Now it’s Friday night, and I’m out with a group looking for music. The pedestrian-only section of Beale Street is crowded with people drinking from plastic takeout cups, wandering through music and souvenir stores, and watching the Beale Street Flippers, athletic young men who perform a sort of combination cartwheel/somersault across the cobblestones for tips. The scene hasn’t reached frat-party status, but on some nights, it does.
With live music, most of the clubs have a cover charge, but they’re still busy. Our group tries Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall first, but it has standing room only, and we end up in Rum Boogie Cafe, where the music is not so loud that it drowns out conversation.
A block away is the Brass Note Walk of Fame, which celebrates more than 100 people who contributed to Memphis’s musical history with brass notes embedded in the sidewalk between Second and Third Streets in the style of the stars on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame.
Finally, there is Graceland, which will host Elvis Week Aug. 10-18, when fans will mark the 35th anniversary of the death of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.
Graceland’s importance to Memphis as a musical destination can’t be understated. Graceland opened for tours on June 7, 1982, five years after Elvis’s death. It wasn’t until after those tours starting drawing in music lovers that Sun Studio and Stax Records followed suit, the Smithsonian opened the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, or that Beale Street began its comeback.
Tours of Graceland are self-guided, so visitors proceed at their own pace, but most stop longest at the Jungle Room, with its waterfall, shag-carpeted walls and jungle motif; the billiard room, in which the walls and ceiling are covered with elaborately pleated print fabric; the displays of gold records and glitzy jumpsuits; and the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his parents and other family members are buried.