By Bob Mehr
With more than 60 acts playing on five stages over three days, you simply can’t catch everything at Beale Street Music Festival.
Here's a guide to the festival performers — some big names, some you may not know, including several locals — you will want to make a point to see.
North Mississippi Allstars (Friday, 6 p.m., FedEx Stage): The early hours of the opening evening of the festival are sometimes slow going, but this year’s festivities start strong thanks to top talent with deep ties to the festival. Leading the pack — and marking the first official set on the FedEx Stage — are blues-rockers North Mississippi Allstars. The Luther and Cody Dickinson-led outfit are musical fest perennials, and second-generation performers — their father, the late pianist/producer Jim Dickinson, was an early and crucial figure in the festival’s history, who played his final ever show at the 2009 BSMF. The Allstars typically pull out the stops for their hometown gigs, and their kickoff this year should be no exception.
Margo Price (Friday, 7:20 p.m., FedEx Stage): Though she’s Nashville-based, Americana star Margo Price has made Memphis a second home, cutting her breakthrough solo albums “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” and “All American Made” at Sun and Phillips studios (records co-produced by local Grammy-winning studio wiz Matt Ross-Spang). Price’s most recent turn in town was a memorable gig at Minglewood Hall’s 1884 Lounge in 2017. A veteran of plenty of big festivals over the last few years, Price should feel right at home under the spotlight of the FedEx Stage on Friday night.
Queens of the Stone Age (Friday, 11 p.m., Bud Light Stage): Twenty years on from their debut release, desert rockers Queens of the Stone Age have become one of modern rock’s true titans. The band, fronted by Josh Homme, has evolved over the years as the danceable rock mélange of last year’s Mark Ronson-produced “Villains” will attest. Judging by recent dates on its world tour, look for a career-spanning set and plenty of volume from the band on Friday.
Tav Falco & Panther Burns (Saturday, 2:20 p.m., Bud Light Stage): Arkansas-bred, Memphis-rooted Tav Falco is a writer, photographer, filmmaker and the leader and sole constant in deconstructionist rock group Panther Burns. Falco returns to the Bluff City to play Memphis nearly 40 years after his first performances in town, which helped usher in Memphis' post-punk era. Backing Falco will be an all-Italian band — that also just recorded a new album with him due later this year — led by musical director/producer/guitarist Mario Monterosso (Dale Watson, Red Mount Trio), pianist Francesco D'Agnolo, bassist Giuseppe Sangirardi and drummer Riccardo Colasante.
Calexico (Saturday, 3:40 p.m., FedEx Stage): A very rare Mid-South appearance by Arizona sound sculptors Calexico, the band of high desert music makers led by Joey Burns and John Convertino. Over the course of 20-plus years together, Calexico has quietly become one of America’s great musical outfits, as its hybridized sound — a merger of Morricone, mariachi and cinematic ambition — has seen the band become a genre unto itself, as well as stars in Europe and an in-demand film scoring unit.
David Byrne (Saturday, 8:50 p.m., Bud Light Stage): While Beyoncé grabbed the headlines — understandably so — for her epic set at last month’s Coachella Music Festival, art-rocker David Byrne also generated a fair amount of attention for his performance. Byrne — the former Talking Heads front man turned solo artist — wowed audiences with a selection of classic hits and a unique production featuring a totally mobile big band. On tour for the first time in nearly a decade and supporting his new album, “American Utopia,” Byrne will be one of the best bets of the fest.
Erykah Badu (Sunday, 8:50 p.m., River Stage): Erykah Badu has occupied a unique place in the music world since emerging two decades ago with her career-defining debut album, “Baduizm.” Aside from being a critically acclaimed multiple Grammy winner, the neo-soul singer-songwriter is a genuinely eccentric artist in the best and truest sense of that well-worn phrase. Badu has relished a hard-earned creative and personal freedom in an industry that's often inhospitable to such impulses. Though she’s not released a new album since the second of her “New Amerykah” LPs in 2010, Badu’s live performances are routinely transcendent experiences. Her River Stage set on Sunday — a slot that’s previously been occupied by musical giants like Aretha Franklin — is one not to miss.
Valerie June (Sunday, 3:50 p.m., River Stage): With her 2017 release "The Order of Time," Valerie June finally and fully came into her own. The West Tennessee native’s second full-length since signing with Concord Music Group expanded her folksy sound with ornate production touches, including strings and horns. Her earlier self-financed indie records were usually stripped-down affairs, but in reaching for a bigger sound June also realized her potential. Hers is a raw talent that Bluff City audiences — who first glimpsed June playing coffeehouses more than a decade ago — have long known about, making Sunday’s set a proper homecoming triumph.
Young Dolph (Sunday, 5:30 p.m., River Stage): The self-proclaimed “King of Memphis,” Bluff City MC Young Dolph has been a name in the news over the last year, largely due to events — including shooting incidents in Charlotte and Los Angeles — happening outside the studio and offstage. But Dolph (real name Adolph Thornton Jr.) released one of 2017’s top rap records in “Thinking Out Loud” and followed it with a defiant EP chronicling his recent experiences earlier this year. Dolph’s music fest debut will offer a chance — for most, a first chance — to see just what the buzz is about.
Love Light Orchestra (Sunday, 7 p.m., Coca-Cola Blues Tent): If you were to walk into a Memphis nightclub in the 1950s — say, the Flamingo Room or the Hippodrome or any of the other long-gone legendary Beale Street venues of the era — what would the music be like? What would you see on stage? Memphis combo Love Light Orchestra answers that question by transporting local audiences back to the era when rhythm and blues big bands — led by the likes of Willie Mitchell, Gene "Bowlegs" Miller, Al Jackson Sr. and Phineas Newborn Sr. — were king. Founded by guitarist Joe Restivo, trumpeter Marc Franklin — both members of retro soul outfit The Bo-Keys — and noted Bluff City blues singer John Németh, the Love Light Orchestra is reconjuring a horn-heavy sound and style that was dominant in Memphis back in the day. Named after the Bobby "Blue" Bland hit "Turn on Your Love Light," the group released its debut LP — a stunning live album recorded at Cooper-Young’s tiny Bar DKDC — last year. Its closing Blues Tent set will be in a bigger setting, but expect the same untrammeled power from one of the city’s truly unique acts.