Loving this town. This morning we spent over two hours in church, much of it listening to fantastic gospel music by not only Al Green (aka Rev. Green) but an assortment of church members, all with fantastic voices! The church, on a remote exurban road, was full of visitors from Brazil, Germany, Australia and Iowa….we bumped into a friend sitting in the pews who is from Des Moines.
Affter church, we went with two friends we met for the first time last night at Rum Boogie Cafe, a fun juke joint on Beale Street, to Four Way, the famous soul food restaurant for lunch. Turns out the rest of the after church crowd was there so the place was packed. But it was worth the wait. Great people watching, especially the church women dressed so elegantly, with fabulous hats worthy of Ascot. The last time I saw such great hats was at Charles and Di’s wedding in 1981. The food was delicious too — fried chicken, with two sides (excellent cornmeal dressing). We sat next to a table of churchgoers who were really friendly and we enjoyed talking with them while our chicken was being fried (which took awhile).
We have been struck by how nice and welcoming people have been here. People smile and say hi when you pass them on the street or wait in line with them at a restaurant (“Where ya’all from?”) and everyone seems to have a story or favorite rib joint to share. (The man I was sitting next to at Four Way told me his favorite rib place is Memphis BBQ which is actually in Horn Lake Mississippi, which we have since tried. Too fast food an atmosphere for us. We will stick with Central BBQ, where we enjoyed dry ribs yesterday in the “historically hip” Cooper Young neighborhood, where our lovely 1920s Craftsman style Airbnb is located. Our hosts have done a great job fixing up this house, as have many of their neighbors with similar bungalows. (We also saw some great shotgun shacks on Blythe Street, parallel to Cooper.)
After Four Way, we took a totally entertaining tour of Sun Studio— our guide was a lot of fun and the tour reminded me a bit of touring the Motown headquarters in Detroit. Then to the Southern Folklore Center, which happened to share space with a Jewish museum. The center’s co-founder, an outgoing filmmaker named Judy, gave us a guided tour of the center and pointed out several of her relatives in the historic photos of Jews in Memphis decades ago. Who knew? (Apparently Jews own the famous Peabody Hotel…) Also thoroughly enjoyed a light breakfast at Otherlands Cafe in our neighborhood, with mismatched tables and local art including a folk artist named Karen Capps who it turns out lives a block from where we are staying.
We went back to Beale Street tonight (Freeworld, 30-year -old cover band, at Blues City Cafe where we sat with a nice couple from Denmark. Swedes were at the table next to us.) At one point, a guest artist – an older woman – got on stage and played a mean harmonica and sang. Who knew?
Beale Street was more fun than I expected. I was worried it would be full of drunks like New Orleans’ Bourbon Street …but we got there relatively early, which may have helped. And the music was great. On Saturday night, we wandered into Rum Boogie and encountered, as one guy put it “a smoking hot band” (Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars) followed by a slightly less smoking one but when I walked to the bathroom, I stumbled across another great band in the next room and a dancing crowd. Just nice to see people having a good time. Some of the best music was on the street with various bands playing and at one point on a surprisingly warm night (it was 91 degrees at one point) I found myself line dancing in the street with a bunch of strangers. Why not?!