The Complete 2011 Memphis in May Survival Guide

The Complete 2011 Memphis in May Survival Guide

Memphis in May might be a few weeks away, but it's never too early to be prepared. Here's everything you need to know before heading to any of the festival events:

Barbecue Fest, Memphis in May

What to Bring

If you're going to Beale St. Music Fest or the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, you're probably going to spend a considerable amount of time in Tom Lee Park. Here's what to pack in your no-larger-than-12" by 12" bag:

- Ziploc bags. They're perfect for keeping your phone and cash from getting soaked.

- Sunscreen. Just because the sun isn't shining, it doesn't mean you won't get burned.

- Cash. The food and drink vendors only accept cash.

- Trash bags. They're perfect for stashing wet clothes and shoes in, and if you don't have to do that, you can always help clean up.

- Bug spray

- A poncho. Even if you're wearing clothes you don't care about, it never hurts to have some extra rain gear. Pick up one of the tightly packed disposable ones from Walgreens or Target.

- Walkie-talkies or a cheap battery-operated radio. Cell phone service can be spotty during the festival. If your group is splitting up, it can be a lot easier to communicate by walkie-talkie. Similarly, if the weather gets bad and the park has to be evacuated, a battery operated radio will help you find out exactly what's going on.

- Gold Bond. Heat rash is real. Carrying a small bottle of Gold Bond powder doesn't make you elderly - it makes you less itchy.

- An old cell phone. Swap the SIM card out of your regular phone into an old phone that you don't care about anymore. Better to have your 5 year-old Nokia get damaged than your brand new iPhone.

How to Dress

Memphis in May is not a fashion show. You're not there to look cute. You're there to hear music and eat barbecue, most likely in torrential rain. Here's some advice for staying comfortable:

BSMF 2010

- Wear real shoes. Seriously. WEAR REAL SHOES. Flip-flops are not real shoes. Every year, the park is littered with hundreds of sad, broken flip-flops. If you doubt your shoes' ability to survive a mile-long walk in the mud, don't wear them. It's best to wear your crappiest pair of tennis shoes or boots. Also, ladies, there is a time and a place for heels. MIM isn't that time or place.

- Buy rain boots now. Even if you think you won't need them, go ahead and buy a pair of rubber rain boots. You won't be able to find any for at least 20 miles on Music Fest weekend.

- Light layers are always a good idea. Stash a hoodie and an extra t-shirt in your bag in case you it gets a little chilly at night. You want to have options.

- Wear a skirt. They'll keep you cooler, and they're less likely to get muddy on the bottom (or splattered in the port-o-potties). Plus, a light cotton skirt will dry out faster than jeans will.

- Wear contacts or old glasses. You really don't want to lose your nice prescription specs at BSMF or Barbecue Fest. Contacts are best - they stay in, you can wear sunglasses with them, and they don't get impossible to see out of when it rains.

- Rain gear is a must. You're going to need a poncho. If you've got waders, you may want to consider wearing them. You won't look any sillier than anyone else, but you will look drier.

General Tips for Making the Most of MIM

- It's going to rain. It always rains. Always. It will rain during BSMF. It will rain at barbecue fest. It's best if you go ahead and get to a zen-like place of acceptance about the rain.

- Drink water, lots and lots of water. It's going to be hot, you're going to be walking around, and you're probably going to be drinking beer. The trick to making it through the weekend without getting sick is to drink way more water than anything else - think two glasses of water for every beer.

- At BSMF, have a plan of attack. There are bands playing all day on three stages (and in one tent). Know when the bands you want to see are going to play and add extra walk time into your schedule.

Memphis in May Barbecue Festival

- Keep a change of clothes in your car. Nothing will feel better at the end of the day than fresh socks.

- Book a hotel room or try to stay with friends that live downtown. It'll give you a place to park, somewhere to go to recharge, and it'll be a lot easier than dealing with traffic.

- Make Barbecue Fest friends now. Because Barbecue Fest is a competition, teams aren't allowed to serve food to the general public. This means that if you don't know someone in one of the tents, you're going to miss out. The only way the masses can sample barbecue from the cooking teams is to pay $4 to be a "public judge". Your $4 will get you five samples, and you can come back as often as you'd like.

