ABCs of Memphis In May

ABCs of Memphis In May

It's necessary to take it back to preschool and sing our ABCs—aka a handy list of tips and tricks of what you need to know before you enjoy Memphis In May. 

May is Memphis’ month-long civic celebration of music, barbecue, and ridiculous good times. Here's a brief overview of events:

As is tradition, here are the I Love Memphis ABCs of Memphis in May to help you get prepared for all the festivities.

front row of crowd at beale street music fest
Sean Davis

A is for Art: Every year, Memphis in May releases a fine art poster commemorating that year's featured country. The honored country for 2023 is the Malaysia, the featured artist is Memphis' own, Kong Wee. See the poster here.

A is also for app: Memphis in May has an apps that you need to download: the Beale Street Music Fest app (just search "Beale Street Music Fest" in the App Store) to get the daily schedule, stage times, and more information right there on your phone. Super handy if you ask me!

B is for Barbecue: The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (commonly and erroneously called "BBQ Fest") is a magical time when pit-masters from all over come to Memphis to smoke pork (and chicken and alligator and anything else that can fit on a grill). It's happening May 17-20, 2023. More about this in letter K.

B is for Bags: This is what BSMF’s FAQs page says about bags: “Clear small bags, fanny packs and purses (18” x 18” x 18” maximum, ALL BAGS MUST BE CLEAR)”

C is for Cash: Bring some. You may need it for food, beer, parking, tips, and any extras you plan on picking up. In theory, vendors have card machines and there are ATMs, but it’s better to have some on hand.

D is for Don't drink and drive: Finding a hotel room or Airbnb might be dicey at this point, but just don’t do this. We are NOT driving drunk in 2023 (or ever)! Consider a designated driver or utilizing ride share:

  • Make a friend who lives nearby and make their place your home base. 
  • Program this number into your phone: (901) 577-7777 - it's the local cab company. Call well before you’re ready to leave. 
  • Use ride-sharing apps Uber or Lyft. Prepare to wait and pay a little more, but it’s worth it! You can also walk to somewhere in midtown, and wait a little for surge pricing to chill out. Or be picked up there.
BSMF 2023 Lineup

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. Make it your mission to try one of everything. 

F is also for Found (Lost & Found): I get it, there's so much going on. It's easy to misplace your belongings in the hustle and bustle. At the end of BSMF23, all remaining items in the lost & found are sent to the MPD property room at 201 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN 38103.  Call (901) 636-3550 for lost items.

G is for Gates: The BSMF gates open at 5:00 p.m. on Friday and 1:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Performances are over roughly around 11:00 p.m. However, end times varies pending performances.

H is for Have a plan: Don't depend on cell service to connect you with pals. You might not have service at peak moments 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. 

I is for International Festival: The "I" in Memphis In May stands for "International", and each year a country is recognized with events, food, music, educational programs and more. For 2023, Memphis In May will honor Malaysia throughout the month. Check out the cultural events, performances and eating opportunities and be proud that you learned something during the festival.

Great American River Run
Memphis in May / Stephanie Norwod

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. If you know someone on a team, they may extend you an invite. Be cool. Also, tip their bar! Show some southern hospitality.

L is for Lockers for rent: This is so convenient. Who wants to haul loads of bags or extra clothing throughout BSMF? Definitely not me! Click here to rent a locker.

L is also for Lineup: See the full lineup of Memphis In May music fest bands here. More than 60 artists and bands that will grace the stages on the newly renovated Tom Lee Park. 

M is for Music Fest: The Beale Street Music Festival (May 5-7) is the official start of the Memphis in May madness! Gates open at 5 p.m. on Friday and at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It goes til it goes. Generally 11 p.m.ish. Saturday is usually later.

Beale Street Music Festival

N is for Need To Bring Some Things and Not Other Things:

  • Allowed: your I.D., one factory-sealed water bottle max 20 oz, blankets, sunglasses, hats, camelback hydration packs 1.75 liters or less, and CLEAR BAGS 18” x 18” x 18” maximum.
  • Not Allowed: pets, totems/signs, tents, umbrellas and a bunch of other stuff.
  • Read all the Beale Street Music Fest rules here.

O is for Overheated: 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: Premium Parking is Memphis in May’s official partner. Click here to find a Premium Parking spot. You can also find additional parking throughout downtown Memphis and close to Tom Lee Park by clicking here. Be prepared for traffic and lots of walking.

WCBCC19 /  Alex Shansky.jpg
Alex Shansky

Q is for Que-related Dance Contest: Don't miss the Miss Piggy Idol contest 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" several years ago. 

R is for Run, Great American: The Great American River Run is a 5K, 10K, and half-marathon on Memorial Day Weekend. 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. 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, too.

T is for Tom Lee Park: The festival is back at Tom Lee Park this year after being at Liberty Park last year while Tom Lee Park was undergoing renovations. Let me tell you— the refreshed park is AMAZING! Read more about it here.

T is also 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.

Stage at beale street music festival

V is for Vendors: Beale Street Music Fest will have vendors of kinds selling festival merch, apparel, accessories, and more, in addition to plenty of food and drink. 

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. 

X is for X-citing to see all those bands: The lineup has a lot going on. See the list here

Y is for You're going to need a break: Pace yourself! You won’t be able to exit and re-enter BSMF this year, so plan to stop at some point for some delicious festival food, a water, and a sit.

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 or the clear bag rule.

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