The final day of the Beale Street Music Festival on May 6 turned out to be a day of divas. That was not a bad thing. Valerie June was thrilled to be able to perform at the festival since it was like coming home for her. Jackson, Tennessee was her birthplace although she relocated to Memphis in 2000. She grew up studying and singing music in the church. AXS was able to experience June’s set at the festival and here are the highlights.
1) Valerie June has a voice all her own
June has a twang to her voice that may have been heard in the Appalachian Mountains in the early 1900s. Her voice is much more emotive than the bluegrass singers from that era. The vulnerability in her voice is most alluring. One can hear blues, folk, gospel as well as that Appalachian bluegrass. June exudes feelings of loneliness, pain, and bittersweet love.
2) The music from critically acclaimed albums
As a songwriter, June’s music teeters between childlike innocence and world-weary wisdom. Much of the set list came from June’s last two album releases. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys co-produced June’s album, Pushin’ Against a Stone. The album has garnered worldwide critical acclaim including Rolling Stone’s shout out as number 44 of their “50 Best Albums of 2013” list. 2017’s The Order of Time is adorned with more polish and instrumentation than the previous album, but the songs are as introspective and still ‘down home.’ One critic remarked, “For June, labor, longing and reverie exist side by side” in her song writing. For a complete set list, please click here.
3) June’s sultry, eclectic modern style
June appears on stage as though she just stepped out from a Vogue magazine photo shoot. One cannot look away when June walks on stage. June’s well-known pile of dreadlocks, polka-dotted tights, gold shoes, and flashy eyewear have a life of their own. Her artistic flair for unusual attire blends beautifully with her slender, tall body build. Her smile and the way she dances through her tunes gives her songs the modern edge that would not normally be expected when listening to folk or bluegrass music.
4) A joyous infectious stage presence
June dances, plays her banjo, guitar, and tambourine with reckless abandon totally in the moment as she performs “Shakedown Moonshine” had that intoxicating energetic magic, but still nourished the soul at the same time. June is as authentic of a performer as they come. Crowds respond by standing, clapping, and singing along.
5) An incredible backing band
Her backing band added organ, to slide guitar, and drums. Her brothers were present to give special background vocals for this show making it a true homecoming event. She brought Memphis saxophonist Hope Clayburn out to play on “Workin’ Woman Blues” and “Got Soul.”
June’s set was early in the day at the festival. The last set on the same stage was Erykah Badu. Badu is another eclectic performer with a flair for unusual attire. Tank and the Bangas entertained the early crowds with their tour de force performance. MisterWives’ high energy set with their female lead singer, Mandy Lee, was mesmerizing. The guys that performed during the day included Juicy J, The Flaming Lips, Luke Combs, and Post Malone.