- If you get invited into a Barbecue Fest tent, be sure to tip. It's ridiculously expensive for teams to compete at the festival (think thousands of dollars). The least you could do is throw in for your beer.

Memphis in May Barbecue Fest

- You are allowed to bring coolers and food to the Sunset Symphony. You're also allowed to bring a blanket or lawn chairs.

- If you need a break, it's perfectly fine to leave the festival. Walk up the bluff and grab some food from one of the restaurants downtown. Know the re-entry procedures for BSMF and barbecue fest. At BSMF, you're allowed to leave and re-enter once per day. You have to be back in the park two hours before the gates close.

- Don't forget about International Week. This year, Memphis in May is celebrating Belgium with a ton of events around town during the first week in May.

- Embrace the craziness. You can't do anything about it. Don't think about how crowded it is - think about the excellent people watching opportunities. If there's a tornado warning, leave in a calm and orderly fashion (and know that the MIM staff knows what they're doing, as they get to practice almost every year.) Take some time to walk around and see the completely decked-out Barbecue Fest booths. Watch the annual Miss Piggy Idol contest (involving lots of grown men in dresses and pig snouts singing pork-themed covers of pop songs). See the Belgian band at BSMF. You'll have a lot more fun if you can relax and roll with the ridiculousness.

Memphis in May starts on April 29th. For more information about all of the Memphis in May events and tickets, visit the Memphis in May website.

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Thanks for the tips...I'm in the process of relocating to Memphis and have never been to MIM. Sounds like it always rains!
March 31, 2011 1:29pm
The old cell phone was one I submitted. I cannot tell you how many times I've seen friends ruin phones at MusicFest. Keeping an old Nokia in the drawer for rainy days like that is a life saver.
March 31, 2011 2:07pm
Brian W
Never would have thought of the old cell phone trick. Nice one.
March 31, 2011 2:42pm
Great list! Donna, welcome to Memphis! We're glad to have you!
March 31, 2011 3:40pm
This is great information! We moved to Memphis almost a year ago (right after Memphis in May was over with) but it's all we've heard about since we got here. I am heading to the store for some rain boots!
April 1, 2011 8:59am
This Weekend |…
[...] and friends. If you want to stalk me, here’s what I’ll be seeing.  Kerry posted The Complete 2011 Memphis in May Survival Guide yesterday, so I guess I’d better go stock up on bug spray, panchos, and rubber boots. [...]
April 1, 2011 10:23am
Katherine M
Hey Kerry, My name is Katie and I write a blog for a local apartment community, Hunter's Trace. We love the I Love Memphis blog, especially this great guide to Memphis in May! We've blogged about a few of your points to keep our residents in the know about how to prep for MiM and about all that the festival has to offer. We'd love to see your comments on our posting, or to just hear your suggestions on future topics for our blog. Please feel free to email me, or leave a comment on the direct posting. Thanks! Direct link:
April 25, 2011 1:34pm
Walt G
Too late for this year. THEY WILL LOCK THE GATES to the stairs leading out of the park 30 minutes BEFORE the last acts end their sets (Saturday night they locked them at midnight. John Mellencamp ended at about 12:15), leaving EVERYONE to march all the way up to the main entrance. If you park near one of the stairs (like we did last night) you will have a VERY long walk north then south back to the same spot (after a long day of standing). By the way there is NO warning or sign about that when you enter at those gates). Yes I may be whining BUT what does the fire marshall say about PAD LOCKING all the exits from the park except one when there are THOUSANDS of people still in the park. IRRESPONSIBLE MIM!
May 1, 2011 4:16pm
Wanting to impress a girl on the first date we played frisbee with her dog. Frisbee gets stuck in tree. Wanting to look smart, I saw a long piece of wood nearby, got it and reached for the frisbee. Couldn't quite get it so began to jump up to get extra reach. Success! And accompanied by a huge fart as I landed.
January 2, 2012 7:23am
Neil Gallagher
GREAT ARTICLE!!! I believe I speak for all of us BBQ Fest teams by saying we truly appreciate someone recognizing that it is a privledge to be invited into, and is customary to tip in a bbq booth.  It costs many of us over $10,000 to do the contest right...and that is without corporate sponsors.  Great tips! Neil Gallagher - Pitmaster Too Sauced To Pork Championship BBQ Team
March 20, 2012 11:33am