Mempho Music Fest brings Black Keys, Wilco, Jason Isbell to Botanic Garden

Fall in the Bluff City means music, and for fans of concert festivals, the season’s centerpiece is the annual Mempho Music Festival.

The fifth edition of the multi-day musical event will take place Friday-Sunday at Memphis Botanic Garden’s Radians Amphitheater.

Featuring 17 different performers — from headliners like blues-rockers The Black Keys and jam band titans Widespread Panic to opening acts like gospel queen Elizabeth King and Americana star Allison Russell — this year’s Mempho lineup is brimming with must-see acts from start to finish.

Here are five things to know before you go.

Birth of a fall festival

Conceived as something of a fall counterpoint to Memphis in May's Beale Street Music Festival, Mempho Music Festival was launched in 2017 at Shelby Farms Park, returning music to the scenic outdoor setting for the first time in nearly two decades.

The fest continued at Shelby Farms through 2019, with a fairly impressive array of headliners over the years, including Post Malone, Wu-Tang Clan, Jack White's group The Raconteurs and Anderson Paak. The 2020 festival, however, was canceled due to COVID-19.

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Last year, Mempho came back with a new home at the Radians Amphitheater at the Botanic Garden. The shift was a success, both in terms of attendance and logistics. And in 2022 Mempho returns to the Garden for another go.

The 2021 festival sold out on Friday and Saturday, with a slightly limited capacity due to the pandemic. This year, festival organizers will expand that number from an 8,500 cap to 10,000, allowing more fans to attend.

Mempho Music Festival at Radians Amphitheater at Memphis Botanic Garden on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.
Mempho Music Festival at Radians Amphitheater at Memphis Botanic Garden on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021.

For festival co-producer Mike Smith, the move from Shelby Farms to the Botanic Garden offers a unique setup, with a similarly bucolic feel but less need to build the festival logistics from the ground up.

“The Garden has a lot more infrastructure, so it’s not nearly as labor or cost intensive to start off with,” Smith says. “The folks here at the Botanic Garden and Radians have been great good partners to work with. We had such a wonderful experience overall last year. And we always critique ourselves closely. So this year we’ve made a few tweaks to improve the fan experience even more.”

Mempho headliners and national acts

This year’s Mempho fest presents a nice mix of familiar names, fast-rising stars, veteran acts and relatively new figures on the musical landscape.

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit will play Friday at Mempho Music Festival.
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit will play Friday at Mempho Music Festival.

“We were able to get ahead of the booking this year and landed an incredible array of acts,” Smith says. “We’re always trying to include acts that have some sort of history with Memphis or the Mid-South in general. With The Black Keys, they have a long association with (Mississippi blues label) Fat Possum. Or, in the case of Jason Isbell, he actually reached out to us to play again because he had such a great time at the festival in the past.”

A former University of Memphis student, Isbell has long been a favorite at Mempho, having helped inaugurate the first festival in 2017, along with his band The 400 Unit. Isbell will help open up the first night of the fest on Friday.

Chicago rockers Wilco, meanwhile, are touring in support of their recent return to roots album “Cruel Country,” and celebrating the release of a massive 20th-anniversary edition of their 2002 landmark LP, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” which comes out Friday. They will be part of the fest’s final day, with an afternoon set on Sunday.

Wilco will play Mempho Music Festival on Sunday.
Wilco will play Mempho Music Festival on Sunday.

In addition to The Black Keys, Wilco, Isbell and Widespread Panic — who will be headlining two nights of the fest — performers on the Adams Keegan-sponsored main stage will include Portugal. The Man, Fantastic Negrito, Tank and the Bangas, newly minted Americana Association Album of the Year winner Allison Russell, acclaimed singer-songwriter Celisse, and Pacific Northwest soul-jazz combo The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio.

“I’m super excited about the up-and-coming artists we have, and especially an incredible group of female artists that we’ve booked — from Allison Russell to Adia Victoria to Celisse, those women are everywhere right now, winning awards and making new fans. We’ve always prided ourselves on booking artists before they break or just as they are getting to that next level, and we’ve got an amazing lineup this year in that regard.”

Mid-South favorites from Elizabeth King to Bobby Rush

Local and regional artists will also have a strong presence at this year’s festival. Among those appearing include reunited Memphis combo Big Ass Truck, Bluff City Americana act Amy LaVere, veteran gospel queen Elizabeth King, and Mississippi R&B great and Blues Hall of Famer Bobby Rush.

Memphis gospel artist Elizabeth King will play Mempho Music Festival on Sunday.
Memphis gospel artist Elizabeth King will play Mempho Music Festival on Sunday.

Tickets to Mempho still available

Three-day passes, for both general admission and VIP access are still available. GA passes are $195, while VIP are $660. VIP ticket packages include access to a front stage viewing area, complimentary parking, food and beverages credit, and access to various on-site amenities. Single-day general admission tickets are $90 each. Single-day VIP passes are $295.

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Mempho Music Festival 2022 schedule

Here's is a look at this weekend's schedule.

FRIDAY

Gates open at 2 p.m.

Adia Victoria will play Mempho Music Festival on Friday.
Adia Victoria will play Mempho Music Festival on Friday.

Music Gives Stage

3 p.m. Adia Victoria

5:15 p.m. Futurebirds

8:15 p.m. Fantastic Negrito

Adams Keegan Stage

4 p.m. Bette Smith

6:30 p.m. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

9:30 p.m. The Black Keys

SATURDAY

Gates open at 2 p.m.

Music Gives Stage

2:30 p.m. Amy LaVere

4:45 p.m. Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

7:30 p.m. Big Ass Truck

Widespread Panic returns to Mempho Music Festival this year and will play Saturday and Sunday.
Widespread Panic returns to Mempho Music Festival this year and will play Saturday and Sunday.

Adams Keegan Stage

3:30 p.m. Celisse

6 p.m. Portugal. The Man

8:45 p.m. Widespread Panic

SUNDAY

Gates open at 1 p.m.

Music Gives Stage

1:30 p.m. Elizabeth King

3:15 p.m. Bobby Rush

5:55 p.m. Tank and the Bangas

Bobby Rush will play Mempho Music Festival on Sunday.
Bobby Rush will play Mempho Music Festival on Sunday.

Adams Keegan Stage

2:10 p.m. Allison Russell

4:20 p.m. Wilco

7 p.m. Widespread Panic

Mempho Music Festival

Friday through Sunday at Radians Amphitheater, Memphis Botanic Garden, 750 Cherry Road

For more information or to purchase tickets, go to memphofest.com.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Mempho Music Festival 2022: Lineup, schedule, tickets and more