Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Stax Music Academy Summer Soul Tour Presented by FedEx concert in Melbourne's Federation Square.

Well, it has been a while since the ol' Stax Museum News blogger has posted any news, but that's because things have been hopping at the Soulsville Foundation.

We recently returned from the Stax Music Academy Summer Soul Tour Sponsored by FedEx, which was a two-week concert tour and cultural exchange with 15 of our academy high school students to Australia. While in the Land Down Under, we first visited Melbourne (after the 20-plus-hour trip there!) and hit the ground running. Literally, the staff and students had to hightail it straight from the airport to the hotel and then to the site of the first concert venue for interviews with the Aussie press.

The concert was in the city's really wonderful Federation Square, an architecturally stunning outdoor/indoor gathering spot as well as home to several museums, restaurants, and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), whose staff members did so much work in advance for us it was almost embarrassing. Before the concert on Fed Square's Main Stage, the students were treated to ACMI's current exhibit, "Game On," which tells the history of the video game. Now, you might think 15 high school students wouldn't have much interest in checking out 150 portals where they could play video games but....kidding!

The concert that evening drew a crowd of approximately 700 people, most of whom were dancing in the plaza not only to the students' Stax set, but also to the special tribute to Australian music, which included tunes by AC/DC, Little River Band, the Bee Gees, Men At Work, and others. While in Melbourne, the academy students also performed a special concert/workshop for the Song Room Foundation, an organization that helps recently arrived refugee children to Australia from all over the world. Even though most of them did not speak English, they understood the music and had a blast. The students also performed for the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne.
In addition to their performances and workshops, the students took a trip to Phillip Island, stopping along the way at a park where they got up close and personal with and got to pet and hand feed some tame kangaroos, and at a nature reserve where they watched Koalas mostly sleep in the trees. And yes, they are as cute in person as they are in photos.

On Phillip Island, we first traveled to a spot atop some cliffs with the ocean waves crashing onto the beach below. No tourist attractions, just pure, beautiful nature, including plenty of wallabies hopping about the hillsides. From there we sat at dusk near the beach to watch the Fairy Penguins make their way from the ocean across the beach and into their burrows. Yes, they waddle like little men and women wearing feathered tuxedos.

From Melbourne, we traveled to the Australian capital city of Canberra, where the students performed for roughly 400 guests at the city's newly renovated Llwellyn Hall at the University of Australia Canberra. A highlight of the Canberra trip was having tea with the United States ambassador to Australia and his wife -Ambassador Robert McCallum and Mimi McCallum. Both the ambassador and his wife are native Memphians, and welcomed us to their embassy residence with such hospitality we felt like we were in our own home. In a way we were, since our tax dollars pay for it! They were very quick to point that out.
Then, ah, on to Sydney. Sydney is one of the most laid-back but majestic cities most of us had ever seen. While there we performed at two high schools, the Royal Children's Hospital, and a special July 4th party hosted by the U.S. Consulate General at one of Sydney's nicest hotels. We generally rocked the house and had a ballroom full of diplomats stirring in their suits.
We also visited La Peruse, the site of the first Aboriginal community in Australia, and were treated to a tour by a man man named Vic, an Aboriginal activist who helped reclaim the land for the original/Aboriginal owners. We stood at the very site where Captain John Cook sailed into Botany Bay and discovered the continent and all its riches. We also had great visits to Bondi Beach and the Toronga Zoo, which takes up most of an island in the Sydney Harbor.

A trip like this is life-changing on many levels. For many of the students, it was the first time they had flown on an airplane, first time to visit another country, and the first time to see the ocean. And while those firsts are great experiences, they barely scratch the surface of what it means to travel like this.

First of all, in many respects it's hard work. Nine performances in ten days in three cities is no easy feat. Getting the music just right, being on time, leaving the hotel at 6 a.m. many days, and having to all get along with each other are also challenges. Oh, and I didn't even mention performing live in Sydney on national television in front of viewing audience of millions with one day's notice.
All in all, it was a great trip and we can't thank FedEx enough for helping make this possible. The Stax Music Academy Summer Soul Tour students and staff will never forget this incredible journey.