About Us

Here at Backbeat Tours we tell people from all over the world about our unique city everyday. From Graceland to the Grizzlies, Beale St. to the Burbs we are passionate about Memphis. This blog is where we share quirky, behind-the-scenes tales of Memphis, past and present.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Up, Up, and Away

Our New Year's resolution this year was to look for unusual and thrilling things to do in Memphis, things we've never done before and might never do again - a bucket list of sorts that we call Project Adrenaline. You may have read our post about the Polar Bear Plunge, the first of our Project Adrenaline activities. This month, Backbeat manager Meagan May offered us the chance to ride in an AirCam, a homemade airplane (yes, I said "homemade") that her father-in-law Tim built and pilots himself. (Tim is a biomedical engineer. I don't think that has much to do with building planes, but at least the word "engineer" is in the title.)

We thought it a wonderful way to honor our recent college graduates here in Memphis, who are now flying themselves, experiencing the "thrill" of having the whole world laid out before them.

Meagan and Tim met myself and Backbeat music guide Nancy Apple at Colonial Air Park outside Collierville to enjoy 20-minute flights in the lightweight, open cockpit AirCam. As I strap myself into the tiny plane, I see a crude instrument panel and joystick in front of me, and some pedals on the floor.  Pilot Tim tells me not to touch anything or we'll crash. "Well, except for that red handle behind you," he says. "If we start going down, just pull on that. It's a parachute." (No, not for me, for the whole plane.)

The AirCam isn't for everyone. The kit itself costs $50,000 and takes an average of 1,100 hours to build, and you need a pilot's license to fly it.  It was first designed for the National Geographic Society for aerial photography in remote areas of Africa. Powered by two engines mounted on the wings, the AirCam flies low and slow, and provides a wide, unobstructed view of the ground below, making it perfect for wildlife photography. Or, as it turns out, for buzzing over waterskiers on a beautiful Mississippi afternoon.

"Check it out," says Tim, as he banks the plane over a small lake south of Collierville. The ground and water yaw up at us and we see a family in a boat below - mom, dad, and four kids - waving excitedly at us. We're flying low, just a few hundred feet from the ground, and we can clearly see their smiling faces. I wave back at them as we soar over the lake. This is what flying in its earliest days must have been like, strumming along on the wind like a dragonfly, over houses and fields with grazing horses, with that perfect freedom that you can only get high above the earth.

We're wearing helmets with a headset inside, and up front Tim is chatting away on the intercom. "You like rollercasters?" he asks. Before I answer, whoa! we're plummeting down in a sudden maneuver that leaves my stomach up near my throat. We pull up and level out, both of us laughing, exhilarated.

Before long, our time is up and we circle around back to the landing strip. I reluctantly unfold myself out of the cockpit - it's a tight squeeze for anyone over four feet tall - and Nancy wriggles in for the next flight. As I watch Tim take off again and the orange and white plane disappears from view, I think to myself the trick is finding a way to never come down.

By Bill Patton, President of Backbeat Tours and adrenaline junkie.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Downtown Kidventure: Family Fun in Memphis

Downtown Memphis - home to music, nightlife, great sports action .... and kid mecca? If you grew up in the '70s or '80s, that might seem far-fetched, but look at the city now and you'll see a wondrous place full of adventure, fun, and frolic. From the Orpheum Theater to the Peabody Ducks, from the Fire Museum to the Mississippi River Steamboats, from the Main Street Trolley to the old-time Peanut Shoppe, there are no end of delights to please every child. We're proud of our city's resurgence, so - as part of our Memphis Loves Memphis tour series - we want to invite you and your family to join us on a unique child-oriented tour: the Downtown Kid-Venture.

The tour is on Saturday, May 10, the day before Mother's Day. What a great way to celebrate the holiday! (As an added bonus, it will tire out the kids, so mom can get some rest on Sunday.) The tour includes:
Peabody Duck Palace and Main Street Trolley

But what do kids think? We wanted to get some advance opinions, so we asked some of our littler friends what they thought.  Here's what they had to say.

Practical Elizabeth

Peabody Ducks. Elizabeth, 11, was excited to learn that there were ducks in a hotel, but was concerned that they might "poop" everywhere. We asked Elizabeth if she would like to live in a palace like the ducks, but she declined. "I don't even clean my room. I couldn't clean a whole palace."

When asked what a Peabody duck might do in its spare time, Allie Grace, 9, offered, "probably just duck stuff. Eat, watch TV, swim, fly ... do they fly south for the winter like other ducks?"

The kids were creative when it came to catching runaway ducks, but we liked the solution offered by Courtney, 6, the most: "Put on wings and a beak and duck feet and pretend to be its mom. Then I could lead it back to their house."

The Peanut Shoppe. The Peanut Shoppe with its selection of candy and nuts was quite popular with the kids. When Sammy, 3, heard about a store that sold only candy and peanuts, his eyes got VERY WIDE.  Charlie, 3, said he likes both candy and peanuts, because they're "yummy." When asked about favorite candies, Anna, 5, summed up the general consensus, saying, "I like chocolate. And sour stuff. And gummy bears. And Starburst. I guess I just like it all."

The thoughtful Cody
Mr. Peanut vs. Rivals. We asked our group to compare Mr. Peanut to some our other furry (and feathered) friends. There was general agreement that the "good ducks" could beat Mr. Peanut in a fight, but, after some consideration, Cody, 14, noted that, even though peanuts are not very big, Mr. Peanut does have a weapon of sorts: his cane. Courtney, 6, thought Backbeat's mascot, Rufus the Hound Dog, would probably be more fun than Mr. Peanut, because he "could play fetch and stuff with you," while "Mr. Peanut has glasses. I don't think he could play very much." Sorry, Mr Peanut - we love you anyway!

Rufus.  Speaking of Rufus, Charlie, 3, had quite the friendship with our Hound Dog mascot.  According to Charlie, Rufus "likes to come to my house and give me candy under my sofa... He is invited to my birthday party and I like him."  (Rufus agrees and has already accepted  the invitation to Charlie's birthday party.)

Swimming in the mini-Mississippi
Mud Island.  All the kids were excited about going to Mud Island. Drew, 10, said that he went on the tram last year "and I thought we were going to fall in the ocean!" Collin, 7, explained that, at first he thought that there might be little people living in the miniature Mississippi River on Mud Island, but now he knows that there aren't. (He seemed a bit disappointed about that.)

Future Firefighter Lucas
Adventurous Sammy
Fire Museum. The Fire Museum was also a popular choice. Sammy, 3, said it would be fun to be a fireman so you could ride in the truck and play with the dog. Lucas, 7, realized it might take a little while before he could start his firefighting career. "Right now I don't have my driver's license, but when I get that and if I learn, ... I think I could [drive a fire truck]."

Little Vigor at the Fire Museum of Memphis

Join us on Saturday, May 10, for the Downtown Kid-Venture. The tour begins at 10:15am on the rooftop of the Peabody Hotel (in front of the Duck Palace) and ends at 12:30pm. Prices are $12 for adults; $7 for children (5-14), free for children under 5. Wear comfortable clothes; there's about 8 blocks of walking altogether (with plenty of rest stops as we go).  Strollers are welcome. To make reservations, call (901) 527-9415 or book online through Zerve.  

Thanks to our partners, the Fire MuseumThe Peanut Shoppe, and Mud Island River Park for giving us free or reduced prices to make this tour possible!  

By Meagan May, mother of the first Backbeat baby, Valerie!