Elizabeth Cawein, founder and director of Music Export Memphis.

Home to Graceland, Beale Street Has Legacy of Blues, Soul, Rockabilly and More

Elizabeth Cawein knows Memphis. She founded Signal Flow Public Relations, a boutique music publicity and marketing firm, in 2011 after discovering her passion for music publicity while working as communications and development coordinator for the Memphis Music Foundation. She’s also the founder of Music Export Memphis, a nonprofit that creates showcases, festivals and tour grants to showcase local Memphis artists.

Cawein spent some time with VenuesNow and told us why she thinks Memphis is one the greatest music towns in America.

Tell us about the Memphis music scene.
We have a DIY personality. We’re very entrepreneurial. That spirit runs across every genre of music that’s played here. It’s true of our venues as well; nontraditional venues are really big here. While we have every-size legit rooms here for touring bands, we also have a robust house-concert community here with folks who are constantly activating unexpected music events.

In Memphis’ venue mix: The Cannon Center for the Performing Arts and the New Daisy Theatre. (Getty Images X2)

That’s changed our venue community over the past few year because there are more venue ladders for people to climb. We have vintage clothing shops that have opened a 25-seat room; distilleries run concerts. We also have Sofar Sounds here (a company that activates concerts in secret locations). All this has upped the creativity here and changed the notion of where people can enjoy live music.

Where does that leave traditional venues in the marketplace?
They have their place and won’t ever be replaced. There’s very little competition if you are a huge band and able to sell out an arena; the FedEx Forum is the place to go. Minglewood Hall holds roughly 3,000 people. We’ve got lots of rooms with 1,200 to 1,500 capacity. It’s the smaller rooms where the competition exists.

Do touring acts work in Memphis?
We often struggle with touring acts. Where we sit regionally is challenging. I often sit next to fans from Little Rock (Ark.) or Nashville who have driven a few hours to get here — but then we often have to compete with those two cities for the tour. I have definitely seen tours that skip us in favor of those cities and often when we get a big tour it’s on a Tuesday. That’s been true for at least the last 10 years. Luckily, a lot of artists want to come to Memphis just because it’s Memphis.

On the other hand …
We have the most fantastic local live music scene of any city in America. The genres are diverse. We go from hip-hop to Americana to garage rock.

Does country music play a big role?
The perception that we are a country music town is not accurate at all. I can only think of one or two artists who identify as country music artists.

What is your prognosis for the Memphis live entertainment scene?
We’re growing constantly and we know that live music is the No. 1 reason people come to Memphis. They’re coming for the legacy. We’re celebrating our bicentennial in May and there are a ton of events and collaborations going on and a great energy surrounding conversations about what the next 100 years are going to look like.

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