The first weekend of every May is the weekend of the Memphis In May Beale Street Music Festival — 3 days of outdoor live music on 4 stages, beer, and lots and lots of mud. I've not missed a festival in at least 10 years, maybe longer.
And you can always count on one thing: It will rain. And usually, that rain lasts all three days. Weeks before the festival, every Walmart and Target in town sells out of rain boots and panchos. That's the uniform for the weekend. Your rainboots are your savior. By day three, the mud is so thick that it looks as though it might just swallow you up into the Earth, a sacrifice to the music festival gods.
I'm okay with that. If you're not okay with that, you skip the fest and stay home in your warm bed and make jokes on Facebook about how dumb all those people are for getting cold, wet, and muddy for a little live music. But this year's line-up was not to be missed: Public Enemy (fight the power!), Smashing Pumpkins, Bassnectar, Porter Robinson, Big Boi, The Flaming Lips, and the list goes on. It was so worth the discomfort of muddy muck and unseasonably cold temperatures.
So yea, you can count on the rain. But one you cannot count on is finding vegan food. Larger music festivals, like Bonnaroo, tend to be very vegan-friendly. But the Beale Street Music Fest is hit or miss. One year, I searched high and low, carefully analyzing the menu of every food vendor, only to be forced to settle for a bucket of curly fries or plain saratoga chips for dinner all three nights. Grease fest. The Beale Street Music Fest is the land of Pronto Pups and funnel cakes. Last year, however, I found vegan chili frito cups at a food truck.
But that truck wasn't here this year. On Saturday night, I didn't want to venture too far from my employer's beer tent (the Memphis Flyer, the newspaper I write for has a VIP tent that acts our home base) because it was cold and windy. But just across the park, I spotted a sign that read "Garlic Vegetarian Kabobs." Score. I made my way over to the vendor, and here's how the conversation went.
Me: Can I get the garlic vegetarian kabobs?
Lady: We ain't got no vegetarian kabobs.
Me: But your sign says you do.
Lady: It does? Hmmm. Well, it got chicken on it.
Me: That's not vegetarian.
Lady: Well, we ain't got nothing here.
Shoot. I was mad. And I was hungry. And cold. The next booth over had a big sign advertising curly fries. Looked like I was going to settle for another greasy disappointing dinner. I approached the fry vendor, but before placing my order, I decided to glance over the menu just to make sure it I wasn't missing some miracle vegan option.
Dude: Can I help you?
Me: I think I'm getting curly fries, but I was just checking your menu to see if you had anything vegan.
Dude: Vegan?! What the hell is that?
Me: It's like a vegetarian, but I also avoid cheese, eggs, and other animal products.
Dude: No meat?! Shit, I'm from the South! We eat meat here.
Me: I'm from the South too. I don't eat meat.
Dude: Well, I'm from the real south. I'm from Kentucky.
Me: I'm from around here, and this is much further south than Kentucky.
Dude: Nah, Kentucky is the real South. I'm from South Kentucky.
Me: You know what? Just get me some curly fries.
Jesus. I was surrounded by crazy rednecks. Anyway, I ate my curly fries. They were okay. But the next day, Sunday, as I was dreading another dinner of greasy fried potatoes, I saw this:
It was like a beacon of hope! I don't know why, but I just knew there had to be vegan tacos here. I approached the counter and talked to a man wearing a taco suit (I mean, how can you not trust a guy in a taco suit?).
Taco suit guy: Can I help you?
Me: Do y'all have vegan tacos?
Taco suit guy: Totally! We have a cactus salad taco.
Me: I'll have three.
And so I did. And they were amazing. The salad was made from diced pickled cactus, guacamole, onions, black beans, corn, and cilantro. Genius! I've never quite known what to do with that jar of pickled cactus lurking in my fridge. I'll be recreating these at home soon.
Thank you, taco dudes! You saved my life!