Over the past few years, Memphis has been lavished with high-profile praise from pop polymath Justin Timberlake (who grew up in nearby Millington), rapper Drake (who spent summers in town with his father, Dennis Graham) and Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars, who crafted much of their megahit “Uptown Funk!” there.
More than just paying lip service to the city, the admiration has also bolstered a renaissance that initially was born out of practicality. Young, upwardly mobile Southerners, priced out by the boomtown costs of Nashville and inconvenienced by the sprawl of Atlanta, have been looking (and moving) to the Bluff City, as it’s known, as an easy, affordable alternative. Others, from industry hubs like New York and Los Angeles, are discovering the city’s charm and rich history. “It’s a place where you can always feel the weight of the past,” says Memphis Grammy chapter senior executive director Jon Hornyak. “That history is a draw.”
Musicians in particular are pulled to the city’s geographically central location (which is convenient as a touring base), low housing costs (median home value: $80,000) and abundant recording facilities that include world-class studios like Phillips, Royal, Ardent and Electraphonic. “Memphis is still a cheap place to make art,” says former Soul Coughing singer and solo artist Mike Doughty, who relocated there in 2015. And despite its visible development, Memphis has, so far, retained its singular character. “It’s truly too weird to ever get gentrified,” says Doughty. “That’s what makes it so attractive to artists.” Billboard walked through the new Memphis’ best haunts.
9. Lafayette’s Music Room
Overton Square, 2119 Madison Ave.
The anchor of Midtown’s once again thriving entertainment center Overton Square, Lafayette’s history dates back to the early ’70s. Its original incarnation hosted rising acts (Billy Joel, Barry Manilow). A new version of the venue opened in 2014, focusing on food, drink and a seven-day-a-week live music schedule heavy on local blues and roots, with acts like The Joe Restivo 4 and John Paul Keith.