Words and photographs by Ken Billett
Seated on the patio at Celtic Crossing, we placed our drink orders, then sat back to enjoy a warm, breezy afternoon. On Saturday, April 23, the Cooper-Young Community Association held Porchfest 2022 in this hip, artsy, historic district in Midtown Memphis. Vicki and I had already planned to be in Midtown that weekend—our Airbnb reservation rescheduled from last October.
Having just returned a week earlier from a blues festival in downtown Saint Petersburg, Florida, we were primed for more live music, performed outdoors, in what we hoped would be gorgeous spring weather. Camping chairs and festival hats at the ready, we ventured into the heart of this terrific neighborhood with its eclectic mix of young and old.
After catching a couple of performances at the Cooper Young intersection gazebo, we decided to grab a beverage at Celtic while pondering our lunch options. Porchfest started at 12 noon and 1 pm fast approached. As we looked over Celtic’s menu, the distinct screech of an electric guitar being tuned broke our concentration. The amplified, reverbed, and Jimi Hendrix-esque tones careened over and through the wood fence separating Celtic Crossing’s front patio from the business next door.
Then a heavy metal concert broke out.
The scheduled act, Little Baby Tendencies, had just cranked up the volume. Described as “Punk/metal” in the Porchfest guide, the duo played loud and fast, featuring a throbbing bass beat.
Vicki looked at me. I smiled. Laughed a little. She didn’t. Our server arrived. We asked for to-go cups and our check. Out on South Cooper Street, a good-sized crowd gathered to watch Little Baby Tendencies. I loved seeing middle-aged folks bob their heads to a relentless bass beat.
Leaving Celtic, I told Vicki, “We’re going to miss Trash Goblin. They’re on at two.”
She ignored me and crossed the street.
According to the Cooper-Young website, this year was the second annual Porchfest, a one-day event staged on porches and store fronts around the historic neighborhood. Over 80 bands performed at 36 separate locales. The all-volunteer event, which ran from noon to 6 p.m., was intended to be a grassroots celebration of spring, music, and Cooper-Young.
Amanda Yarbro-Dill, who organized this year’s Porchfest, told me that the “event brings folks together for an afternoon of music, which naturally lifts peoples’ spirits and showcases the talent of this city. It’s a truly grassroots happening, where you’ll find seasoned musicians…alongside hobbyists who love to play but don’t do so at a professional level.”
Musical genres ran the gamut from folk and blues, to pop and rock, to alternative and techno, and, of course, to punk and metal.
We entered the comparative calm of Parish Grocery just across Cooper from Celtic Crossing. Parish is a relative newcomer to Cooper-Young. The casual po-boy shop with a New Orleans flare is known for its sno-balls, a Louisiana concoction made with finely shaved ice—not to be confused with a standard snow cone. We ordered a po’boy to share, while the colorful likeness of Dr. John, boogie woogie pianist extraordinaire and French Quarter luminary, gazed at us from a nearby wall.
We settled on Parish’s side porch to eat, listening to Trash Goblin, who were surprisingly subdued for an acid goth band. The ever-growing crowd of onlookers now spilled out onto South Cooper.
We finished our delicious sandwich and reviewed the Porchfest guide…ready to hear some more music.
Making our way down Cooper, we paused to take in Elevation Memphis, a soulful quartet covering R&B classics and more recent hits. We caught the tail end of The Eastwoods and their Southern Rock glory.
Afterwards, we found Hillbilly Mojo on the porch of a home on New York Street. If you’ve never seen or heard Hillbilly Mojo, you are missing out. Self-described as a classic country and rock-n-roll fiddle band, these guys were incredible.
Vicki settled into her camping chair and smiled. “More our speed,” she said, tapping her foot to the music.
Awesome performance and a great atmosphere. Their set included Charlie Daniels, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, and more.
I love to people-watch and observing the denizens of Cooper Young interact with one another and with the musicians was terrific. It reinforced how a neighborhood community can be close-knit, singularly-purposed, and have fun all at the same time.
According to Yarbro-Dill of the CYCA, “We are definitely planning on holding Porchfest again next year and are excited about other ways we can bring our community together.”
Memphis is Music
Our final stop of Porchfest brought us back to South Cooper to the same spot where Elevation Memphis had played an hour or so before. Mick Kolassa, a veteran bluesman and an extraordinary songwriter entertained us with blues standards, his own original songs, and his “bluesy” take on a few well-known tunes.
We talked with Mick after his performance, and he inadvertently gave me the idea for this story’s title when he mentioned Memphis being a music mecca with its rich history and creative traditions. Porchfest was a perfect example of how that history and those musical traditions live on.
On a windy April afternoon, Cooper-Young embodied the importance of supporting live music, and all the arts, and what makes Memphis such a great city.
Twilight approached while we sat on our rental-house porch, sipping a micro-brewed nightcap from Memphis Made. Leftovers from Aldo’s secured in the fridge—either tomorrow’s lunch or a late-night snack.
Another Fed Ex plane thunders overhead. Vicki’s watching a Hillbilly Mojo YouTube clip on her phone. After a wonderful afternoon of music, hanging out in Midtown on a beautiful spring night feels just right.
Porchfest 2022 was indeed a bonus to our weekend getaway, and we’ll certainly plan to be back in Cooper-Young for the 2023 edition.
By then, I hope to have found a Trash Goblin t-shirt to proudly wear.
Ken Billett has called Memphis home for more than thirty years. A freelance writer, fiction author, and nationally known advocate for skin cancer prevention and research, Ken volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame on South Main in downtown Memphis. When not tending to his flowers, Ken and his wife Vicki travel extensively. StoryBoard Memphis is proud to present Ken’s columns Time Capsules and the newest, Get out of Town as, ongoing features here on StoryBoard.