ABCs of Memphis In May: 2019 Edition
May is 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, updated for 2019.
Image above by Marvin Garcia / Copyright © Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau 2011 All Rights Reserved.
A is for Art: Every year, Memphis in May releases a fine art poster commemorating that year’s featured country. Since we are our own honored country this year, local artist Evelina Dillon created a post honoring us.
A is also for app: Memphis in May has two apps that you need to download: the Beale Street Music Fest app (just search “Beale Street Music Fest” in the App Store) and the LiveSafe app, which really, y’all DO download this. The latter is for our safety and is the only way for the organizers to communicate with everybody about schedule changes, weather (the park was on lockdown last year during WCBCC due to lightning), and other concerns.
B is for Barbecue: The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (commonly called the “BBQ Fest” but it is first and foremost a cooking competition) 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 15-18, 2019 and tickets are $10 per day.
B is for Bicenntennial: Happy 200th Birthday, Memphis! We’re celebrating two centuries of our city’s official existence with Celebrate Memphis bash on Saturday, May 25th. Food, music, fun, fireworks, air shows, and the world’s longest picnic.
C is for Cash: Bring some. You’re going to need it for food, beer, parking and any extras you plan on picking up. In theory, vendors have card machines and there are ATMs, but do not count on those working.
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, which isn’t that bad. I’ve walked somewhere downtown to grab some food and let the surge pricing settle out. Easy!
There is no reason in the year of our Thor 2019 to drink and drive, so stop letting your friends risk their life and license because they can’t be bothered to wait 15 minutes and pay about as much as it costs to park your car in most cities to call a car home. /rant
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, road closures, 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.
F is also for fireworks: After the Great American River Run on Saturday morning, May 25th, and a full afternoon of festival-ing at Celebrate Memphis, Memphis Tourism will provide a huge fireworks display.
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 7-13 is a good time to learn something about this year’s honored country, The Czech Republic. 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 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest: 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: These are the solutions to the problem presented above.
a) Know someone on a BBQ team: If you do know someone, 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 and definitely tip.
b) You can also buy $16 ($20.44 with fees) “BBQ Alley” tickets in addition to your $10+fees Barbecue Cooking Competition admission ticket. This is new as of 2017. Read all the fine print and get tickets here (scroll down to the BBQ Alley section).
Local festival: The past two years, Memphis In May has concluded on the final Saturday in May with the Great American River Run and 901 Fest (not to be confused with 901 Day, which is September 1). This year, in honor of the bicentennial, they’re taking the spirit of 901 Fest and creating Celebrate Memphis, the big bicentennial party. See the lineup of local bands, local food, local vendors, and a ton of other fun. This year, it’s free and you can bring in whatever food and drink and stuff (definitely some limitations to that, so read this).
M is for Music Fest: The Beale Street Music Festival (May ) is the official start of the Memphis in May madness. Check the lineup list here and the times and stages schedule here. But that’s not the only music going on for Memphis in May! Beloved Memphis-based rockers Lucero will take the stage, along with Al Kapone, Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, Love Light Orchestra, and many, many more peformers on May 25th for Celebrate Memphis.
M is also for Mighty Lights: We got fancy lights on our bridges, now, y’all! There’ll be good views of these nightly light shows from Tom Lee Park during Memphis in May events.
N is for You Need To Bring Some Things: OK, this is 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 to BSMF here. Read more about WCBCC permitted items here and Celebrate Memphis 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 PICNIC: During Celebrate Memphis, we as a city are going to attempt to break the Guinness World Record for World’s Longest Picnic Table. It’s going to be longer than five football fields, and Memphis In May needs about 1,000 people to be picnicking at once in order for it to count, so be sure to add this to your calendar. The Guinness people will be there snooping!
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 a rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” that became “Beans ‘n’ Slaw”.
R is for Run, Great American: One of the newer events for Memphis in May, the Great American River Run is a 5K and half-marathon on May 25, 2019 with a course taking you through downtown and along the Mighty Mississippi in all its glory. 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!) They will have sunscreen stations this year, too.
T is for Tip in barbecue fest booths: Barbecue team booths are crazy expensive. If you get a tent invite, 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 Vendors: At Celebrate Memphis on May 25th, you’ll be able to shop local vendors.
W is for Water: Dehydration sucks, and it’s easily preventable. Start hydrating a few days before you head to Music Fest or BBQ Competition. During the festivals, a good rule is one bottle of water / big glass of water for every big beer.
W is also for World’s Longest Picnic Table: Have we talked about this? Scroll up to letter “P”, because you don’t want to miss it
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. You can leave and re-enter the park one time, just be back at least two hours before it shuts down.
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.
All photos by Joey Miller unless otherwise noted.