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Slamdance: Memphis ’69

“But the music prevailed…”

Directed by Joe LaMattina, Memphis ’69 is a new documentary that serves as a time capsule for the 1969 Memphis Birthday Blues Festival held on the 150th anniversary of the city’s founding. Made up almost entirely of archival footage from the three day festival, a few title cards at the beginning give the film some context. The festival ran from 1965 to 1969 during a time of much racial strife in the city. It was one year after the Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and the KKK held a rally in the city concurrent with the event.

The folk and blues revival of the 1960s helped launch new stars of the genre but also allowed for the rediscovery of older blues performers. A wide range of blues, folk, country and even gospel musicians performed on stage for a motley crew of attendees. The attendance fluctuated throughout the three days but it never put a damper on the spirits of the musicians who played their hearts out. 

Memphis ’69 takes viewers on a time travel trip to this one-of-a-kind blues festival. It lingers over many of the performances and also captures the spirit of the time. All of the performers featured in the documentary are long gone and this film now serves as a tribute to them.

Performers featured in Memphis ’69 include:

  • Rufus Thomas
  • Bukka White
  • Nathan Beauregard (106 year old, blind performer)
  • Sleepy John Estes
  • Yank Rachell
  • Jo Ann Kelly
  • “Backwards” Sam Firk
  • Son Thomas
  • Lum Guffin
  • Rev. Robert Wilkins & Family
  • John Fahey
  • Sid Selvidge
  • Molloch
  • John D. Loudermilk
  • Furry Lewis
  • Piano Red
  • Jefferson Street Jug Band
  • The Insect Trust
  • Johnny Winter
  • The Salem Harmonizers
  • Mississippi Fred McDowell

Memphis ’69 was screened at Slamdance 25 and is nominated for a Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature.

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