Last weekend (April 13-14), for the fourth time in as many years, Lucero fans from far and wide converged on the grounds surrounding Minglewood Hall in the band’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, for the annual Family Block Party, a music and arts extravaganza for patrons of all ages. This year’s installment, in addition to being the biggest one yet, was celebratory for another, particularly noteworthy reason; April 13, 2018, marked the twentieth anniversary of Lucero’s very first show, which took place in a Memphis warehouse across the street from the infamous Lorraine Motel.
The weekend’s festivities kicked off on the evening of Friday the 13th inside the 1884 Lounge at the Minglewood complex, in the form of a gathering that was equal parts history lesson and birthday party, the bulk of which was curated by Lucero lead guitar player Brian Venable. Venable has long been the band’s unofficial historian, and in the days (hours?!?) leading up to the event, he dug through the time capsule and pulled out old pictures, setlists, album artwork, show flyers, lyric sheets and band-related memorabilia (old Flying Vs! Roy’s old Nikes!) that were compiled into a walk-through exhibit that inspired a night full of laughter and reminiscing between the band’s members, crew, and family of dedicated fans.
The lounge and the cavernous concert hall inside Minglewood remained open on Saturday, but the bulk of the goings-on took place outside. Not only was the venue’s parking lot closed to traffic, but neighboring South Willett and Monroe Streets and a few adjacent parking lots were as well, giving the occasion a true, block party feel. Local food trucks hawked their wares, as did a variety of merchandise vendors (Shitluck Clothing, Lumberjack Outfitters, tintype photography with Michael Foster, Oliver Peck and his Cheap Thrills line, etc) , most of whom remained steadily busy throughout the afternoon and well into the evening. But the focus, as you might expect, was on the music. Local singer/songwriter Louise Page (above) got things rolling under overcast but not quite rainy mid-afternoon skies. Page has only been in the business for a couple years but has steadily built a name for herself in Memphis, and it’s easy to see why, with elements of folk, pop and soul oozing throughout her melodies. A singer and piano player by trade, Page’s live sound was filled out by a five-piece band that consisted of drums, stand-up bass, violin, saxophone and trombone.
The inimitable John Moreland came next, accompanied by a full rock band of his own. That the Tulsa, Oklahoma, native isn’t household name on par with Jason Isbell or Chris Stapleton seems nothing less than criminal, although I guess there’s something special about his once-in-a-generation voice being our little secret. Moreland’s forty-minute set primarily highlighted his last two albums, last year’s stellar Big Bad Luv and 2015’s flawless High On Tulsa Heat, with a revved-up, pitch perfect cover of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” tagged on as a raucous show closer.
The set change between Moreland and the next band on the docket, Rhode Island’s own Deer Tick, featured an appearance by The Mighty Souls Brass Band, a rotating group of musicians that includes former Lucero touring saxophone player Jim Spake playing their way through the crowd, an experience ripped right out of the French Quarter. While Deer Tick do, as stated, call the Ocean State home, they’ve become more involved in the Tennessee scene over the last handful of years; frontman John McCauley and his wife, Vanessa Carlton, have a Nashville home, and the band recorded both of their self-titled 2017 releases down the road from Minglewood Hall at renowned Ardent Studios. Deer Tick were followed by an hour-long set from the evening’s direct support, Turnpike Troubadours. Like Lucero, the Oklahoma-native Troubadours are road dogs in their own right, having spent more than a decade at this point touring like a punk rock band. While they play a style of music that’s a little more straight-forward country than you might be accustomed to reading about on the pages of Dying Scene, there’s a real storytelling aspect to frontman Evan Felker’s lyrics that make the music instantly more relatable.
While the afternoon and early evening’s happenings were an enjoyable gathering – even in spite of the occasional raindrops – of friends and families alike, this was clearly Lucero’s night. There were more than 4,000 people spread throughout the Block Party’s grounds by the time the band took the stage at a little after 8pm. When you’ve got twenty years and almost a dozen albums under your belt, it might be a little bit difficult to keep your rabid fanbase on their toes, but that’s just what they did, as Ben Nichols and the crew opened their celebratory set with “For The Lonely Ones,” a brand-new track off the band’s yet-to-be-released-or-even-formally-announced full length, due sometime in August on their new label home, Thirty Tigers (Jason Isbell, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, etc).
Eschewing their normal formula for improvising their way through a two-hour set, the band did curate a setlist for this particular special occasion. Roughly half of the new album was woven in to the set and because this is 2018 and the internet is a thing, aside from one or two songs that hadn’t been played anywhere yet, a solid number of the new tracks (especially “Bottom of the Sea” and “Cover Me”) were not only well-received by their fans but were greeted with the same audience singalong treatment that decade-old crowd favorites have long generated. The band dug deep into the catalog, including a rare appearance by the raw, gritty stomach-punch of “No Roses No More” from their self-titled 2001 debut album (revisited on these pages a couple years back). Jim Spake rejoined the band on stage on saxophone duties for a few tracks, but otherwise this was a night to celebrate the long-running core of the band that’s stayed together in spite of a handful of moving parts throughout the decades. Nichos and Venable founded the band and played that first warehouse show with a different rhythm section, but Roy Berry (drums) and John C. Stubblefield (bass) would join within the first year and have remained in pace ever since, while the multi-instrumentally talented Rick Steff brought his serious chops into the mix in 2006. The night even featured a proclamation from Memphis mayor Jim Strickland declaring April 14, 2018, to be Lucero Day in the city, in honor of the band’s twenty year legacy of serving as a “source of inspiration, encouragement and strength for listeners all over the world.”
Head below to check out our full photo gallery of the weekend’s triumphant festivities, and stay tuned for more on Lucero’s new album (and a special Father’s Day release) in the weeks to come!