Cancelled in 2020 amid the pandemic, WLOK’s Stone Soul Picnic is ready for 2021 and this weekend’s celebration at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park. (Courtesy photo)

“Can you surry, can you picnic?”

The 5th Dimension asks in their memorable 1968 hit, “Stoned Soul Picnic.”

Memphis’ top urban gospel radio station WLOK will pose a similar question to Mid-Southerners when it hosts the 46th Annual Stone Soul Picnic on Saturday (Sept. 18) from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park.

The celebration was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Thousands are expected as the Memphis-based and world-famous group, The Bar-Kays, headlines an entertaining array of musical guests.

The culminating purveyors of funk and soul are the same Bar-Kays, who boast such hits as “Soul Finger,” “Move Your Boogie Body,” “Shake Your Rump to the Funk,” “Son of Shaft” and so many more chart-toppers over the last five decades.

 Their hour-long performance will be one for the history books. The hometown crowd gets to enjoy a rarely witnessed, outdoor stage spectacle by the group, free of charge.

The Stone Soul Picnic all started when a few friends were sitting around, tossing out a few ideas for a cool event that would bring everyone out, like in one big family reunion.

WLOK’s Art Gilliam. (Courtesy photo)

“We held a couple of events in the embryonic stages before I even bought the station,” said Art Gilliam, WLOK CEO.

“David Acey (of Africa in April fame) and a couple of the on-air announcers said, ‘Hey, why don’t we have a Stone Soul Picnic?’ Of course, the title is based on a popular song. That was the inception.”

More than four decades later, the WLOK Stone Soul Picnic is a historic hallmark of local, urban events.

“It’s kind of like what the Cotton Makers Jubilee was to African Americans in Memphis during segregation,” said Gilliam. “We are proud that the picnic is the longest running radio promotion in the city. This is our ‘Thank You’ to our listeners who have so faithfully supported us through the years.”

WLOK staff expects that this year’s attendees will be especially excited about getting out into the park again.

“We hope to welcome thousands from across the Mid-South as in years past to come out and enjoy the music, the food, and the warm fellowship,” said Gilliam.

 “This year’s picnic is extra special because we missed out on last year because of the pandemic. Of course, there will be measures in place to keep everyone safe and well, while we’re having a good time.”

For a number of years, the event was held in Martin Luther King Jr.-Riverside Park, but for “the past few years,” the venue was changed to the Levitt Shell.

“We thought that the Levitt Shell would be a venue that would bring people out to the park,” said Gilliam. “Everyone loves music at the Shell. People hear the music and just come in to enjoy what’s going on. 

“The Stone Soul Picnic is open to everyone, and our music line-up has something for everybody. Whatever kind of music you might enjoy, you will hear it on Saturday.”

Scheduled performances are:

  • 3 p.m. Devotion – Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher
  • 3:10 p.m. – “Star Spangled Banner”/ “Lift Every Voice” – O’Livya Walker
  • 3:25 p.m. – Mt. Moriah East Praise Team
  • 3:45 p.m. – Sierra Ward-Pope
  • 4:05 p.m. – The Mellowtones
  • 4:35 p.m. – Kevin Davidson and 4EC
  • 5:05 p.m. – Echoaires
  • 5:35 p.m. – Ekpe & The African Jazz Ensemble
  • 6 p.m. – Uncle Richard’s Puppets
  • 6:35 p.m. – Chinese Connection Dub Embassy
  • 7:05 p.m. – U-Turn
  • 7:50 p.m. – The Bar-Kays

Gilliam purchased WLOK in 1977, making it the first African-American owned and locally-owned radio station in the city.

By the mid-80s, the station had changed its R&B format to a full-gospel format. In the late-90s, the station had won honors from every major gospel association in the country, earning for several consecutive years the title of No. 1 Gospel Station in the nation by Religion & Media Quarterly.

The show is being presented as part of the Levitt Shell’s Orion Free Summer Concert Series.

Due to COVID-19, masks are required for everyone in attendance. Hand sanitizing stations will be available around the Shell grounds.