ABCs of Memphis In May, 2013 Edition

Posted by Holly Whitfield | April 30th 2013 3624 0

(ed. note: This was originally published last year, but I've made some edits so that it's accurate for this year's festival.)

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

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.

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 16 – 18th.


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 and make their place your home base. If that doesn't work, program this number into your phone: (901) 577-7777 – it's the local cab company. Pro-tip: If you're calling a cab, call about an hour before you're ready to leave since they're going to be busy.

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 (aka, rain boots): You're going to need some. Even if it doesn't rain during the festivals, Tom Lee Park has a tendency to get muddy. It's going to be tough to find them in Memphis this close to the festival, so you might try Bass Pro, shops in Eastern Arkansas or North Mississippi, or the magic of overnight shipping via Zappos.


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, Sweden. Check out the cultural events, performances and eating opportunities and be proud that you learned something during the festival.

J is for Judges at Barbecue Fest: It's a cruel irony when all of Tom Lee Park smells like a barbecue sandwich and you can't have any of it. Due to health department rules, barbecue contest cooking team tents are treated like private parties (meaning, they're invite only, and you can't just walk in and eat). The only people who get to sample the teams' cooking without an invite are the festival's highly trained team of judges.

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: your barbecue team friend is doing you a favor, so 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 a little chilly 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 3 – 5) 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. Single day tickets are $35 for Friday and Sunday and $45 for Saturday at the gate.

N is for You 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.

P is also for Playoffs: The Grizzlies are in the Playoffs, and there's going to be at least one game (Friday, May 3) that happens at the same time as the festival. This means that downtown is going to be kind of crazy (in a good way). Last year, the MIM crew was kind enough to set up screens where people could watch the game from the festival, so I imagine that they'll do the same this year. Don't forget your Growl Towel.

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.

S is also for Security: In light of recent events, MIM is stepping up their security precautions. All bags are subject to search, and no bags or backpacks that are bigger than 12" x 12" will be allowed into the park.

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 modify a 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 on May 25th Tickets are only $8 in advance (and $9 at the door) 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, trust me, 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 other tips, please leave them in the comments.


Show Comments


  1. JWo says:

    Thanks for this list!!

    It’s been years since I’ve been to Memphis in May but since we’ve just moved back we decided to go to the BBQ Fest this year.

    I’m printing this and posting on the fridge as a reminder!!

  2. Sarah Beth Tyler says:

    Even if it doesn't rain (even though it totally will), sitting down poses its own problems at Music Fest. There aren't many dry, clean places to rest your feet. We uaully carry a plastic sheet and a towel. A garbage bag works fine, or you can pick up a 5×8 sheet at Outdoors Inc for less than 8 bucks. They are lightweight, don't take up much room, and provide relief from all of the music fest dancing! 

  3. Awesome! I'm really impressed that you covered every letter!  As someone who lives downtown, my favorite is E. EMBRACE the Insanity – it's going to be craaaazy.

  4. Alex says:

    Can anyone confirm they will be showing the Grizzlies game? Really want to see the Wallflowers and Edwarde Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros but can't be missing the entire Grizz game. Man – what a scheduling dilemma.

  5. Lawanda says:

    Whats the best weekend to come?

  6. mb hebert says:

    I am floored that you can't buy the bbq.  All these years, I've been dying to go to MIM–even thinking of giving up N.O. Jazz Fest to do it–and now I learn that I wouldn't get to sample all the world class bbq?!  That's just crazy.

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