Widespread panic hits headlines after festival returns

Rain showers hit the Memphis area early Friday afternoon – a necessity for the flora of the Memphis Botanical Garden, but a general deterrent for fans of live music. But that wasn’t enough to stop a sold-out crowd from filling the lawn at Memphis’s first music festival since the start of the pandemic.

The fourth iteration of the Mempho Music Festival migrated from Shelby Farms to the Memphis Botanic Garden this year. Its two stages and “Whatever Dome,” an area featuring various DJs, have scattered the edges with several vendors dotting open spaces throughout the botanical garden.

The three-day festival ends on Sunday. Officials expected the three days to be full by show time, with 8,500-9,000 people expected daily.

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Billy Strings performs at the Mempho Music Festival.

Grammy winner Billy Strings and his background performers drew the majority of the crowd early on Friday. The artist gathered nearly all of the once-curvy spectators into the hall, quickly luring them to the main stage.

This first crowd, however, was pale compared to the expanse of jumping, dancing and singing bodies that gathered to watch Widespread Panic perform. When the headlining artists took to the stage, the lines at the various vendors were cut in half and the lines in the bathrooms were almost completely dispersed.

Masks – which weren’t mandatory as it was an outdoor location – were rarely seen on listeners’ faces, but Mempho attendees faced other COVID-19 measures.

In August, the music festival led the charge, announcing that it would require spectators to prove they were fully vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test result before entry.

“Bottom line: our goal is to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone,” Mempho Music Festival production manager Mike Smith said in a previous interview. “We have protocols in place that will help protect fans, artists and staff.”

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Jarrod Walker performs alongside Billy Strings at the Mempho Music Festival.

At each entrance, for participants and staff, there were health professionals from ZüpMed, a local medical concierge, to administer a test to the unvaccinated. Spectators who had not taken a test before arriving had to pay $ 25 for a quick test, but it was a rarity, according to Shannon Finks, president and director of pharmacy services at ZüpMed.

“We probably saw that 80% to 85% were fully vaccinated. They require you to have your second vaccination by September 16, so we had a few people who didn’t qualify for entry,” Finks said. “So we had a few people who were vaccinated yesterday and they actually had to provide a negative COVID test to get in. “

Royal Masat performs alongside Billy Strings at the Mempho Music Festival.

A small portion of the staff and photographers in attendance also spent a few minutes at the test stand. Will Carmon was stationed at the staff entrance test center.

“I have administered around 80 (tests so far),” Carmon said. “I’ve probably had around 300 people, and most people have their (vaccine) cards on them or have tested negative in the last 48 hours.”

Finks was told by a number of attendees that the process was going much faster than expected, leaving her feeling like live music is back.

“I think there is a reasonable level of security at this point. Of course, there is no 100% guarantee that a person cannot be infected with COVID,” she said. . “But I think we’re doing our best. And we’re enjoying the loud music again. And that’s something we couldn’t say last summer.”

Lucas Finton is a reporter for The Commercial Appeal. He can be contacted at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @LucasFinton.

Gerald R. Schneider

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