It hardly takes a rocket scientist to figure out what inspired me to make this foray to Memphis. Closing the show on one of the stages on Saturday was Huey Lewis and the News. But it was one of those HLN concerts that became a vehicle for a greater experience beyond just their concert - this time it was three days worth of all sorts of music.
The only problem with this plan is that three-day music festivals are really not the greatest way to recover from law school exams. I really needed to be lying on a beach somewhere, not standing in the same place for hours and hours on end. On Saturday I was there for over 10 hours, five of them on the same few inches of ground so I could hold myself a front row spot for HLN. In one sense this strategy was a problem because it meant that I missed the Bruce Hornsby performance all the way at the other end of the park. But it wasn't too bad a trade-off because it meant that I got to see Bo Diddley and Little Richard.
But way before that I started out earlier in the day watching a bit of a bluegrass band, followed by the Gin Blossoms. Then came the Disco Biscuits, which was sort of acoustically-generated techno rock. When they finished I then worked my way to a spot up front to wait for HLN. But first was Bo Diddley, whom I liked a lot. He was quite the elder statesman of rock, but what was interesting is how current his music was. His music has always been very rhythmic, but I think it's something relatively new for him to rap his lyrics. It came off really well though. The lyrics were of the same motif and attitude that his older, more bluesy songs had - just faster-paced.
He was going to play for a little over an hour, but it started to rain and, after declaring that he "couldn't afford to get electrocuted" he stopped playing early. But he didn't leave the stage entirely. The band had been playing "Hey Bo Diddley," which has that famous pounding rhythm. So he put down his guitar and moved towards the back of the stage, picked up some drumsticks, and joined the drummer in banging out the rhythm. It looked completely spontaneous with him and the drummer sharing the kit, leading and following each other. This went on for quite some time until he was ready to leave.
He left about 15 minutes early, which gave Little Richard's band 45 minutes to set up instead of the usual 30. Yet they still started 25 minutes late. Which was a huge problem because he already had a short set, and they had to keep the schedule because the next band (HLN) couldn't be pushed too late because of curfews. But Little Richard isn't cut out for a short set. He has a huge, powerful band (two drummers, two bassists, two guitarists, four horn players, at least one other keyboardist) and likes to hold court on stage and soak up attention from the audience and his fawning band. He preens for the audience: "I'm 73 years old with skin like a baby!" and "Aren't I pretty?" and "I'm just the prettiest little black Indian from Macon, Georgia." And he flirts with his band. And praises the lord (and has his staff give out a religious tract that he wrote to the audience). In the course of all this he would tend to announce the song he was going to play, and then play something else. So there was no setlist to speak of, and in the end the only way they could get him off the stage was by shutting off his mike. I was right up front and could see this all play out and it was a little sad. But Little Richard is just not a good performer to have at a festival. Put him at the House of Blues where he can completely own the stage for a few hours and that will be fun. But neither he nor his entourage was prepared for this kind of stage-sharing arrangement.
Eventually he did leave and HLN's incredible crew came out to build the band's entire set-up almost from scratch and in no time flat. And then soon HLN came on and I took it in from my favorite spot: the front row. I could have lived without the incredibly drunk guy next to me, but otherwise it was my favorite 90 minutes of the day. It was exactly three years ago that I started my traveling-for-HLN program, back in the day when I was still thinking about which law school to choose to attend (I hadn't yet decided on BU or Hastings and went to the UK in part to reflect on the decision). So being there again, now that law school was over, was a nice way to bookend the whole experience.
Written 5/8, posted 5/9.