Does Memphis still know how to rock?

It’s weird, I tell ya.  You’d think that Memphis would have a thriving, vibrant music scene.  You’d think that nightly you’d find the clubs overflowing with talent and audiences.

You’d be wrong.

This past Sunday night, San Francisco’s New Monsoon rolled into town and played to a crowd of twelve.  To describe a poor crowd, I’ll often say "there were twelve people there" as an expression, a way to describe an empty room.  But this time, that’s no exagerration.  Twelve people.  I’m guessing they won’t be coming back any time soon. 

Sure, it was Sunday night show, a hard sell in general.  But twelve people?  Really?  Memphis should be THE place to see music.  I mean, music really wouldn’t exist today without the Memphis influence.

Exhibit A: Elvis Presley.

Exhibit B: Stax.

Exhibit C: BB King.

Where would music be today without the influence of those names?  Sure, you’ve got New Orleans and Nashville.  But Memphis is home of the blues, and the birthplace of rock and roll.  But when the new issue of Travel & Leisure magazine runs a list of the "Top Music Cities" as they did in the October 2008 issue and Memphis doesn’t crack the top three, I’m embarrassed.

The poor attendance is pretty consistent at shows here.  It’s generally not as sparse as the New Monsoon show, but sell-outs are few and far between.  MGMT sold out a show earlier this year, and Ryan Adams sold out one last year, but that’s all I can remember.  When Panic opened their tour here last year, they pulled in about 70% over two nights.  Yeah, the FedEX Forum is a huge building, but with a city the size of Memphis, one that’s centrally located and draws audiences from Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri, sell-outs should be more regular.

The worst thing is that many bands avoid Memphis altogether.  Major tours should ALWAYS stop in Memphis.  It should be one of those regular stops on a band’s itinerary.  Instead, it seems we get skipped an awful lot in lieu of places like Nashville, St. Louis, and Little Rock.

Why does this happen?  Bands appear to love Memphis.  When Ben Harper played Memphis last October (his first time doing so since I moved here in 2003), he commented how he loves the city, and got BBQ, and needed to record down here.  Grace Potter raved about the city when she opened for Mule last year, and John Butler sported his brand new Sun Studios t-shirt on stage at Beale Street Music Festival.