The ABCs of Memphis in May

Posted by Holly Whitfield | April 17th 2012 3789 0

Memphis in May, our month-long civic celebration of music, barbecue, and ridiculous good times, is almost upon us. Get prepared with the ABCs of MIM:

Looking Pig, Memphis in May, Memphis, Tenn.

A is for App: Download the Memphis in May app before you head to Tom Lee Park. It's got music line-ups, maps, lists of barbecue teams, schedules and helpful info on what you can and can't get away with at MIM.

Memphis in May App

B is for Barbecue: The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is a magical time when pitmasters from all over converge on Tom Lee Park to slow cook pork (and chicken and alligator and anything else that can fit on a grill). It's happening May 17 – 19.

C is for Cash: Bring some. You're going to need it for food, beer, parking and any extras you plan on picking up.

D is for Don't drink and drive: I recommend booking a room at a downtown hotel if you're planning to do all three days of Music Fest or the Barbecue Cooking Contest. If you can't do that, make a friend who lives in 38103. If that doesn't work, program this number into your phone: (901) 577-7777. It's the local cab company.

E is for Embrace the insanity: Memphis in May is a giant, month-long party, so treat it as such. There's no point in getting upset about little things (weather, drunk people, mud, whatever). Take a deep breath and reach a place of acceptance and tolerance for the festival's inborn quirks and you'll have a great time no matter what.

F is for food: There are food vendors of all kinds – ice cream, barbecue, tacos, funnel cake, lemonade, Pronto Pups – at all of the MIM events at Tom Lee Park. Make it your mission to try one of everything.

G is for Galoshes: You're going to need some. Even if it doesn't rain during the festivals, Tom Lee Park has a tendency to get muddy. If you're in Memphis, buy them now or order them online. There won't be a single pair left in the metro area after May 1.

Galoshes, Memphis in May, Memphis, Tenn.

H is for Have a plan: If you're going with friends, pack walkie talkies – they'll work when cell phone networks get too slow. This sounds very kindergarden, but make a plan on what time you want to leave the park, where you want to meet and what you'll do if there's a park evacuation or your get separated. Remember – bad things only seem to happen when you don't plan for them.

I is for International Week: It's not the all-out party the rest of MIM is, but International Week is a good time to learn something about this year's honored country, the Philippines. Check out the cultural events, performances and eating opportunities and be proud that you learned something during the festival.

J is for Judge Barbecue in the Public Tent: It's a cruel irony when Tom Lee Park smells like a barbecue sandwich and you can't have any of it. Due to health department rules, barbecue cooking contest team tents are open by invitation only. If you want to sample team barbecue and have a few bucks you can become a "public judge" and taste samples.

K is for Know someone on a barbecue fest team: This is the solution to the problem presented above. If you do know someone on a team, though, don't abuse it. If your buddies are willing to let you in, awesome, but don't try to bring a pack of friends with you. Also, mind your manners – they're doing you a favor, and you should be as low maintenence as possible.

L is for Layers: The temperature at MIM can go from crazy hot during the day to kind of cold at night. Dress in layers, with at least one of the layers being a hoodie. If you're a girl (or brave guy), skirts are great festival wear. If you're taking a bag with you, pack some clean socks and a clean t-shirt. Trust me.

M is for Music Fest: The Beale Street Music Festival (May 4 – 6) is the official start of the Memphis in May madness. Check the full schedule of bands and the list of rules, then buy your tickets early. There are still some $75 three-day passes available, but you can buy single day passes for $32.50 in advance or $40 at the gate.

Music Fest, Memphis, Tenn.

N is for Need a Change of Clothes in the Car: Before you head to the festival, put the following in your car: a complete, head-to-toe change of clothes, an extra pair of shoes, an extra pair (or three) of socks, a towel and a trash bag.

O is for Over heated: You're going to be outside, in a park with little shade in Memphis in May. Even if it's not crazy hot outside, it's still easy to get overheated. Drink water, find a cool place to sit (the Blues Tent at Music Fest is a great option, as they have chairs) and quit when your body tells you to. Also, pack some Gold Bond – it'll make you feel like an old person, but it's magic on heat rash.

P is for Parking: Parking in one of the downtown lots or garages for Memphis in May can get a little pricey, so bring cash. If you're willing to walk a bit, there's usually some free parking to be had on the northern and southern ends of downtown.

Q is for Q'ue-related Dance Contest: Don't miss the Miss Piggy Idol contest on Thursday at the Barbecue Cooking Contest. There are costumes, there are props, there are men in dresses singing songs whose lyrics have been modified to be about pork.

R is for Rain: It's going to rain during Memphis in May. It always rains during Memphis in May. The festival will go on if it rains (unless there's a tornado warning – then the park will be evacuated).

S is for Shoes and Sunscreen: I say this every year: wear real shoes. Memphis in May is no place for cute footwear. The older and crappier the shoes, the better. The park is a mile long, and I've seen many a sad, abandoned single flip flop languishing in the mud.

Shoes. Wear them.

T is for Tip in barbecue fest booths: Barbecue Fest team booths are crazy expensive. The least you can do is toss a $20 in the jar for the bartender (especially if the drinks are free).

U is for Umbrellas not allowed: Wear a poncho or modified Hefty Bag instead.

V is for Very nice end to the festival: (Come on, V is a tough letter.) Bring your family to the Sunset Symphony, which closes the festival. Tickets are only $8 and it's a relaxing way to end the month.

W is for Water: Dehydration sucks, and it's easily preventable. Start hydrating a few days before you head to Music Fest or Barbecue Fest. During the festivals, a good rule is one bottle of water / big glass of water for every big beer.

X is for X-tremely likely to rain: Seriously. Even if the forecast says it won't, it's going to rain.

Y is for You're going to need a break: At some point, you will need a break from the festival. It's more than ok to leave Tom Lee Park for a little bit and grab a snack (and a seat) at any of the restaurants downtown.

Z is for Ziploc baggies: Put your phone (and anything else that doesn't need to come in contact with water) in a Ziploc baggie before you stash it in your pocket or bag.

If you've got any more tips, leave them in the comments.

Show Comments


  1. Francesca says:

    Ride a bike! No worries about parking then.
    And a suggestion for V: Vegetarian options. Are there any?

  2. Brian C says:

    Move downtown so you can enjoy walking everywhere and not having to deal with traffic!  Live where you play, not where you work. πŸ™‚

  3. Deborah says:

    You can also text to order a taxi — 901-896-9797.  During MusicFest and BBQ, we will have two taxi stands on Riverside Drive– one at Georgia and one at Union. 

  4. From what all of us teams were told on Sunday at the cooks meeting – The People's Choice Contest has been eliminated for 2012.  Sorry ya'll

  5. […] How to make your Memphis in May rock the most? (1) Bring cash for the vendors who can feed and hydrate you during outdoor events; (2) Don’t let rain ruin your good time (this is for you, music festival-goers: Fight back with ponchos and galoshes); and (3) Download the Memphis in May app for on-the-fly schedules, maps and FAQs. For a thorough explication of these and other tips for experiencing Memphis in May, read this. […]

  6. Tom J says:

    T is also for Trolley! Park in Midtown (free parking lot at Madison/Cleveland Station) and take the trolley, but beware, last trip back is 1am (last I heard).

Leave a Comment


Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information and Resources for Travelers.