Sunday, September 05, 2004

Memphian Adventure!

Memphis Music & Heritage Festival

Yesterday, I had my first real Abby adventure as a Memphian. The Center for Southern Folklore is holding the Memphis Music & Heritage Festival this weekend. I wasn't feeling well at all yesterday, and I decided that perhaps if I dragged myself out of the house, it would help to take my mind off it it. I thought I'd be gone for an hour then return home. I left at around 4:20pm and didn't even feed the cats for their 5pm feeding, thinking they could wait until 5:30pm. Well, they were not at all pleased that they weren't fed until about 8:30pm.

I parked down Main Street several blocks from the festival and walked, encountering the lovely smell of barbecue all the way there. I love that! The first event I caught was a really great Latin band (very Tito Puente-esque) who don't seem to be the people I thought they were. Unfortunately, the program was just a list of performers and times with no real description. Now that I'm home and googling the people I thought I saw, it's clear that I was incorrect about my previous assumption. This paragraph has gotten strange. Time to move on to the next paragraph.

As a foodie, I next wandered down to the Viking Culinary Arts Center, which seems to just be a kick-ass kitchen store. Kitchen gadgets EVERYWHERE. DROOL! But they had all these demonstrations going on in the back. Apparently, there is a whole lot more going on upstairs. Another time, perhaps. Anyway, I walked up to some women making spring rolls out of this Chinese chicken salad. Memphians seem cool. Noone wanted the spring roll the women said was "not hot." The whole crowd was waiting for the heat. I ended up talking to a women there who said there was a great band playing outside.

She was right! I wasn't really expecting her to be, because often at these kinds of festivals, the main stage has boring bands who everyone has heard of. The band was Billy Gibson with the David Bowen Band. Man! This guy was a seriously amazing harmonica virtuoso. And it seems the band is the one he usually plays with, according to his web site. And they did "Mercy, Mercy Me," and they did it well. Ah Marving Gaye. Anyway, there was a fun crowd, and I ended up talking to the women I'd met inside more. And why is it so very amusing that at one point in the conversation, she said she was thinking about setting me up with this British boy she knows? I mean, I didn't even prompt her! What's up with that?!

The very amusing side-show at the Billy Gibson gig

She and I went back in for another cooking demonstraion: Ella Kizzie cooking Greens, dumplings, and Hot Water cornbread. She actually boiled the corn bread dumplings right in the collard green's pot likker. GENIUS! She also made flat, fried dumplings that were a lot like hush puppies except they were flat instead of round and pan fried instead of deep fried. YUM!

Ella Kizzie makes dough for her collards with corn bread dumplings. The woman to her right is also making dumplings, but hers are more Chinese. She's next on the agenda.

It was at this demonstration that Leslie and I met Connie, who we called "Miss Mississippi" for the rest of the night. Leslie kept calling me "Miss Indiana," and if you know me well, you know that I didn't exactly take a shine to this title!

After the demo, the three of us took a long walk down Main Street, passing several beautiful old run-down buildings interspersed with renovated buildings turned into art galleries, restaurants, condos, and clubs. We passed the Lorraine Hotel on the left. I'd never seen it from that side of the street before, and I realized that we'd just passed the building from which James Earl Ray shot Dr. King. Unreal, especially since it wasn't marked. I only knew that it was the building because I'd been to the National Civil Rights Museum before, and the last thing you see is the room where King stayed, and you are shown (from that room) where the shots originated. It snuck up on me. It was surreal.

On a side note, just noticed that my congressman in Georgia, John Lewis, just won a freedom award. Cool!

We ended up at Ernestine and Hazel's. There was noone there but the three of us and three employees. The woman working there gave use a tour of the place. Apparantly, it started as a soda shop/drug store. There are still drawers that held pharmacy items. Then in the mid-50's, Ernestine and Hazel bought this place. They turned it into a bar downstairs where all these famous people played (lots of pictures on the walls) and where they served food. The owner found lots of old menus in 1983 and has them intalled over where all the pharmacy drawers are. There's an old counter that looks original, a jukebox. I hear the yuppies go there on the weekends now.

The best part was that she gave us a tour of the upstairs. It was a brothel! I don't think it's been painted or much of anything has been done to it since. The steps going up are kind of wonky, and you really feel like you're going somewhere cool! At the top of the stairs is a long hall with many small rooms. It's very obvious what they were for! There are two bathrooms right at the top of the stairs. Man, if the walls could talk!

In the front are two small rooms. In one is a bar, and you can look out at the street through the dingy windows over the big yellow sign. The adjacent room has a piano. That's one thing I'm really loving about Memphis... the history. Unlike Atlanta, lots of old things have not been gutted and turned into food courts. A lot of that seems to be due to continuing poverty, so that is a bad thing. But in terms of really feeling a sense of place and connection to the past, it's fascinating!

I had a couple of beers with Leslie and Connie, two lovely women who are both worthy of full blog entries (or books) all their own. I mean, Connie's dad was a cotton ginner! And Leslie ran away to Paris as a teenager! So much I'm not telling. Anyway, after that, we took a streetcar back to the festival where we'd all parked, and we said our goodbyes. I have their phone numbers, so I'm hoping to catch them both at the Cooper-Young Festival in Midtown in two weeks.

Leslie & Connie at Ernestine & Hazel's