Go big or go home, he likes to say.
How else could you describe someone partly responsible for taking Memphis’ heralded musical heritage to Poland?
“Our goal at one point,” Arendt says, “was to actually see if we can create a model that we can do this in any country.”
For now, Poland will do.
Arendt is a member of the Memphis in Poland Festival’s Leadership and Planning Committee, serving as the event’s director of programming. He’s also a native of Poland, having emigrated from that European nation with his family when he was just 14 months old.
The first Memphis in Poland Festival, in 2017, spawned from an idea within the Polish-American Society of Memphis to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Polish independence, Arendt says. Arendt and a team of Memphians — including his wife, Rebecca, a vocalist — performed six concerts over seven days in two cities, Warsaw and Sopat.
The inaugural event also included music education classes, lectures on Memphis’ role in the civil rights movement and a cookout featuring Memphis barbecue. Support came from a variety of partners, including the National Civil Rights Museum, International Paper, the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and several others.
After a one-year hiatus, the Memphis in Poland Festival returns next month, June 21-30, and features an expanded calendar of concerts coinciding with the city of Memphis’ own bicentennial. The festival is returning to Warsaw and Sopat and has added a stop in Bielsko-Biala, a mid-sized city in southern Poland.
The year’s festival also has a more distinct University of Memphis flavor, with four Scheidt School string students among the musicians traveling to Europe: Kailee McGillis (violin), Renicea Bell (violin), Clayton Heinecke (viola) and Kaleb Brown (cello). Besides the Arendts, five UofM faculty and adjunct faculty members and a few additional Memphis musicians are participating in the festival, including Sam Shoup (bass), Susan Marshall (vocals), Heather Trussell (violin), Harold Smith (guitar), Patrick Sutton (guitar), Kimberly Patterson (cello) and Pee Wee Jackson (drums). They leave for Poland on June 18.
The band — named Memphis Mix — will pepper its set list with a range of songs that takes the audience through the history of Memphis music. Those songs represent Stax Records, Sun Studio and the city’s embedded links to blues, rock, soul and jazz.
Memphis Mix’s 30-song repertoire features Elvis Presley (“Hound Dog,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love”), Chuck Berry (“Memphis, Tennessee”), Johnny Cash (“Folsom Prison Blues”), Otis Spann (“Hotel Lorraine”), Booker T. and the MG’s (“Green Onions”), Al Green (“Let’s Stay Together”), The Staple Singers (“I’ll Take You There”), Linda Lyndell (“What A Man”), Otis Redding “‘Sittin’ On’ The Dock of the Bay”) and others.
That may not be the sounds normally associated with Polish musical tastes, but Arendt believes that mixture of the Mid-South and Poland works surprisingly well.
“In Poland, I’m not sure why, but they are very into jazz and blues,’” Arendt says. “There are a number of blues bands in Poland that are pretty popular and there are major jazz festivals in Warsaw that are internationally known. I think this is a great niche to go into with Poland specifically.”
As for that dream of expanding the Memphis in Poland Festival to other countries, “We’ll (first) see how this year goes,” Arendt says.
— Phillip Tutor, CCFA media coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org