Inaugural RiverBeat Music Festival Review

The Inaugural RiverBeat Music Festival, presented by Mempho, took place May 4 – 6th at the recently renovated Tom Lee Park. It was three days of incredible music by the Mississippi River. 

Memphis’s Lucky 7 Brass Band kicked off the 3-day festival on Friday as they took the Beale Street Landing Stage that afternoon. Festival goers were also treated to performances by DJ/producer  Jai Wolf, rapper  Yung Gravy, and rock band Mt. Joy. At 9:30, electronic/dance duo Odesza took the main stage for a stellar headlining performance paired with lasers, pyrotechnics, and a mesmerizing drumline. The duo drawing an impressive crowd compared to earlier acts.

Saturday’s gates opened at 2 p.m., earlier than Friday’s 4 p.m. start. The second day also presented the most beautiful weather, which delivered the most gorgeous views of the Mississippi River. Indie artist Del Water Gap, Nashville-based band The Band Camino, 2024 Grammy winner Killer Mike, and the recently reunited Fugees delivered exceptional sets on day two. 

While the first two days of RiverBeat went as planned, the third and final day differed. The festival’s final day had a rather late start due to weather conditions including lighting. This led to a late start for all scheduled set times and even wholly cut some sets from the original schedule.

Despite the setbacks, the Indie-pop band Nightly took the stage and gave an exceptional performance to a dedicated crowd. That evening, festivalgoers enjoyed beautiful performances by a lot of country-focused artists, including Morgan Wade, Jessi Murph, and headliner Jelly Roll. The Tennessee native delivered an unforgettable performance with explosive visuals and pyrotechnics. On stage, Jelly Roll showed gratitude towards the city of Memphis, highlighting its uniqueness.

Over the weekend, RiverBeat hosted many local Memphis performers, including rapper Lawerence Matthews, blues band Southern Avenue, and soul artist Talibah Safiya, to name a few. These performers showcased the talent brewing in Bluff City. 

Production and Layout 

I thoroughly enjoyed the array of genres present at the music festival. RiverBeat organizers were sure to include pop, rap, rock, EDM, and everything in between. RiverBeat hosted two main stages, Stringbend Stage and Budlight Stage, and three smaller stages, Zen Pavilion Stage, Beale Street Landing Stage, and Whateverland. While four of the stages offered performances of various genres, Whateverland focused on EDM, making it the perfect spot for Dance/Electronic music fans. 

RiverBeat made its debut at Tom Lee Park. Following its $61 million renovation, it made perfect use of all the available areas and included many unique areas for festival goers to explore between sets. Overall, it was the ideal size for a music festival, making it very easy to get from one stage to another while preventing sound bleed. RiverBeat offered ample lawn space that allowed festival goers to sit down, whether to enjoy a set from afar or simply look at the fantastic views and weather the festival presented. 

The festival’s first installment also brought top-tier production to Tom Lee Park, complete with stellar lighting and captivating visuals. On their way out, festival goers were even treated to a fireworks display towards the exit.

Activations and Attractions

RiverBeat is only complete with all the activations and attractions available to festival goers. While the festival offered free water stations, organizers also put together an incredible selection of food opinions, including Memphis’s very own Crokys, Mempops, and Gus’s that were present over the three days. VIP holders were granted elevated experiences with dedicated VIP viewing areas and access to unique high-end lounges.

The festival offered attendees a variety of attractions, including a carousel and a massive Ferris wheel that provided a fantastic bird’ s-eye view of the festival grounds. Gorgeous views could also be found on the ground as the festival rested between the magnificent downtown skyline and the symbolic Mississippi River. 

Overall Thoughts 

I am thrilled to have experienced this new music festival in my hometown. While RiverBeat only attracted 30,000 attendees over the three days, it made for an ideal number of people. We all know that a massive crowd can be no fun, especially when trying to get from one stage to another. Nevertheless, Mempo did a phenomenal job organizing this event in the short span of  6 months. I am eager to see what will be done differently and what we will see return next year for this promising festival.  More than anything, I can not wait to see what else RiverBeat has in store in the years that follow.