Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Barbecue and Blues in Memphis

The old cotton capital of Memphis, Tennessee, rises on a bluff overlooking a wide, lazy stretch of the Mississippi River. During the long, sultry summer afternoons, its residents lie low to escape the humid heat. But after dark, in the back-alley rib shacks and the blues clubs of Beale Street, the River City comes alive with what made it world-famous – music and barbecue.

Memphis is the home of the blues. From the 1920s onward, black musicians from the Mississippi Delta made a beeline for Beale Street, where W. C. Handy, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and B. B. King jammed in its legendary “juke joints.” In 1954, Memphis became the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll when, in the tiny Sun Studio, local boy Elvis Presley recorded a blues number, “That’s All Right,” but with a daring new sound that set the world on fire.
Then, in the 1960s, the artists at Stax Records – including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Sam & Dave – turned Memphis into “Soulsville USA.”
Memphis is also home to one of the oldest and most popular styles of Southern barbecue. This down-home food is a perfect complement to the raw, earthy music that sprang from the city’s streets. In Memphis, home of the World Champion Barbecue Contest each May, barbecue means baby-back pork ribs. They come “wet” – cooked and served with a tangy sauce made from tomato, vinegar, and spices – or “dry” – seasoned with a rub of dried spices, primarily paprika, which gives the meat a lusty red color. Dry ribs are lightly mopped with just enough spiced vinegar during cooking to keep them juicy.
What makes Memphis barbecue so delicious is the cooking. The ribs are smoked “low and slow” over a hickory wood fire, giving them plenty of time to absorb the smoky scent and coating them with a dark crispy crust while remaining succulent and tender inside, with all the flavor of the meat shining through. The result is hot, melting, and sweet – just like Memphis music.
A passion for music still pulsates through Memphis today, whether you come to tour its music museums, pay homage to the King, buried at his Graceland mansion, or soak up some electric blues or R&B, moody jazz, or a boogie beat in the neon-lit nightclubs on Beale Street. But there’s a more sober side to Memphis too: in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated here, on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel. The National Civil Rights Museum now located at this tragic spot is one of the most inspirational destinations in the US, and it surely has a fitting home in this city, where music brought all races and classes together.

Follow the “Brass Note Walk of Fame” on legendary Beale Street, home of the blues

A Day in Memphis
Most of the top sights in downtown Memphis are a short walk or taxi ride from Beale Street. Many can also be reached by bus or the vintage downtown trolley cars. Farther out are Soulsville: the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and Graceland, Elvis Presley’s former home. The city has many non-music attractions too, from botanic gardens and riverboat rides to film festivals and galleries, but on a one-day itinerary, it’s almost inevitable that music-lovers are going to set the pace.
MORNING : Get an early start at Graceland to see Elvis’s sumptuous home and treasures, and pay your respects at his grave. Then head back downtown to the Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum for a fascinating look at the city’s music history.
AFTERNOON : Let your musical tastes decide whether to visit Sun Studio for an entertaining tour of the little studio that first recorded Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, or head to the Stax Museum to hear the phenomenal story of the label that launched American soul music and ogle Isaac Hayes’s gold-trimmed blue Cadillac.
EVENING : After a monster meal of Memphis barbecue, lick your fingers and head for Beale Street and a night of Memphis blues.
Sizzling “wet” pork ribs are brushed with a sauce made from tomatoes, vinegar, and spices

Getting to Memphis

Memphis International Airport is only 15 minutes by taxi or shuttle from downtown.
A rental car is useful for visiting Graceland.

Where to stay in Memphis

Doubletree Hotel Memphis Downtown (inexpensive) has comfortable rooms just two blocks from Beale Street.
Memphis Marriott Downtown (moderate) is the city’s largest hotel, right on the trolley line.
The Peabody Hotel (expensive): the place to stay in Memphis.
Memphis Visitor Center, 3205 Elvis Presley Boulevard;

No comments:

Post a Comment