Monday, June 09, 2014

Out And Among 'Em

It's been awhile since we've been "out and among 'em," as the colloquialism goes, but lately it seems as if I've become downright sociable, or something near that general vicinity. I had become accustomed to the comforts of home and hearth and the company of my wife and three undertrained rescue dogs, whose over-fondness for people are the reason no one comes over here anymore. I'm speaking of the dogs, of course, and not my wife. But, I'm not hard to please:  A roof over my head, an easy chair that becomes a lounger, and someone with whom to watch cable TV who enjoys making snarky comments about these awful shows as much as I do, and I'm content. Content enough to realize that I've had my fun, and to leave the night-life to the young. But lately, there have been so many occasions and venues that have literally forced us out of the house, or rather, me, out of the house, that I am belatedly seeing Memphis come alive once again, and I am both amazed and overjoyed by what I see.

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.



doug gilmore said...

I look forward to getting your monthly email and as usual im happy to read your piece. Keep it up my friend, I miss you.

rusty pace said...

those are the things I miss about Memphis. damn, I want a big greasy hueys cheeseburger.

Unknown said...

Live long, old friend. Who knows, maybe there's reason to.

Barry Lichterman said...

Randy, there is method to the madness with the sidewalk in front of the stage…for drainage purposes and yes it was designed as a space for Memphians of all backgrounds, shapes, color, ages and all the other wonderful characteristics that contribute to the diversity which makes our city great. It can be a distraction but if you look at the area in front of the stage on many nights there is magic happening there. Little kids playing together that might not have otherwise had a chance to meet much less play together. From day 1 we have seen a new socialization phenom called "Shell Friends". These are people, usually from diverse backgrounds, who enjoy each others company and meet during the free concert season on a regular basis to see one another. This usually starts with kids in front of the stage and develops from there. Our mission at the Levitt Shell is community building. Next time your there I will introduce you to some of my "Shell" friends. And to bring this full circle, it all begins at the front of the stage. Is it distracting or magic….that's your choice.

Craig Fuller said...

Love it, RJ! Wish I had been their for the Zombies!! Rock on brother!