Weaving Tapestries from the Fabric of An Arts Community
November 28, 2007
MEMPHIS—Memphis, Tennessee, is one of the nation’s most musical cities. But much of its renown belongs to the hitmakers of yesteryear–Elvis and all the artists on the legendary Memphis label, Stax. Yet a vibrant live music scene exists today well off the Beale Street tourist strip. And thanks to the work of Christopher Reyes and Sarah Fleming, locals and visitors alike can readily discover just about all there is to know regarding the local arts and music scene.
photo by Derek Slaton
Since 2002, when Reyes founded his multimedia enterprise, Live From Memphis, he has pursued his labor of love and garnered the thanks of many a Memphis musician. Working from his airy downtown loft space, Reyes has gone from building a community Web site to putting on film festivals, and now he’s about to launch a print publication called â”Art Rag,” which will feature the work of Memphis-based visual artists in four-color tabloid-sized spreads.
“People complain that there’ nothing to do here,” Reyes says. “But that’s not true, people are just stuck in their routines, like they are in any city.” By way of suggestion, he reels off several of his favorite bands to see live—The Secret Service, The Subteens, The Mudflaps, The United, River City Tanlines, Giant Bear and Lucero. And he talks glowingly of Goner Records’ Goner Fest and the Folk Alliance, two annual (but lesser known) festivals that Memphis hosts.
Reyes says, “Memphis isn’t trying to be L.A. or Nashville. There are no major labels here. Bands aren’t trying to get signed, they’re just playing the music they love.”
Reyes is a martial arts instructor and that discipline no doubt helps him focus intently on his business. An art school grad who cut his teeth at Ardent, the legendary Memphis recording studio where Led Zeppelin and others have worked, Reyes’ energy and enthusiam simply can’t be contained. Nor can his ambitons. In fact, Sarah Fleming, Live From Memphis’ Creative Director, keeps him in check. She says Reyes has so many ideas and projects he wants to pursue that her job is to keep the team grounded and on task. Reyes admits Fleming is good at the things he’s not and viceversa.
Teamwork can be a beautiful thing to see in action. It’s evident tonight as Reyes and Fleming head out to Midtown club, The HiTone Cafe, where local horn blower Hope Clayborne is sitting in with Kings of the Delta. When members of the band see Reyes and Fleming enter the building with gear in tow, they don’t flee into the green room. They welcome the Live From Memphis crew and are clearly excited someone cares and that they’re here and ready to capture the band’s sound on tape, or on disc, as the case may be.
“Working with creative people is the most rewarding part,” says Reyes about his work. Live From Memphis has an active volunteer network and internship program, which helps sustain the small business. The site’s directory also lists thousands of local artists, many of whom find gigs via their listing. Live From Memphis also runs an online store, where local music and local films are for sale. It would be fair to say Live From Memphis is a hyperlocal version of the best of Craigslist, Pollstar, MySpace and Amazon.com.
Reyes says, “This is my art. People think building a social network isn’t creative, but it is.”
Reyes’ grandparents were missionaries in Nigeria. It’s easy to see a strain of this missionary zeal in him. His cause is local art, film and music, and he serves that cause at all hours of the day in a variety of enterprising ways.
LiveFromMemphis.com gets about 150,000 visits a month, which is considerable given that the site serves but one mid-sized market. Yet, the true impact of Reyes’ creation and Fleming’s dedication can’t be measured in hits to a Web site. Live From Memphis motivates people to not only support the arts, but to find their own artist within. As funding for the arts is collapsing in communities around the nation, it’s imperative that business picks up the ball and that’s precisely what Live From Memphis has done and continues to do.