his drive behind starting the newest musical celebration in the Mid-South. “We want to celebrate the music of Memphis, the foundation of all American music, and bring the hottest acts of today to Mempho. It will always be a multi-genre festival.” Honestly, Mempho was all of those things.

Mempho Music Festival 2018 photo

Mempho Music Festival 2018

Teens craving the high-energy performance of viral sensation Post Malone gathered bright and early at the front of the First Tennessee Stage, whereas the evening before music fans of all ages stayed late to hear French rockers Phoenix and legendary multi-instrumentalist Beck. Janelle Monáe pulled the most diverse crowd by far, appealing to women and men of every color. From her powerful, vocal flutters to the coordinated choreography and set design, every moment of Monae’s performance demanded the attention of festival-goers. The high-profile lineup did not disappoint in any regard.

Earlier in the days, the crowds were a bit thin, but that could have been a result from the intense heat wave that struck in October oddly enough. The young festival came decently prepared for this curveball though providing plenty of shade for attendees to take refuge as the temperatures crept up past ninety degrees during the late afternoon sets. It was a bit unfortunate though because Mempho hosted several dazzling acts early in the two short days.

Memphis-based Talibah Safiya shared her captivating stories and and enchanting dance moves with a modest, but eager audience. Soulful, country artist Sam Lewis stripped his set back and serenaded a family of us around noon on Sunday; it reminded me of when I saw Sturgill Simpson at Bonnaroo this past summer. Sister duo Larkin Poe greeted their crowd with vibrant energy, even though they “flew in from Vegas on a red eye and were feeling a little goofy.” Their cover of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” undoubtedly earned them a swarm of new fans. Funk maestros The Bar-Kays heated up their audience with horn-driven beats and impeccable vocals. I think some youngsters were shocked by how groovy this older band made them feel. Finally, Milky Chance impressed per usual with their signature reggae electro-folk mixes; the bongos excite newcomers every time.

At Mempho Music Festival 2018, there was music for all ears and entertainment for all ages. For the future, a few adjustments here or there will elevate the event on the national scale. Winegardner also mentioned, “By next year, we’re expanding to three days, doubling the stages, and speaking to the (Shelby Farms) park about including more activities. We want to make this a real destination for people all around the world.” The goals seem lofty, but not out of reach. Before they grow too quickly, Mempho Music Festival should work to understand who they are and why this event exists. Why should people travel from across the country for this festival when there is a multitude of other options? It will become a dire necessity over the next few years to develop that unique brand that will sell the tickets – or else Mempho may have only a short life to live.

Overall, the two-day jubilee is well-run and an exceedingly enjoyable way to spend your time and money. There’s a clear intention to evolve this event into a notable name aligned with the greats including Coachella and Bonnaroo. We’ve already added next year to our calendar because we can’t wait to see what happens.

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Mempho logo 2018

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📸 © Baylee Less

(Y)Our Music Guide to Mempho Music Festival 2018

Baylee is an aspiring music journalist who currently contributes to Atwood Magazine, EARMILK, and the I Love Memphis Blog. A native (and proud) Memphian, she spends most of her time waiting for the next Bonnaroo, quoting School of Rock, and late night ordering Domino's cheesy bread. Follow me on Twitter for comments on the juiciest releases, climate change, and general revelry.