With more than 27 concerts to choose from this year, the Levitt Shell's free music series paves a lot of groove over a small patch of Overton Park grass. Music of all genres and regions, even from Yemen, will be heard beginning May 31st through July 15th. Concerts start at 7:30 p.m. Cindy Cogbill, director of programming and marketing, talks to WKNO about some of the highlights of the summer line-up. So take a listen and mark those calendars!
Darel Snodgrass: You guys always have such an interesting schedule of performers. Most of these folks I don’t think have ever been here.
Cindy Cogbill: This summer we are doing 27 shows. We divide our year into our summer and our fall season. So, you have the weather of your choice, but the summer is a really good lineup. We’re doing Thursday through Sundays again, all starting at 7:30pm. We kick off next Thursday night with Mindi Abair & the Boneshakers (May 31st), which she’s a phenomenal jazz saxophonist. This is a new start for us. Generally, we go brass or we go Americana or rock ‘n’ roll. We just decide to come out with a bang because we’ve been doing this jazz series at the library. We thought what a great continuation to open the summer series.
Snodgrass: In the seasons past you've tried to divide it up with one night for soul; one night for jazz, etc. It seems to be more of a mix this year.
Cogbill: There has been a lot of changes at the shell, as we hope there will always be. We've decided to try and keep people on their toes. There is not a designated night for soul, designated night for Americana. It is definitely a multi-genre platinum this year.
Snodgrass: Most of your acts tend to be genre-bending in many ways…
Cogbill: I think you will see more of that as time evolves. My background is in Folk music and we use this very encompassing definition of folk music, that it's anything that is rooted in tradition. Popular bands have been evolving, like Mumford & Sons and Avett Brothers. These bands are not necessarily characteristic of one genre but you can find traditional roots in everything they do.
Snodgrass: Let’s talk about some of the acts…
Cogbill: The first Friday night, June 1st, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear play. They played Bonnaroo a few years ago and knocked my socks off. It's a five-piece Americana band that brings so much soul that you can feel it in your toes all the way to the top of your nerve endings in your ear, which can be said with the following week with The War & Treaty (June 7th).
Snodgrass: These guys are getting a lot of talk.
Cogbill: They have been on Colbert. They have also played in Bonnaroo and Coachella. One of the things that I liked about these guys the most is that they have actually been to Memphis before and they liked it so much that they wanted to come back. They played at the River Arts Fest a few years ago, but they weren’t known then. Their hearts are huge and their songwriting is deep and they have quite a story to tell.
Snodgrass: Brian Owens & The Deacons Of Soul, this is really interesting (Sunday, June 10th)...
Cogbill: This gentleman will bring you into his heart and not let you go. We had Brian Owens last year in the fall season. He was so good. He moved our staff and production crew to such a place that for the 10th Anniversary we polled our internal sources and said "what was your favorite show? We are going to bring some people back to celebrate the ten best shows" and Brian Owens was one of them.
He is really focused on education. He lives in Missouri. He is making a difference. He runs a studio to bring kids in to do after-school programming, to teach them how to use actable resources so that they can eventually work in studios, do songwriting, and have a positive influence in the community that they are in. And, not only that, he can cover some Johnny Cash, like no other.
Snodgrass: Saturday, June 16th, you have The McCrary Sisters whose dad was one of the Fairfield Four. You can hear the heavy gospel influence that The McCrary Sisters have but they are all over the place. They do R&B and Soul.
Cogbill: Yes, they do.
Snodgrass: Thursday, June 21st you have The Steel Wheels, which is a bluegrass band but it’s very much in the modern sort of bluegrass tradition.
Cogbill: Yes. I discovered them playing at MerleFest.
Snodgrass: You also have Ray Wylie Hubbard, who will play on Sunday, June 24th.
Cogbill: So when we polled the public of shows they wanted to see return, Ray Wylie Hubbard was in the top three.
Snodgrass: There is also Paul Thorn with the Blind Boys of Alabama (Friday, June 29th).
Cogbill: I mean, if you’re going to have a 10th Anniversary, knock it out of the park, right? This is a really fun show for us as well. Anne Pitts, our executive director, got wind that Paul Thorn was working with the Blind Boys of Alabama on a project together. We have a nationally funded tour that is put on by the Levitt Foundation, where they donate one show a year to all of the Levitt Pavilions. So, Anne actually went to them and suggested this for the national tour and won it over in about thirty seconds. So, we are delighted to have that sponsored by Levitt Foundation and these guys are coming in with this brand new project.
Snodgrass: You also have your Patriotic Pops (Thursday, June 28th) and STAX’s Music Academy program on Saturday night (June 30th).
Cogbill: That week is a great one. Patriotic Pops is a phenomenal annual event that has been happening since the shell got started. We end it with fireworks. Then each year we have another annual event, the STAX Academy, who always ends their tour at the Levitt Shell.
Snodgrass: You even reserve a rain date for the STAX Academy, which I don’t think you do for anyone else.
Cogbill: We don’t. We just feel that it is really important that the kids get the opportunity to be at the shell. So, it’s the only place that we have a rain date on our entire calendar.
Snodgrass: Looking at the rest of the schedule, you continue to jump from genre to genre.
Cogbill: Yeah, Thursday, July 5th, we have Johnny P. If you are Leon Bridges fans, Johnny P is the guy to look at. He is a mastermind. He is a great songwriter. He has great moves and is also a clothing designer and tailor.
Then, we switch over and we go to Rev Sekou (Friday, July 6th), who has a lot of roots in Memphis. He is from Arkansas, originally. He did a legislative internship for Tennessee in 1993.
After that, we have the Seratones (Saturday, July 7th), which is a dirty kind of blues.
Snodgrass: That week, you finish up with Yemen Blues (Sunday, July 8th) . . .
Cogbill: It’s global. That is one of the most beautiful things about global music - is that you can see the threads that come through in every genre. These guys are just multifaceted and they are phenomenal performers.
Snodgrass: We want to mention that on July 13th there is a very special show…
Cogbill: This is my favorite week in the schedule. It will start on Thursday, July 12th, with JD McPherson. If you like a good rock ’n’ roll show, JD McPherson is a force to be reckoned with. Following that, Robert Clay will be playing with his band (Friday, July 13th)
We are doing a new thing this year, three fundraisers and they are all general admissions. There is no VIP area. We are just trying to create a new organization for that and we are trying to make the shell accessible to everyone, all the time. So, we did Lucas Nelson in May. We are doing Robert Clay on July 13th. And, we are doing Late Street Dive on September 29th. So, we are even keeping the fundraisers multi-genre.
Snodgrass: That is the only event in the summer season that you will have to pay for.
Cogbill: Exactly. Those tickets are available. We are selling them on our website and all the free concert series at our volunteer booth. We also have a box office at 420 N. Cleveland that is open every day until 4:00 pm.
Snodgrass: And, then you’re moving to Sammy Miller and the Congregation — Jazz (Saturday, July 14th).
Cogbill: You know, this collaboration with the Memphis Libraries has been so great for us. We know that there is a market for Jazz in Memphis, it’s been growing. We have done five Fridays this spring. We’re just excited to keep it going.
Tickets: Free - excluding the Robert Clay concert on July 13.
For more information about the Levitt Shell concert series, tickets, and the summer lineup, visit their website at levittshell.org.