ABCs Of Memphis In May 2016 Edition

ABCs Of Memphis In May 2016 Edition

Tomorrow begins 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. Memphis artist Jared Small created this year's painting (below). Also, the Memphis Jewish Community Center will host an exhibition from The Jewish Public Library of Montreal’s - Stories Told: 100 Years of the JPL. 

Image provided by Memphis in May Image provided by Memphis in May

A is also for app: Memphis in May has their very own app that you can download for Apple and Android devices. It'll come in handy in particularly during Beale Street Music Fest.

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 12-14.

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

D is for Don't drink and drive: Finding a hotel room might be kind of dicey at this point, 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.

bsmf insanity

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. Last year I got to try this mac 'n' cheese eggroll from a food truck.

mac n cheese eggroll

G is also for galoshes, aka Rain Boots: The weather is unpredictable, and you're not going to want to walk around in flip flops (or heels - c'mon people, use some common sense) so go with some sneakers you don't mind getting muddy, or the traditional shoe of Memphis in May: the mighty rainboot. I'd take some plastic ponchos as well.

H is for Have a plan: Don't depend on cell service to connect you with pals, because the last few years it's basically 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 2-9 is a good time to learn something about this year's honored country, Canada. 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 maintenance as possible.

You can also buy "Kingsford Tour of Champions" tickets in addition to your Barbecue Fest admission ticket. There *might* be a handful left. 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. Read all the details to be sure it's what you want.

Local festival: The other new event for Memphis in May this year is 901Fest, a celebration of all things Memphis, which will take place on May 28. There's a lineup of local bands and performers, local vendors selling art and more, and food and drink from local favorites. Tickets are $9 and the event goes from 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The crowd at Beale Street Music Festival 2015. The crowd at Beale Street Music Festival 2015. Photo by Joey Miller

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: Read the 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, 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 2014's rendition of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" that became "Beans 'n' Slaw".

R is for Run, Great American: One of two new events for Memphis in May this year, the Great American River Run is a 5K and half-marathon on May 28, 2016. Learn more 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!)

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 Vendors: At 901Fest on May 28, you'll be able to shop local vendors. Check out the list here.

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 has a lot going on. See the whole list 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. 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.

A BBQ fest "tent". A BBQ fest "tent".

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Hi Holly! This is great info. I'm a newbie who moved to Memphis back in Feb, and didn't realize you cant actually go into BBQ fest as an individual. Do you just have to hustle/ bribe to find someone who has a tent and can let you in? Do the BBQ tent contestants have a very limited number of invites to hand out to friends and family? Any tips/ hints on how to score an invite would be very much appreciated!
April 28, 2016 4:12pm

Toilet paper and hand sanitizer also comes in handy!
April 28, 2016 10:22pm

Holly Whitfield
Hi KB! Yes, it's a common misconception that it's a free-for-all - I think mostly caused by the colloquial term for the event, "BBQ Fest". It's actually "World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest" and for a lot of teams, a fairly serious competition combined with a party. Hustling and bribing won't work, and probably not wouldn't be tolerated, so I wouldn't go that route. Every BBQ team has a different policy/number of invites that their team members are allowed to have depending on number of team members and size of tent (some are small, some are HUGE and have 3 stories). Another thing to consider is that there's NOT a freeflow of BBQ/food throughout the 3 days, every team has its own plan for feeding team members and friends (and they're busy prepping food for judges some of the time). My best advice is that if you know someone with a tent or who has access, tell them you're new, ask nicely if you can tag along for a bit and find out what time the bbq meal is served and if you can go then, and that you're more than happy to throw down for a tip in the tip jar. I think most people are very kind and hospitable and are happy to share what they can if they can. It's definitely not about being exclusive or leaving folks out, it's that these teams (many have been together for YEARS or have travelled from all over the world) pay hundreds (more often, thousands) per person for food, supplies, tent, reserving the space, entertainment, alcohol, alcohol, and more alcohol, and they just can't afford to feed and serve everyone, or don't physically have the space to accommodate a crowd outside of their team and team's family. Another idea is to check out the Kingsford Tour of Champions. It looks like they'll sell out ANY SECOND: I wrote more about this last year, but I do not have the info from Memphis In May confirming that it's all applicable again this year. I don't know if those team are going to sell again this year. Hang tight for a week and I'll have an updated version:
April 29, 2016 9:07am

Holly Whitfield
Smart thinking, Megz!
April 29, 2016 9:12am

Holly Whitfield
I'm not sure, Linda. I haven't heard about them, but I've Tweeted at them and I'll let you know if I hear anything. You might want to peruse the website a bit, too. I didn't see anything but I could have missed it.
April 29, 2016 1:45pm

Neil Gallagher
This is our 2016 Unofficial BBQ Fest guide...
April 29, 2016 5:23pm