Some places are historically important in the canon of music. These areas or cities have shaped the face of popular music as we know it today, and deserve some recognition (not to mention the occasional pilgrimage). If you’re a fan of blues music, then no doubt you’re familiar with Beale Street, a street in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, known far and wide as the “home of the blues.” From the 1920s to 1940s, Beale Street was graced by some of the biggest names in blues music: Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, and Albert King all played a few licks there, as well as many other future legends of the genre.
What you may not know is that Beale Street is still as musically active as it was sixty-odd years ago. Instead of having an old, dusty museum vibe to it, it’s as vibrant and as relevant as ever, with music spilling out of the venues and on the streets almost every night of the week during the warmer months. If you’re a music fanatic, ticking a Beale Street adventure off your bucket list is an absolute must. Check out BUCKiTDREAM to connect with more music fans, then keep that BUCKiTDREAM planner with you as we show you how to get the best out of Beale Street!
Soak in the Atmosphere Beale Street is exactly what it claims to be: a street. The first thing you should do when you touch down in Downtown Memphis is taking a slow wander down Beale and soak up all the atmosphere. There’s plenty of it, from bars and restaurants to street performers and commemorative plaques, and you should take your time getting familiar with it all. The fun kicks off from around 7pm when the street lights up and guitar licks start to float out from the many venues lining the sidewalks.
Sample a Walk Me Down Memphis’s signature drink is an extravagant cocktail named a Walk Me Down, which contains vodka, triple sec, rum, gin, tequila, sweet and sour mix, Blue Curacao Liqueur, and Sprite. It’s sure to get you in the mood for a night of partying! Another Beale Street classic (and therefore a must-sample) can be found at Silky O’Sullivan’s; known as the “Diver,” it consists of a gallon-sized cocktail served in a bucket. Barbara Blue runs Silky’s (and owns the bar’s resident goats), and you can often hear her belting out standards as the night goes on.
If you’re hungry, there are plenty of restaurants up and down Beale Street which offer a variety of cuisines. A fitting place to grab a bite to eat is the Memphis Hard Rock Cafe, located at 126 Beale Street, near the West End. They host live music there Thursday through Sunday with no extra cover charge.
Follow the Music Some of the best music in town can be found for free at the W.C. Handy statue. As long as the night isn’t too cold, locals and tourists alike gather around the monument dedicated to the “Father of the Blues,” and enjoy electric concerts long into the night. The Rum Boogie Café is one of the best joints in town for live music, with many legends taking to the stage since its inception in 1985. The café is also connected to the Blues Hall, which offers music enthusiasts a more formal listening experience, complete with a cozy, intimate atmosphere. Fortunately, the two are covered by the one charge so you can pick the experience that suits you best… Or double down and take on both in one night!
For folks who don’t care too much for the blues, there’s Jerry Lee Lewis’ Café and honky tonk, plenty of DJ sets, and even a spot of karaoke for those who think they can stand with the musical legends who’ve stepped up to the Beale Street mic in times past.
During the Day There are plenty of things to do in and around Beale Street during the day (or during the afternoon as the case may be, depending on how good a night was had). You can opt for a Beale Street walking tour, which will inform you about the blues mecca’s history and pedigree. Looking further afield, you can visit the nearby Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for more fascinating musical insight, or sign up for the African American History Tour of Memphis, which provides you with two hours of historical insight, from Memphis’ dark past with slavery to the landmark Civil Rights Movement.
Taking a trek to Beale Street is a must for any fan of music, or indeed, any fan of musical history. Many of our popular music has its roots in the blues; the style has informed everyone from Led Zeppelin to Taylor Swift, so missing a chance to check out the heritage of the sacred form is tantamount to heresy for a music fan. For more BUCKiTDREAM-inspired musical jaunts, check out 8 Iconic Country Music Destinations Across Georgia or The Five Best Music Venues in Dublin, and don’t forget to keep your fellow music-loving ’DREAMers up to date with your escapades!