ABCs of Memphis in May: 2015 Edition

Posted by Holly Whitfield | April 16th 2015 1868 16

We’re 15 days away from Memphis’ monthlong civic celebration of music, barbecue, and ridiculous good times. As is tradition, here are the I Love Memphis ABCs of Memphis in May to help you get prepared for all the festivities.

A is for Art: Every year, Memphis in May releases a fine art poster commemorating that year’s featured country. This year’s piece is pretty cool:

poland-poster

B is for Barbecue: The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest is a magical time when pit-masters 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 14-16.

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 are mostly 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 ride-sharing apps Uber or Lyft. Just prepare for waiting and surge pricing.

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, vendor (not competition) 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. You might be able to find them around town since we’re a few weeks out, but most places sell out as you get closer to May 1. You might try Bass Pro (the new shop opens April 30!) shops in Eastern Arkansas or North Mississippi, or the magic of overnight shipping via Zappos.

H is for Have a plan: Don’t depend on cell service to connect you with pals, because the last few years it’s spotty or impossible to get through via text or phone calls, especially during Beale Street Music Fest. Instead, make a plan of when and where to meet or what to do if you get separated from your group. Some folks even bring walkie talkies.

I is for International Week: It’s not the all-out party the rest of MIM is, but International Week during May 4-9 is a good time to learn something about this year’s honored country, Poland. Check out the cultural events, performances and eating opportunities and be proud that you learned something during the festival.

bbq-fest

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 maintenance 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. Also, this year Memphis in May will be renting lockers. Read more about that here.

Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 12.54.20 PM

M is for Music Fest: The Beale Street Music Festival (May 1-3) is the official start of the Memphis in May madness. Check the lineup list here and the times and stages schedule here.

N is for You Need To Bring Some Things: OK, this this probably not the most clever N phrase, but I wanted to let you know what you’re allowed to bring into the park. You can take in: one bottle of water per person, a blanket, a bag smaller than 12″ x 12″ if necessary, your photo I.D., cash (they do have ATMs on site), and of course, your ticket. Read more rules about what you can/can’t bring here.

O is for Overheated: 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.

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.

Memphis in May BBQ Contest

Q is for Que-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. I am still laughing about last year’s rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” that became “Beans ‘n’ Slaw”.

R is for Revival: If you want to know where everyone is going before/during/after Memphis in May events, Brewery Revival is probably a safe bet, judging by the huge crowds that flocked to the Tennessee Brewery last year during the events. To find out more about Brewery Revival (which is not an official Memphis in May event), go here.

S is for Shoes, Sunscreen, and Sunglasses: 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. Also, don’t be one of those people “working on your tan” and just go ahead and wear that sunscreen (and sunglasses!)

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.

Sunset in Tom Lee Park, Memphis, Tenn.

V is for Very nice end to the festival: Bring your family to the Sunset Symphony, which closes the festival on May 23. This is the final Sunset Symphony ever, so it’s going to be a bit bittersweet. Tickets are $10.25 each and I have a sneaky feeling this year is going to sell out.

W is for Water: Dehydration sucks, and it’s easily preventable. Start hydrating a few days before you head to Music Fest or BBQ 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: I know I’m cheating with the X on this one, but the point is that the lineup is a great one this year. Not sure which bands you want to catch? Take this quiz to find out.

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. It sounds low tech, but isn’t a bad idea especially if you don’t want to bother with a purse.

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.

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  1. […] D is for Don’t drink and drive: The hotels are mostly 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 …read more […]

  2. Debi Neal says:

    Great job Holly on the ABC's –

    Debi

  3. Melissa says:

    Am I crazy, or did ticket prices for the 3-day pass go up? I was certain it was $95, yet it's showing up at $120 on the Ticketmaster website.

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