A couple of weeks ago I panicked. I searched for tickets to the Moon River Music Festival and found that even a week before the event, it was sold out completely. I had my heart set on going, and I was mad at myself for procrastinating. I started madly searching discount ticket sites to no avail. I started asking friends, any friends, if they had tickets. And this folks, is where it pays to have (nice) friends. After a day of searching I found a friend who had a set for me, but in the meantime I had already entered a free ticket giveaway that the Tennessee Whiskey Trail was sponsoring.
To my glorious surprise, I won! Huge thanks to them and their whiskey-led mission! The Tennessee Whiskey Trail exists to raise the profile of the TN distilling industry and to connect people to their favorite brands and introduce them to new ones. We also seek to create an overall tourism framework for people who would like to visit individual distilleries throughout the state. If you’ve read this whiskey post, you know that Tennessee knows its whiskey.
Moon River Music Fest isn’t your run of the mill festival. It’s meaningful. It’s purposeful. And it resides in a venue that is part of the backbone of Memphis’s music scene: the Levitt Shell. Elvis got his start playing live there and the rest was history. The Shell now hosts seasons of free music shows, relying on donations to stay open. It’s a magical outdoor amphitheatre with surrounding tall trees, and evenings of great music accompanied by Memphis sunsets dipping below its shell-shaped arch. Basically the perfect place to host a festival that in itself is a love song to Memphis. Started by Drew Holcomb (a native Memphian), Moon River Fest in his own words thanks to WMC5 News, is “… a family reunion… We want this festival to be a reflection of the spirit of Memphis; a low-key, family affair. And we want to continue to make this an annual event.”
This was the first year I have been able to go, my interest greatly sparked by one of my favorite bands, Needtobreathe, making the lineup this year. And it seriously didn’t disappoint. I would go relive this festival every weekend if I could. My younger self was elated hearing Switchfoot sing their classics, and “Lean On Me” from them was icing on the cake. At one point one of the bands stopped singing, looked around at the mass of people swaying and sweating (it. was. hot.) in unison, and said, “You know, the weather here is a nice big warm hug. Sun’s going down. Everything’s a gift. Our fave people are here.” I looked up, clapped my hands, and smiled into the sunset because I hardly knew anyone there, but it was so true. This festival is a great thing about Memphis. Thanks so much for the tickets, Tennessee Whiskey Trail!
You can stop reading here if you don’t want to hear me poetically proclaim my love of the river and music…
For some divine reason, the universe always places me at Needtobreathe concerts when I most need to hear their words. Yes, this may be the corniest thing I have ever put on the internet since 2006, but something about what I’m trying to portray is important because it’s been burning inside of me; I’ve been trying to logically write about it for four years. Seriously. I keep wanting to write a post about the river and music and how they feel connected, but I never know where to begin. I start writing and it turns into one big long run on sentence that talks in circles. I want to convey how the river feels like it drew me here to Memphis. That it’s been a common thread in my life for a reason. I just can’t figure out what that reason is, like its at my fingertips but I can’t reach it. And maybe I’m not supposed to. It started when I first drove over that bridge into Memphis. But maybe it started before that. Running water embedded into my nature and history, seeping into my own story quietly sometimes, and at other times an intense splash to the face. The River Bottoms. The river is out. Down by the river. River’s high. Let’s drive over and see the river. Just around the riverbend. These are common phrases from my childhood. The Missouri. The Mississippi. Is it just coincidence that I moved from one down to the other? You know those rare times where you can hear your soul actually speak to you, where you feel small and a part of something bigger? Mostly I get those feelings near water or when I’m in the middle of a crowd of strangers listening to music that can change you. I’m talking about those out of body experiences. No? Just me. Great. (Judging me yet?)
I had that feeling in Memphis for the first time when I was standing alone in a crowd by the river’s edge, looking up at a band that I knew of but didn’t know. Turns out they sing a lot about the river. They also sing about being real, and real love. The type of love you give to family, friends, God, nature, the universe, each other. Quiet, broken, wholehearted love. It’s touch-your-soul music blended together with deep guitars and drums and silky weathered voices. I’ve heard Needtobreathe talk a lot recently about making their last album and how they got caught up in their own perceptions and lost sight of their music. They were asking themselves if what they were doing even mattered. And maybe this is more of a love letter to them than my affections to the river, but I needed to tell them that it does. Their music matters. Because it matters to me. And I can’t be the only person who has been moved by it. That night at Moon River Fest under a setting amber sun in the middle of Memphis, (not by the river) I stood under their stage, looking up with hands held high, then I turned around. Thousands of people were doing the exact same. Men. Women. Kids. They were singing their hearts out, praising the music and their love, and I knew I wasn’t alone in these feelings. This magical thing we call music can change you. And so can a river. And somehow for me, the two are connected, I just don’t know how yet. “Even when the rain falls, even when the floods start rising, even when the storm comes, I am washed by the water.” I am a difference maker.