Okay Emmylou, here’s what I’ve got for YOU – recommendations for Memphis based on our 2008 trip there!
We stayed at the Sleep Inn at Court Square downtown – good location, clean, pleasant, reasonably priced ($125 for a double in 2008) right near the Mississippi and near the tracks for the funky old Main Street Trolley car that will take you to Beale Street and back for much less than the hassle of driving, parking, and returning possibly inebriated.
Things to do:
Walk or jog along the Mississippi Riverwalk.
Be sure to walk through the Peabody Hotel – this is the one where the ducks parade through the lavish lobby.
The Civil Rights Museum, located in the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was assassinated. Give yourself plenty of time. (Oddly, when I was in Memphis with my dad in 1989, a woman was protesting outside the motel – she didn’t want it to become a museum. In 2008, a group was still out there protesting.)
We loved the STAX Museum of American Soul Music – complete with Isaac Haye’s real car (which, as I recall, had power blue fake fur upholstery). This rough n’ tumble neighborhood reminded us of the one portrayed in “Hustle and Flow” – the very good movie filmed in Memphis (“It’s hard out here for a pimp” was its Oscar-winning song.) If you haven’t seen, do! There are several music museums in Memphis – this one struck us as the most interesting and authentic, located in the original STAX Record Co. building/neighborhood rather than glitzy downtown.
En route to the museum, we stopped for soul food at The Four Way (998 Mississippi Blvd.) an old neighborhood place. Great fried chicken, okra, lemon meringue pie etc. Be careful with the hot sauce.
If you happen to be in Memphis on Sunday morning, DO NOT MISS a visit to Rev. Al Green’s church (that would be Gospel Legend Al Green.) He is often there singing – along with many other church members who are great singers and musicians. Alas, when we visited “Al Green’s Full Gospel Tabernacle,” Al was off promoting his latest album but there was a several-piece band – horns, keyboard, drums, etc. – and one person after another got up to give wrenching testimony, some of it inevitably in the form of the most astonishing gospel singing. We were a little shy about entering at first but we were far from the only visitors – there were rows of us, mostly white folk, some from as far away as The Netherlands. Noah had to drag me out of the church after over an hour. I could have stayed all day.
Rev. Green’s church is not far from Graceland and if you haven’t been, you should go – it’s overpriced and tacky but truly an American experience. There’s a good BBQ joint across the street called – i can’t remember the name. will look up.
Speaking of BBQ, we had some good ribs at Blues City Cafe, I think, on Beale Street. Beale Street is very touristy but it’s fun and there’s as much free music outside in little pocket parks along the street as there is inside the clubs. Our choice of clubs was a bit skewed – since my priority was finding one that would admit a 16-year-old kid (which Noah was at the time…oddly the criteria wasn’t booze, it was smoking. If there was smoking, no kids allowed.)
Not all the Beale Street clubs are on Beale Street – we enjoyed local favorite Reba Russellaround the block at Ground Zero, an offshoot of the club opened by Morgan Freeman (yes, that Morgan Freeman) in his hometown of Clarksdale, Ms, about two hours south of Memphis. (I’ll blog on that next!)
To find the best music, consider emailing this guy: firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t know if Wesley is still at the Rum Boogie club on Beale Street but he was incredibly helpful, filling me in on all the musicians playing on Beale Street. (Unfortunately we couldn’t go to his club because…it had smoking.)
all this really makes me want to return to Memphis. takemewithyou!
Check out the 2005 NYTimes 36 hours memphis piece and the one last Sunday in NYT travel section on edgy Memphis….I was fine with touristy Memphis….