This year’s Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival, which begins today, is many things to many people. For some, it’s a chance to see the Alabama Shakes. For others, a reason to spend the day wandering the iconic Beale Street. For Ana Popovic, it’s a homecoming. Of sorts.
Serbia to Amsterdam to Tennessee
The blues guitarist lives in Memphis, but her path to playing alongside Kid Rock, Foster the People, and Snoop Dogg wasn’t a traditional one. She’s Serbian by birth, born in Belgrade. She later moved to Amsterdam, but the blues music of the United States always tugged at her heartstrings.
“I grew up in Serbia, listening to Delta blues, Chicago blues, Texas blues,” she says, before namedropping Howlin’ Wolf and Albert King, her accent lending the names a sense of wonder and exoticism. She began recording her owns blues music in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and eventually Memphis. Two years ago, she crossed the Atlantic to make Memphis home.
Homecoming of Sorts
Ten years ago, Popovic played her first music festival in the United States. That festival was the Memphis in May Beale Street Music Festival. “I felt at home,” she says. “I fell in love with the audience and the way those outside festivals are set up. We don’t have that in Europe.”
Though she’s lived in Memphis for two years, she says the festival proves to be an emotional experience. After all, it’s not often you return to the moment that led to moving across an ocean. But it’s a joyous occasion.
“It feels like home,” she reiterates of Memphis, and it’s clear she means it. “We found a home in Midtown and enjoy the city and enjoy Southern life.”
Of course, she deals with the same ills as other Southerners, such as summer’s oppressive heat. She moved to the city in August 2012. “I didn’t think I’d make it through the month,” she says. “There wasn’t anything to do but find the next jam.”
That jam led to her new album, the aptly titled Can You Stand the Heat. It mixes blues with funky grooves that she says reflect Memphis: “very sexy music, very movable, still very retro.” After all, “Memphis is the only place you can still find that Stacks groove.”
Beale Street Festival
The festival runs from Friday to Sunday in Memphis on the famed Beale Street. Southern standouts include the Alabama Shakes, Jason Isbell, North Mississippi Allstars, and St. Paul & the Broken Bones. The full lineup can be found on the festival’s website.
Popovic’s advice for festival attendees?
“All come to the blues stage!”