Memphis in May is a month-long celebration of the culture, music, and food of Memphis, Tennessee. This annual festival takes place throughout the month of May and is one of the largest and most diverse festivals in the Southeastern United States.
A key element of Memphis in May each year is the celebration of International Festival Week honoring a foreign country. This year, Memphis in May salutes Malaysia, marking the eighth Asian nation to be honored by the festival. Through the International Salute to Malaysia, the country’s culture will be celebrated at the Memphis in May International Festival Gala and through events at community centers, museums, and schools around Memphis. During the month, the local government will host luncheons and lectures to honor Malaysia and introduce the country to Memphians. Various elements from Malaysia will be woven into all Memphis in May events.
On Thursday, May 11, Memphis in May International Festival will host Malaysia! Live in Memphis as part of the 2023 Salute to Malaysia. Guests will get the opportunity to learn more about Malaysian culture through a music and dance performance by a Malaysian dance troupe.
Beale Street Music Festival
Another main highlight of Memphis in May is the Beale Street Music Festival which features over 60 acts on multiple stages, ranging from rock to blues, hip-hop, country, and jazz. The three-day-long festival is held at Tom Lee Park overlooking the Mississippi River and the iconic Hernando de Soto Bridge in Downtown Memphis. The festival draws a diverse crowd of music lovers from all over the country.
This year, the Beale Street Music Festival runs from May 5-7 and will be headlined by The Lumineers, Earth, Wind, and Fire, The Roots, Ziggy Marley, and more buzzed-about artists. While the festival does require a ticket for entry, there is one stage that is free and open to the public. The Memphis Tourism “Blues Stage on Beale” in Handy Park is free of charge and no ticket is required to enjoy the music.
To incorporate Malaysian heritage into Beale Street Music Festival, Asian rock and roll band, Azmyl & the Truly Asia, will be performing on May 5 and 6.
Another popular event during Memphis in May is the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, which brings together the best pitmasters from around the world to compete for the title of World BBQ Champion. The contest, which will take place from May 17-20, is also held in Tom Lee Park overlooking the river and attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year.
The event is one of the most prestigious barbecue competitions in the world and the competing teams represent and showcase all types of barbecues. Not only does the grand prize winner receive the coveted title of “World Champion” but they’ll also leave with over $145,000 in prize money. The categories include pork ribs, pork shoulder, whole hog, hot wings, sauce, and “anything but pork.”
Judges for the competition are certified and trained at an annual Judges Seminar that occurs six months prior to the event. To qualify to be a judge, you must attend the Judges Seminar and receive certification following an intense day of training. Judges are then considered officially certified after they’ve judged two festivals. Now, these people know their BBQ!
In addition to the grilling, smoking, and judging of the meat, barbecue-themed entertainment keeps guests engaged the festival. From sauce wrestling to concerts from Al Kapone and Cracker and the Ms. Piggie Idol competition, the whole event is a finger-licking good time.
Remember that this is a contest, not a food festival, so guests are not able to taste the competing ‘cue. The teams are cooking for the judges, fellow team members, and their friends, not the general public. Guests can purchase food from food vendors at the event. If you aren’t one of the lucky ones who get to taste the competition, Memphis has dozens of world-renowned barbecue restaurants. We recommend Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, The Bar-B-Q Shop, and Central BBQ.
(Running) in Memphis
The final leg of Memphis in May is the Great American River Run, a 5K, 10K, and half marathon race that takes runners through the heart of Memphis. This year’s race is scheduled for Saturday, May 27, during Memorial Day Weekend. Registration is now open.
The race starts and ends on Beale Street and the route passes by Memphis landmarks such as: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, FedEx Forum, Mud Island, The Peabody Hotel, and Central Station.
In addition to the events themselves, Memphis in May is also a great time to explore the city and its many attractions. Visitors can experience the historic Beale Street district, visit the iconic Graceland mansion, tour the Civil Rights Museum, or take a stroll through the beautiful Memphis Botanic Garden or Shelby Farms Park. After attending Beale Street Music Fest, music fans should check out the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio, and the Memphis Rock ‘N Soul Museum to learn more about the city’s rich musical history.
If you’re heading to Downtown Memphis for Beale Street Music Festival or the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, plan your parking in advance. Downtown Memphis parking is provided by Premier Parking and can be paid for via the ParkMobile app. Simply enter the zone number provided on signs and stickers around the parking spot into the ParkMobile app, pay, and proceed with enjoying the music and BBQ festivities. You can even extend your parking session directly from the app, so no need to leave the festivals to feed the meter.
Overall, Memphis in May is an unforgettable experience that showcases the best of Memphis culture, food, and music. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, there’s something for everyone at this annual month-long festival.