Day 225

One of the great things a large city has to offer is summer programming—from the festivities of Memphis in May to Central Park’s Summerstage concerts, there’s always something new to do. Here in Chicago, I’m lucky enough to be in town for several such events. The first is Taste of Chicago, a blend of food trucks, top chefs and outdoor concerts. I really wanted to check it out, so last week I attended a performance by AWOLNATION at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, as well as a demonstration from Chef Art Smith. Both were absolutely wonderful and filled to brim with enthusiastic patrons. I think it's safe to say that this is what 'summer fun' is all about. 

Also taking place throughout the summer is Chicago’s 14th Annual Movies in the Park series, which kicked off May 29th. It features more than 250 outdoor screenings in parks across the city and draws thousands upon thousands during its run. I recently learned that this summer’s program features the addition of the “Chicago on Screen Local Film Showcase,” which highlights movies shot in or inspired by the city. Sadly, I haven’t been able to attend one of these screenings yet, but I hope to catch at least one before I mosey on to Minneapolis.

Lastly, I’ll be participating in the Rock n’ Roll Running Festival this weekend, running a 5K on Saturday and another on Sunday. There’s also a mini-marathon that takes place, but I just don’t think I’m to that point yet. The cool thing about this event is that it features a finish line performance from Cold War Kids, a great band I recommend everyone check out. And the organizers actually host this event across the US, Europe and the UK for anyone interested. 

Of course, these are just a few of the great things I’ll be taking part in here. To be honest, when I first departed Cleveland back in January, I spent most of my time looking into concerts and music festivals. And while I do plan on attending a few, I’ve come to realize that what each city, itself, has to offer is far more interesting, because these are the things that help shape its personality. Bands will come and go; festivals will move and grow; but our cities will always have the most to offer, because we’ll always have a voice in what comes next. 

Two quick side notes: One of the amazing designers at Boxing Clever created this shirt for me. If you dig it, please be sure to grab one. Once I sell enough, I'll get a portion of the sales and all the earnings go directly into the project. Also, Welcome back King

-Steve-

Day 162

Over the weekend, I was trying to think of how to best describe downtown Memphis. Every time I came up with a new adjective, another one would pop in my head and completely negate the first. What I came to find is that it’s extremely difficult to encapsulate the vibe of a city that has so much to offer, yet so far to go.

So, what can I tell you about downtown Memphis? Well, I’d argue that if you randomly woke up here, you’d be hard pressed to know what decade you landed in. A lot of the architecture blends designs from the 50s and 60s, while the newer buildings exude over-the-top 80s style with neon lights and oddly placed waterfalls. There’s also the staggering number of empty lots that harken back to the lowest points of the 1930s.

That’s not to say all is lost though. Yes, as a whole, downtown lacks that certain youthful exuberance I found in parts of Cleveland, Philly and Charlotte. But there are several pockets starting to build things back up. From the neighborhoods that surround the visible music college and AutoZone Park to new hotspots like Tamp & Tap and Local, there are glimpses of a turnaround everywhere you look. The city is even in the process of building a Centre for Performing Arts next to the Orpheum Theatre, which is sure to help boost another section of the downtown area.

Is the lack of modern aesthetics a bad thing? It all depends on how you look at it. I’ve heard this city’s history from several people over the past week and while I won’t bore you with the details, I do have a firm understanding of why the city is the way it is. Yet, despite it all, the people here are extremely passionate about the place they call home and will happily tell you about the wonders of Memphis. They know that for every down the city has seen, there’s always an up to counter it. As the Grizzlies' “growl towels” stated at their last home playoff games—We Don’t Bluff.

From Graceland and Stax to Sun Records and Beale Street, this is a city that knows what it’s made of and won’t back down from anyone. Hell, this is also a lifelong wrestling city—home of Cleveland Indians fan and WWE Hall of Famer, Jerry the King Lawler—who’ll happily send a personalized chair shot to anyone who talks ill of his salt-of-the-earth, nitty-gritty, for better or worse city of Memphis, Tennessee.  

Over the next three weeks, I hope to expose some of the city's bright spots—from the awesome theater system and “must-see” museums to the hip midtown area and the various Memphis in May festivities. I’m excited to share what I find, but first I need to grab some more of this city’s incredible BBQ. As they say, if you want to win the heart of the masses, always start with their stomachs.

-Steve-

Day 151

Today's my final day at BooneOakley, so I want to begin by thanking Dave Oakley and the entire team for being so wonderful to me over the past month. I had the privilege to working alongside a great group of creatives, who treated me like one of their own. They’re all amazing individuals, even if my cubicle mate, Mary, did yell at me a lot.* I got to work on some intriguing projects for the likes of Cheerwine and Bojangles, in addition to experiencing them both for the very first time (spoiler: they’re delicious). All in all, I can certainly say that Charlotte continued the project’s steak of extremely positive experiences.

So, what’s next? Well, at approximately 2:45am, I board a train to my next stop—Memphis, TN. However, this journey comes with a one-night-only detour to New Orleans…. during the New Orleans Jazz Festival… which is during Cinco de Mayo weekend. Sure, I could’ve taken a flight to Memphis, rather than the 2-day, 21+ hour Amtrak ride, but I figured it might be my only chance to visit Louisiana and as the kids say, #YOLO. Although I’m only there for a total of 19 hours, I plan on making the most of my time in the Big Easy. So, if I don’t eat a Po Boy, while listening to a 4-piece brass band tomorrow, I’ll be rather disappointed.

When I finally arrive in Memphis, #TGAA will take up residency at the magnificent RedDeluxe. I’ve heard a lot of good things about what they’re doing over there and I’m thrilled to be joining them, if only for a brief moment. I’ve actually never stepped foot in Memphis, so I’m also curious to see what the city—and the famous Beale St.—have to offer. In fact, to kick the month off right, I purchased a ticket to Day 3 of the Beale St. Music Festival, which is part of the Memphis in May celebration. It should be a perfect opportunity to meet some new people, encounter the vibe of the city and partake in some local culinary delights.

That’s about it for now. I’m keeping today’s post a bit short, as I plan on writing another “On the Rails” entry from New Orleans; so keep an eye out this weekend. I’ll see you in Tennessee and thanks for following along!

*just kidding Mary... kind of

-Steve-