Up until a couple of weeks before my planned departure, my trip to the US had still definitely been on. I knew it would probably look and feel different from my previous visits, and this was confirmed by Cassie, who I met in Memphis during my first stateside trip in 2011
I would warn you that the city isn’t itself, big events are being cancelled and restaurants are sadly slow. I can’t speak for Beale street but I’d imagine it’s still going but barely.
Today, the state of Tennessee has 784 cases of Covid-19, but just three deaths. It may be an indication of a location where people are geographically further apart, in general terms – and although cities like Memphis and Nashville are usually crowded with visitors, that’s not the case now.
It is, perhaps, a metaphor for the music that dominates downtown Memphis. While many people associate it with Elvis, you’re more likely to be sucked in by the blues. Beale Street – the city’s famous entertainment strip – is often hot, humid and filled with the booming bass lines from clubs like BB King’s.
There’s no doubt about it, you’ll get the full on experience by paying $25 at the door. But like many of its Southern cousins, downtown is full of door staff promising “no cover charge” (although there may be a two drink minimum). It’s just a case of taking your chances and seeing what you can find. And often, it’s stunning.
This location is essentially a yard where there was once a building – sadly a sign of the times of modern day Beale Street. A simple bit of decking forms the stage, and a sound system is wired in.
The quality of the music is astounding – with soaring vocals, funky rhythm guitar and a bass line that vibrates through your ribs. Add a simple bar serving beer, burgers and hot dogs and you have an instant outdoor honky tonk.
For some years now, businesses have come and gone on Beale Street – though more of them have gone, and gone forever. Although there’s a lively tourist trade through the season, there’s not too much beyond the core downtown area. Those that do set up shop here gamble with peaks and troughs in demand – and the added challenge of ongoing crime – at night each end of Beale is flanked by dozens of police cars.
Despite the big police presence, Memphis still feels safe enough. It’s just like anywhere – as a visitor, keep to the places you know – and if you’re planning ti venture any further, seek trustworthy local advice. And if all else fails, join a wedding party.