International Festival for Everyone in the Birthplace of the Blues

BSMF16 Crowd W Bridge

Memphis, Tennessee, was named after an ancient city that served as Egypt's capital and trading hub during its Old Kingdom. The city is considered one of the most culturally influential locations in American history as the site where the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum and blues music began. Whether you're soaking in the Victorian architecture of the Cooper-Young neighborhood or catching live music at the clubs on Beale Street, Memphis is a destination for you.

The Memphis in May International Festival is the city's official celebratory event, featuring a variety of activities for all ages. It will take place during the entire month of May at various venues across the city. The festivities will kick-off with the Beale Street Music Festival (May 5-7), which features a variety of musicians performing music from country to rap. Next up is the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (May 17-20), which showcases hundreds of BBQ teams from around the world as they compete for cash prizes and hold cooking demonstrations. Rounding out the major events is the 901 Fest (May 27) that gathers some of the city's best food, music, and merchandise into one location, along with thousands of people. Over the course of the next month, attendees will also encounter a variety of smaller events and activities such as the International Salute to Columbia and the Great American River Run. We got the opportunity to interview Robert Griffin, Director of Marketing for the event, to learn more about this great city-wide celebration.

RAL: Tell me a little bit about the event.

RG: The Memphis in May International Festival is a month-long celebration from Tom Lee Park in downtown Memphis, now in its 41st year. The month starts with the Beale Street Music Festival, a three-day concert experience featuring a wide range of national and local bands covering multiple genres, which attracts around 80,000 fans each year. The BSMF has been featured by Rolling Stone, USA Today, National Geographic, BBC, NBC, Food Network, Travel Channel, and more.

The next signature event is the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. This is the granddaddy of barbecue contests, consisting of four days of light-hearted entertainment and heated competition. Hundreds of teams come from across the country and around the world to compete for the title of Grand Champion and a portion of the generous prize money.  New this year, for an additional cost, visitors to the event can enjoy Barbecue Alley and sample barbecue from teams who have previously held the title of Grand Champion.

The month winds down with 901Fest, celebrating all things Memphis with local food vendors and merchandise sold by local artisans, while local bands perform on the main stage.  The final event is the Great American River Run, a 5K and Half Marathon that directs runners past some of Memphis’ most iconic landmarks along the river, from the Hernando Desoto Bridge to the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid, and over onto Mud Island.

RAL: Our travelers seek out unique and boutique accommodations. Where can they find these in your area?  

RG: Downtown Memphis' boutique accommodations include the Peabody Hotel, The Madison Hotel, and Hotel Napoleon.

RAL: What does this event mean to the community?  

RG: The Memphis in May International Festival is the official festival of the City of Memphis, though we are a nonprofit and receive no tax dollars.

RAL: Does this drive business to your local economy?

RG: An economic impact study done last year found that the Memphis in May International Festival has an $88 million economic impact on Memphis. So, yes, I’d say it’s safe to say we drive some business to the community during the event.

RAL: Why should people come to your event?

RG: Many find the Beale Street Music Festival a memorable experience in itself; the opportunity to see a favorite band play, or see a legendary musician like Paul Simon or Neil Young can be unforgettable. Others follow the barbecue competition circuit and enjoy the celebration of the food of Memphis and seeing the spectacle of the team booths, some up to three floors tall! Others will come for our cultural celebrations in which we honor a different country each year and invite renowned performers, artists, and speakers from that country to Memphis to share their work and experiences. Some will come for the Great American River Run and make it part of their race circuit to enjoy a great course, a beautiful medal for their collection, and a fantastic post-race party!

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