Memphis hip-hop artist Al Kapone’s latest recording is “M’s Up,” a salute to hometown pride with an accompanying video in which a roster of local rap royalty demonstrates how to flash a four-fingered “M.”
“It’s not a gang sign — it’s a pro-memphis sign,” Kapone said. “And it’s a proMemphis-represent song.”
As one of the city’s most enthusiastic champions (his discography includes “The Music” and, er, “Memphis Pride Up in This B*tch”), Kapone is an appropriate headliner for Saturday’s inaugural 901Fest, a Memphis i n May International Festival event intended “to exalt all things Memphis,” according to a promotional press release.
Said Kapone: “People are always talking about how Memphis in May should show more focus on Memphis or local talent. So we will see if people really support local music and local vendors, like they said they would.”
The festival’s concluding throwdown and its replacement for the Sunset Symphony (which ended its 39-year run last year), the 901Fest — which runs from 3 p.m. to about 10 p.m. in Tom Lee Park — is almost entirely Memphicentric. It will showcase Memphis performers on four themed music stages, while providing space for a curated selection of 33 local food, beer and merchandise vendors. The result is “a nice little Memphis marketplace, with a very balanced and diverse lineup,” in the words of Penelope Huston, Memphisinmaymarketing director.
Huston said the 901Fest is a manifestation of a “resurgence of love for Memphis” that can be seen in the popularity of local craft beers, the ubiquity of Grizzlies gear, the “I Love Memphis” blog, the “Choose901” movement, and on and on.
“Really, we just want to celebrate all the wonderful things about Memphis that we see every day but we don’t always showcase,” Huston said.
Backed by a six-member band, Kapone will be the headliner on the Nexair 901 Beats stage, which — in response to another complaint about the Beale Street Music Festival — offers rap and hip-hop, from start to finish. In contrast, the Autozone 901 Arts Stage will emphasize the “classical” arts, complete with a closing performance from Opera Memphis.
“The thing that I’ve been saying since I got here is that Memphis is one of the most interconnected music towns I’ve ever lived in,” said Ned Canty, Opera Memphis general director since 2011. “Music is music is music. If someone goes from listening to Al Kapone and walks across the park to hear ‘ La Boheme,’ so much the better.”
The 901Fest follows another new Memphis in May event, the Great American River Run, a marathon (and more) that will trace a course through Downtown and Harbor Town. River Run participants get free admission to 901Fest. The festival concludes with fireworks, and will feature such nonmusical attractions as an air show and “Knockerball,” in which players are encapsulated in clear inflatable protective “bubbles,” so they can knock each other over and bounce back up.
The new fest is not only more local, but it’s also more compact: Unlike the music festival or World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, it will occupy only the north half of Tom Lee Park. And even those who don’t attend can choose 901, so to speak, on their televisions: WPTY-TV Channel 24 will pre-empt prime-time ABC programming to broadcast live from 901Fest from 8 until 10 p.m. Memphis rapper Al Kapone headlines on the Beats stage at Saturday’s inaugural 901Fest, a Memphis in May event intended “to exalt all things Memphis.” 3 p.m. until after dark, Saturday, Tom Lee Park. Tickets: $10, or $9 in advance. Visit memphisinmay.org.
4:15 p.m.: Commemorative Air Force air show. 4-8 p.m.: Knockerball. 9 p.m.: Memphis-themed fireworks finale. Orion 901 Rocks Stage 3:30-4:15 p.m.: The Incredible Hook 4:45-5:50 p.m.: Star & Micey 6:30-7:45 p.m.: Dead Soldiers 8:15-9:30 p.m.: North Mississippi Allstars
Nexair 901 Beats Stage 3:30-4:15 p.m.: Artistik Approach 4:45-5:45 p.m.: Tyke T 6:20-7 p.m.: Lil Whyte 7:20-8 p.m.: Frayser Boy 8:20-9:10 p.m.: Al Kapone
Autozone 901 Arts Stage 3:30-4:15 p.m.: Stax Music Academy
4:45-5:30 p.m.: New Ballet Ensemble 6-7 p.m.: School of Rock 7:25-8 p.m.: IRIS Orchestra 8:20-9 p.m.: Opera Memphis
901 Fan Choice 4:50-6:05 p.m.: Nuttin’ Fancy Band 6:20-7:30 p.m.: Chinese Dub Connection Embassy 7:50-8:50 p.m.: Zigadoo Moneyclips
As Kapone raps, Opera Memphis takes the Arts stage, a juxtaposition that pleases OM general manager Ned Canty.