It began a couple of months ago when Melody and I attended an art opening at Playhouse on the Square. Up until then, I had only driven by and watched, with growing interest, the restoration of the legendary entertainment district. But this was our first visit to the Square in a long time, and we marvelled at the already thriving businesses and the ongoing construction. We ate lunch in an area restaurant, then widow-shopped our way to the once and future Lafayette's Music Room, where I used to make a living back during the Jitterbug era. So I just had to peak in the windows, and was delighted to see it looks exactly the same. The big stage is there, with intimate seating and an upper balcony with a booth for a soundman; all the prerequisites for a grand music showplace- same as it ever was. The music and audience will be new, but the venue is vintage, and wonderful, new, memories will be made there- and forgotten there, too. The developers deserve congratulations, especially for the Square's architecture. Even the parking garage looks terrific. I thought Yosemite Sam's would have to be dynamited out of their spot, but somehow even that nasty old building looks elegant. A California-based investment group announced plans to transform the deteriorating French Quarter Inn into a boutique hotel, and with the addition of the architecturally gorgeous new Hattilou Theatre, the Square will become Memphis' theatre district. Imagine that.
Following that outing, a gracious friend got us tickets to see the Zombies at the new HiTone on Cleveland, which gave us the chance to see the development in and around the old Sears-Crosstown. Jobs, jobs, jobs, people. Which put us in a good mood to hear there was no seating in the HiTone, so we took refuge on some steps in the back. But as soon as the Zombies came on, I was drawn, like magic, to join the standing throng in front of the bandstand. For years, my policy has been to go nowhere I can't be seated, but the Zombies made me want to stand, and I can die happy knowing I got to hear Colin Blunstone sing "Time of the Season" ten feet in front of me. Melody convinced me that good things awaited outside of our den, and that began a spasm of social activities. We heard Eddie Harrison and Debbie Jamison sing at Neil's. We revisited the Square, this time at night, to hear guitar virtuoso Dave Cousar play a set at Le Chardonnay, and then on to Huey's to witness the yearly visit by Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers. In the same night! I'm delighted to see new music venues open up for both local talent and travelling acts, and of course the jewel is the Levitt Shell.
I doubt there's a better way to spend an evening than under the stars at the Levitt Shell listening to unique and different types of music. The venue is beautiful and becomes magical when the sun goes down and the lighting comes up. The sound is professional and whoever books the acts couldn't be doing a better job. The coming months will bring an array of talent to one of our city's most beautiful, green expanses, and it's all for free. Only an asshole would criticize such a wonderful undertaking- so it may as well be me. There's one noticeable, and aggravating, design flaw at the Shell. I imagined whoever designed the large slab of concrete between the stage and the grass intended it as a dance floor, but in the several events I have recently attended, it has become a major distraction. How can you concentrate on the performers and their music with people constantly milling about directly in front of the stage? Stage-front has become a short-cut to the bathroom and a place for unattended children to run wild. As the evening progresses, the kids are replaced by clueless, often inebriated attendees, who stand in front of the stage, blocking the view of half the audience. My suggestion for a more enjoyable experience- dig up the asphalt and plant more grass. That aside, it seems to me that, at long last, Memphis is a happening place once again. I believe I just might stick around.