ABCs of Memphis in May, 2014 Edition

Posted by Holly Whitfield | May 1st 2014 4079 0

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 15 – 17th.


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: The hotels will be booked by now, but you have several options for getting around safely if you plan to imbibe. A) Make a friend who lives in 38103 and make their place your home base. B) 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. C) Use one of the new ride-sharing apps Uber or Lyft. The availabilty of their services may be spotty during MIM since they're just getting started, but it's worth a shot. (Ha!)

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, waiting, 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, Panama. 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 technically 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 buy food 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 Team/Kingsford Tour: These are the solutions 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. You can also buy "Kingsford Tour of Champions" tickets in addition to your Barbecue Fest admission ticket. With this, you're essentially buying a spot as a "judge" on a private tour that will allow you access to some of Barbecue Teams' food.


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 (make sure pack some clean socks and a clean t-shirt. Trust me.

M is for Music Fest: The Beale Street Music Festival (May 2 – 4) 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 $40 at the gate, or $40 plus fees online.

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.

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 (Los) Rabanes: Los Rabanes are a Panamanian ska rock group that will perform twice during Memphis in May, on Saturday and Sunday. They're here as special guests from Panama (see I: International Week) so be sure to make room in your game plan to hear them live.

S is for Shoes and Sunscreen: Wear real shoes. Memphis in May is no place for cute footwear. No flip flops, no heels. Think old sneakers, all-weather boots, something like that. 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: 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 if rain gear is needed.

V is for Very nice end to the festival: Bring your family to the Sunset Symphony, which closes the festival on May 24th 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-citing to see all those bands: (Cut me some slack on this one, X is hard!) There are almost 70 acts this year, including a slew of Memphis-area-based bands. Jerry Lee Lewis makes his eleventh appearance at Music Fest this year. See the full lineup here. I also made you a playlist which you can listen to here.

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.

Author: Holly Whitfield

I write about what’s going on with Memphis music, food, arts, events, sports, people, and culture. Memphians love Elvis and barbeque with a passion that must be seen to be believed, but there is so much more to this place.

Show Comments


  1. Definitely all great tips! I cannot wait for BBQ fest. Another tip-carpool!

  2. As always GREAT ABC MIM list y'all!!!! Thanks for mentioning to tip the BBQ Bartenders

    One additional BBQ Program not mentioned – 

    C can also be for Cookers Caravan, a free tour of BBQ Team booths MIM offers on Thursday and Friday of BBQ Fest. Go to the cooker caravan kiosk and sign up for free and go on a tour of 3 team booths. The teams answer questions, show you our cookers, some of us even offer samples and invite you back to hang out with us. Info is on MIM website. You can sign up for multiple tours!

  3. Don't forget about Level Nine Services!  We are a locally owned full- service concierge. We provide chauffeurs for your car, cars and SUV's with drivers, and limousine/ party bus services that can be booked ahead of time for all the Memphis and May events! 

  4. Brad says:

    After living here for 5 years and going to those 5 festivals one the best things not everyone knows is the easiest way to help with finding friends in the park.  The light poles along Riverside Drive have large red numbers near the top on every third pole.  It's alot easier to say I'm in line with pole # 5 than to find some other point of reference.

  5. HOGZILLA says:

    Piggy Pirate coming for ya….

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