The video below, courtesy of blues label Fat Possum Records is of the fourth (and last) Memphis Country Blues Festival. Taking place from June 6 through 8, 1969 in what was then known as the Overton Park Shell, the film is a fascinating snapshot of a time, a place and it’s music. This is one year after Martin Luther King was assassinated, being held in a site that hosted at least one Ku Klux Klan rally. Yet it shows the area’s hippie culture coming out to support the music.
Gene Rosenthal, head of the indie blues label Adelphi, filmed roughly 17 hours of performances, but the cost of processing the film basically exhausted his budget so the raw footage sat in his basement for decades. Years later, Rosenthal mentioned the film in a casual conversation with Bruce Watson and Matthew Johnson, founders of the blues label Fat Possum, and with their help finished the project.
With it’s fly-on-the-wall cinema verite style, “Memphis ’69” evokes other classic concert documentaries like “Woodstock” and “Monterey Pop”, such as when there is a public call for donations to help bail out a musician whose “old lady” had been busted by the police for drinking “a quart of beer” in the park, outside the concert venue. Classic.
Time codes for specific performances are below. Enjoy.
Memphis ’69: The 1969 Memphis Country Blues Festival –
03:14 Rufus Thomas with The Bar-Kays
08:01 Bukka White
09:58 Nathan Beauregard
12:01 Sleepy John Estes & Yank Rachell
14:00 Jo Ann Kelly & “Backwards” Sam Firk
17:20 Son Thomas
20:20 Sleepy John Estes & Yank Rachell
22:07 Lum Guffin
23:21 Rev. Robert Wilkins & Family
26:09 John Fahey
28:56 Sid Selvidge with Moloch
30:53 John D. Loudermilk
35:43 Furry Lewis
42:35 Bukka White
43:53 Piano Red
47:05 Jefferson Street Jug Band with John Fahey and Robert Palmer
50:26 Insect Trust
56:22 Johnny Winter
01:02:40 The Salem Harmonizers
01:05:34 Mississippi Fred McDowell