Memphis In May, the city’s largest annual festival, said in a news release that the music festival will “be paused and will not take place.” However, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Great American River Run will go on as planned.
The barbecue contest will be held at Liberty Park from May 15 – May 18. The Great American River Run will be held in downtown Memphis on May 25.
Mayor-Elect Paul Young, who also serves as the President of the Downtown Memphis Commission and sits on the Memphis River Parks board, called Thursday’s announcement a disappointment.
“It was disappointing. We know how much of an economic impact it is to have musical festival in downtown, so many businesses and hotels generate business during that weekend so it’ll be a big loss,” Young said. “I don’t want to speak for the full board but I do think the events in the park would be welcomed, particularly the music festival.”
Officials cited the event changes were due to “the significant financial loss in 2023, challenges producing the festival in Tom Lee Park, and uncertainty surrounding a lawsuit filed against the festival by the Memphis River Parks Partnership.”
“I think that the lawsuit with the damage to the park was largely due to Barbecue Fest and not the music festival. I don’t think there was a lot of damage that took place. I was out there for the music festival and things seemed to be in pretty good shape,” Young said.
Memphis In May reported a record financial loss of $3.48 million this year, surpassing the previous record loss of $2.23 million set in 2022.
Attendance at this year’s Beale Street Music Festival fell to its lowest level in over thirty years at 37,805, while attendance at the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest dropped to 39,625.
Festival officials said Thursday that the Beale Street Music Festival is also being paused “to explore all options to present an event in the future that meets the standards and authenticity expected of the brand.”
“Obviously, Memphis in May has built a very authentic brand beginning with the name and location of the music festival,” said President and CEO James L. Holt. “With a pending lawsuit and the event now unwelcomed in the new Tom Lee Park, future Beale Street Music Festivals will face fundamental challenges.”
As the city’s next mayor, Young said he wants to meet with the stakeholders.
“As mayor, I would say to Memphis In May let’s sit down, let’s have some dialogues, let’s lay the facts on the table, and let’s figure out how we can overcome the challenges that caused the organization to make this tough decision,” he said.