With a promotional brainstorm and the determination of its first executive director, Martha Ellen Maxwell, the Memphis in May International Festival debuted in the early 1970s.
The Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce devised plans to host a promotional festival to tout the many cultural events scheduled annually in May, including: The Cotton Carnival, The Danny Thomas Golf Classic, Metropolitan Opera and other Memphis traditions.
Nearly 50 years later, Memphis in May, itself, has become an iconic, cultural experience drawing millions of visitors from throughout the country and around the world with music, a world-class barbeque cook-off, film screenings, fireworks and celebration of the culture and people of some chosen far-a-way land.
This year’s featured country is The Czech Republic. Visitors will be immersed in myriad things Czech, including: its people, their music, culture, art and scientific achievements.
Kicking off the revelry is the three-day, Beale Street Music Festival, Friday through Sunday, May 4-6. Burning up four stages are more than 60 artists and bands, ranging from Grammy-award winning acts to indie outsiders carving out their own place in the industry.
Headliners include: Erykah Badu, Tyler the Creator, Alanis Morissette, Incubus, The Flaming Lips, Juicy J, Al Kapone, Love Light Orchestra, Blind Mississippi Morris, Zeke Johnson, Earl “The Pearl” Banks, Kaleo, Third Eye Blind, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes.
The second-week schedule, May 7-13, Monday through Sunday, will feature exhibits, speakers, performances, cuisine and lecture “tours” of The Czech Republic – history of its liberation in 1989 from communism to the triumphs and challenges of present-day life.
Culmination of Czech week is on May 11 with the Castles and Crystals International Gala, a formal affair promising a high-brow, unforgettable experience at the Peabody Hotel’s Skyway Ballroom.
May 16-19 is the 2018 World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Rain or shine, barbeque-lovers’ heaven will be open for both sampling and binging. Winners will be announced on Saturday. Teams, costumes, gimmicks, judges and all kinds of fun are all in store.
Capping off the month-long celebration is 901Fest, a Memorial Day Weekend celebration featuring all things Memphis – music, food, merchandising, fireworks, locally brewed beer, games and amusements.
Also, that last Saturday (May 26) is the 2018 Great American River Run Half Marathon and 5K along the banks of the Mississippi River and through downtown Memphis, with live entertainment along the run route.
The races will culminate with a party for participants, offering still more music, food, and beverages on the river bluff. Both races are designed for all levels – from elite athletes to the beginning runner.
Every runner who finishes the race will receive a medal and each registrant will be given a race T-shirt. Cash prizes are up for grabs this year.
Original film-screenings will wrap up the month’s festivities.
The Memphis is May organization began with a modest budget of $52,000, but has grown into an $8-million non-profit entity, which is recognized today as one of North America’s premiere festivals.
(For more information, including scheduled events, ticket prices and specials, call 901-525-4611; email: [email protected]; or visit www.memphisinmay.org.)