Beale Street is ground zero for Memphis’s blues music scene. While some people lament that Beale has become a sad tourist trap, it can still be a worthwhile place to spend your evening. Indeed, no other part of Memphis has as much music and entertainment packed into such a small area.
On a typical night, Beale Street is full of people of all ages and races strolling from one bar to the next. Beer seems to run a close second to music as the street’s prime attraction, with many bars selling directly onto the street through concession windows. “Big Ass Beer” cups used by many establishments say it all.
Nearly all Beale Street bars have live music, but one of the most popular is B. B. King’s Blues Club (139 Beale St., 901/524-5464, cover $5–7), owned by the legend himself. B. B. King performs here two or three times a year—keep your ear to the ground since the shows are not usually advertised. On other evenings, local acts and some nationally known performers take the stage. B. B. King’s draws a mostly tourist crowd, but with the blues on full-throttle, you probably won’t care too much.
Also on Beale Street, Blues City Cafe (138 Beale St., 901/526-3637, cover $3–5) books blues plus a variety of other acts, including do-wop, Zydeco, R&B, funk, and “high impact rock-a-billy.” The café-restaurant is one of the most popular on Beale treet], and the nightclub is right next door. Rum Boogie Cafe (182 Beale St., 901/528-0151, cover $3–5) has an award-winning house band, James Covan and the Boogie Blues Band, that performs most evenings.
Morgan Freeman is part owner of the Ground Zero Blues Club (158 Lt. George W. Lee St., 901/522-0130, cover varies), which opened in 2008 next door to the Westin, a few blocks off Beale Street. A satellite of the original Ground Zero in Clarksdale, Mississippi, this club offers real-deal blues seven nights a week.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition