Steve Wildsmith

A cross between Rolling Stone, Soldier of Fortune and the Oxford American

Whitechapel members ready to go to ‘War’

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Last month, the death metal band Whitechapel, which calls East Tennessee home and includes three members from Blount County, announced the details of its new album, “Our Endless War,” due out April 29. The first single — “The Saw Is the Law” — was released shortly thereafter, and earlier this week the boys released the song “Mono” to Alternative Press.

We finally got an opportunity to catch up with guitarist Alex Wade, and needless to say, he and his bandmates are more than a little excited about the next step on their journey of brutality.

It wasn’t long ago that Whitechapel was like so many other metal bands around Blount County. Wade, a 2004 Maryville High School graduate, and bass player Gabe Crisp (William Blount High School, class of 2004) joined up with guitarist Ben Savage and vocalist Phil Bozeman of Knoxville and named the band after an impoverished district of London where serial killer Jack the Ripper brutally murdered prostitutes in 1888. Former drummer Kevin Lane and guitarist Brandon Cagle were part of the mix back then, and Whitechapel became scene darlings at places like Alnwick Community Center and the Springbrook Rec Center in Blount County.

After Cagle left the band following a motorcycle accident, 2007 Maryville High graduate Zach Householder came on board shortly after “The Somatic Defilement” was released. In 2008, Whitechapel made the jump to respected label Metal Blade, releasing the album “This Is Exile” and garnering larger and larger followings at shows across the country, many with top-name metal acts. In 2010, the group released “A New Era of Corruption,” an album that sold 10,500 copies during its first week of release and entered the Billboard charts at No. 43, practically unheard of for a death metal act. The band’s self-titled album, released in 2012 debuted at No. 47 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, No. 10 on the Top Independent Albums chart and on charts in both Canada and Germany.

For “Endless War,” the guys are hitting the road for most of April, and no doubt future tour dates will be announced soon. No word yet, however, on when the next East Tennessee show will be. Here’s our Q&A with Alex Wade:

1) The album was cut at your house here in Blount County, right? How was this experience the second time around?

Alex: Correct, we recorded this album exactly how we did our self-titled record in 2012. We tracked the drums at our producer Mark Lewis’s studio, Audio Hammer, in Sanford, Fla., and then came back up to Tennessee and tracked the guitars, bass and vocals at my home studio in Louisville (in rural Blount County). We find being able to be at home when recording really helps the process as we are more relaxed when we’re working at home.

2) From what I’ve heard so far, there seems to be a renewed focus, a laser-like intensity to this record, that may have been missing from the last one. Is that my imagination, or does it feel that way to you guys as well?

Alex: I definitely would agree with that. Our self-titled record in 2012 was our first album with our new drummer Ben Harclerode, so we were still getting a feel of what it’s like writing and recording with him. On our new album “Our Endless War” we took that experience and the countless touring we had done to our advantage and it seemed to breed a whole new sound, something more focused and professional.

3) You mentioned some band challenges of late. What’s been going on, and when does the trigger get pulled to get Whitechapel going full throttle this year?

Alex: We were slated to perform at this year’s “Soundwave Festival” that spanned across the majority of Australia in February, but had to cancel our appearance due to the death of a member’s immediate family. It was hard for us because we don’t like disappointing our fans by having to cancel shows, and aside from that we were missing getting to go to Australia, but life throws you curve balls sometimes and you have to be ready for them and pick yourself up and dust yourself off, which is what we’ve done. We used our extra time at home to focus on promoting our new album and are gearing up for a short string of tour dates in promotion of its release in April.

4) How goes life in Blount County for you and the rest of the local contingent? Still glad to call this place home?

Absolutely, I tell people all the time that I have traveled the world multiple times and I would still never live anywhere else but here. With our lifestyle being so fast and loud, it’s nice to be able to come home to somewhere that’s quiet and laid back, where we can unwind and enjoy a few cold brews with good friends on the back porch.

Written by wildsmith

March 20th, 2014 at 9:47 am

What’s happened to Blackstock?

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Rumors are flying that Blackstock Auditorium, 940 Blackstock Drive in Knoxville’s Warehouse District and the former home of Electric Ballroom and The Valarium, is shut down, and we’re trying to get to the bottom of what happened.

I reached out to Jay Harris, a former employee of the venue who still books the alternative dance night Temple there, and he provided what so far has been the best account of what apparently went down over the weekend. After Friday night’s poorly attended Confederate Railroad show (one source who went said there might have been 40 people there), the venue was apparently “closed down on Saturday night due to lack of payment on the lease,” Harris told me — emphasizing, of course, that his information is all second-hand.

A private show with rapper Waka Flocka Flame was supposedly moved to the laser tag facility Battlefield Knoxville (and apparently ended in thrown beer bottles, cops and a whole other story that’s still unfolding, with the rapper apparently heading down to Rumorz on “The Strip” to keep partying), and after hearing of the debacle, Harris said he went by Blackstock on Sunday.

“A security guard was there, and I told him who I was and way I was there and asked what was going on,” Harris said. “I was told that there are new owners becaue the lease had expired due to non-payment and that the new owners are planning on keeping it a venue. I was told the new owners were there, cleaning up, and when I asked to speak to them, they agreed, and the security guard took me on back. They let me know that they want to keep it as a venue and that they want Temple to keep its home there. So until they get their ducks in a row — beer and liquor licenses, a health inspection, etc. — we’ll have to find a new place to hold it this month and next month. They just want to make sure the place is awesome to make sure it doesn’t have the problems did when Blackstock opened.”

The new holders of the lease wish to remain anonymous for the time being, Harris added, and the whole thing dropped in their lap at the last minute.

“I think they were working seriously to get things happening and were hoping to get it, but they got a phone call over the weekend and the owner of the building told them that if they wanted it, it was theirs,” Harris said. “I can’t say who they are, but I can tell you this — when I saw who it was, I was relieved and excited that this venue will finally be what it has the potential of being.”

Overtures to Daniél Leal, who held the lease for Blackstock, haven’t been returned so far, and it’s probably safe to assume that any shows booked for Blackstock will likely have to be re-negotiated with the new lease holders. Meanwhile, shows like the Southern Drawl Band gig on Friday night are in a state of flux; Wally Miles, organizer of Wallypalooza, has put his event on hold for the time being. We’ll update this post as we find out additional developments.

Written by wildsmith

March 3rd, 2014 at 11:13 am

An evening of Warren Zevon for a beloved friend

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I had the good fortune of breaking bread with Rikki Hall this afternoon, and if you can’t come away from some time with that guy, given the circumstances he’s facing, without a profound appreciation for the beauty he sees in the world around us and a humbling respect for his approach to life and death … well, start asking yourself some hard metaphysical questions, like whether you have a soul.

Let’s be blunt: Rikki is dying. He knows it; his wonderful, kind and stalwart wife, Kim Pilarski-Hall, knows it. His parents know it. Everyone knows it, because he’s battling a form of brain cancer that’s essentially incurable and is on the march. He doesn’t have a lot of time left. On one hand, that’s damnably unfair, and it’s hard not to ask whatever Big Kahuna in which you believe what the hell he’s thinking in handing down such a sentence to a guy who’s been one of the good ones since he came to East Tennessee in 1994. On the other, we all should have the sort of courage in facing our own mortality as Rikki does: “I would say I tend not to think in that sort of frame,” he told me. “To the extent that I do, I’m grateful for the things I still get to experience rather than resentful of things I might miss.”

Over the years, Rikki’s called Blount County and South Knoxville home; he’s been a champion of environmental causes and political ones; he’s been a writer and a researcher and a wanderer and a friend, a musician and a music lover and a guy that a lot of people around here respect and love. I’ll be writing more about him and our conversation for an upcoming edition of The Daily Times, but suffice it to say that when local musicians who hold him in such high regard approached him about the idea of a benefit concert, his generosity of spirit ticked up a few more notches.

Despite undoubtedly overwhelming medical bills from constant trips to Duke University for treatment, Ricky asked that all proceeds gathered from a March 20 benefit at Scruffy City Hall, 32 Market Square in downtown Knoxville, go to the Little River Watershed Association. It’s not surprising, given his love of the waterways and wild places of East Tennessee, but it warms the heart and gives the rest of us hope that a man on his way out is willing to do so much for the resources of this area.

The theme of the night — the shindig kicks off at 7 p.m. — is the music of Warren Zevon. From a press release about it: “Celebrating both Warren Zevon and Rikki Hall with an evening of macabre, hilarious and heart-breaking songs will be the Tim Lee 3, Greg Horne Band, Itchy Bruddah (Phil Fuson), the French and Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet. RB Morris, Kevin Abernathy, Chris Durman, Sonja Spell and Daniel Kimbro will sing with a house band assembled from the Lee and Horne bands plus Hudson K’s Christina Horn and Nate Barrett. More guests are to be announced. Scott and Bernadette West volunteered Scruffy City Music Hall, their new venue on Market Square in downtown Knoxville, for this last-day-of-winter party.”

Admission is only $5 … a paltry price to pay for the opportunity to celebrate the life of a man who’s made this area a better place. Please consider lending it your support, either in person or in spirit.

Written by wildsmith

February 28th, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Wallypalooza 2014 set for April 4 and 5

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Wally Miles (left) and comedian Waylon Whiskey

Wally Miles (left) and comedian Waylon Whiskey

Our hearts go out to Wally Miles, creator of the local music bash known as Wallypalooza. He lost his brother Ted recently, and his heart’s hurting, but he’s determined that the show will go on.

Ever since the last Wallypalooza — held in January 2013 at the now-defunct Thirsty Turtle in Maryville — Miles has been laying low. He found a new job, a new relationship and a new direction for his life, and it seemed his days of putting together a massive party that showcased local music were behind him.

(For those unfamiliar with Wallypalooza, they started out as a birthday celebration for Miles, a 1997 graduate of Maryville High School and a longtime resident of Blount County. He invited friends to the lake in 1998 to celebrate the day, and they enjoyed an afternoon of music blaring from an old boombox. The next year, someone came up with the idea of getting a rock band to play for the annual gathering. Over the next 14 years, the event was christened Wallypalooza and grew into the monster that it is today. And starting in 2008, when he booked three bands (Middle Finger, Stonemosis and Half of Something) at also-defunct Nater’z Sports Grille in Maryville, it’s become a beast over which he has little control, at least in terms of how many people show up.)

But when the folks who run Blackstock Auditorium, 940 Blackstock Drive in Knoxville’s Warehouse District, called and asked him to do Wallypalooza one more time, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity, he told us.

“I’ve always wanted to do it on that stage, because I’ve been sneaking in there since I was a high schooler and it was the Electric Ballroom,” Miles said of the venue. “I remember seeing Danzig there in 1995 with Marilyn Manson and a young,  upstart band named Korn. I couldn’t tell you what I did last week, but I can tell you about that show!”

It’s the first Wallypalooza event to be held outside of Blount County, and if it were any other venue, he added, he’d probably not consider it. But doing it at Blackstock was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

“I never thought it was possible, because people told me for years one day I’d get in there, but I just shrugged it off,” he said. “Then the guy who does the booking asked me what I was going to do for Wallypalooza this year, and I was just straight-up honest and told him I hadn’t been thinking about it. He asked me to do it there,  and I talked it over with the missus and said, ‘Look, here we go again!’”

His girlfriend (Linda Shelton) gave the event her blessing, however, and Wallypalooza 2014 is now set for April 4 and 5 at Blackstsock. The lineup includes:

• April 4 — Something Wicked, Big Trouble, Joe Coe, Evince, The Bad Dudes, Rot Iron and The Dirty Gunnz; and

• April 5 — Catalyst, Indie Lagone, AfterLife, Imprint, Shallowpoint, Big Pushy and Crome Molly.

The shows begin at 8 p.m. each night, and the cover charge will likely be somewhere from $5 to $10, Miles said.

Written by wildsmith

February 28th, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Goodbye, Groundswell Collective

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When the Groundswell Collective opened in early 2012 at 1215 Magnolia Ave. in East Knoxville, organizers had dreams of a democratic community center that would host live music, offer meeting spots for proactive social organizations, throw neighborhood block parties and organize workshops on all manner of topics.

They succeeded admirably, fostering community through a do-it-yourself philosophy “that uses resources and education to cultivate social justice,” according to the website. “By providing consolidated information about other groups, spaces, and events, we hope to spark engagement with others outside Groundswell and in Knoxville.” Within the first three months, Groundswell had already played host to a yard sale, field day, home-brew workshop, and Linux-installing party.

Unfortunately, Pellissippi State recently bought the property to expand its Magnolia Avenue campus, and the tenants of Groundswell are being evicted. To commiserate, mourn and celebrate, they’ll hold one last show at 9 p.m. Saturday at Groundswell, featuring the bands Steaks, Buddy System, Maker, Sprocket Gobbler and Criswell Collective. It’s free to attend (BYOB), so show up and say goodbye to a community treasure.

Written by wildsmith

February 4th, 2014 at 10:55 am

Posted in Local venues, Music

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Waynestock: This year’s cause is a personal one, so you should go.

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“Have you ever seen a scarecrow filled with nothing but dust and weeds, if you’ve ever seen that scarecrow then you’ve seen me … have you ever seen a one-armed man punching at nothing but the breeze, if you’ve ever seen that one-armed man then you’ve seen me …” — Bruce Springsteen, “The Wrestler”

I hear that song  in my head every time I drive the side streets of Downtown North Knoxville. It’s a neighborhood that’s a little more spit-shined and polished than it was when I first arrived there in 2002, standing outside the door of a quaint little house on Hinton Avenue, shivering less from the late-March cold than from the lingering chills and spasms of opiate withdrawal. Back then, the hookers and the homeless walked up and down Central Street at all hours of the day, lowered heads and eyes roaming the sidewalk cracks for change and cigarette butts. They’re still around, but with more and more businesses opening in the area and more middle class residents drawn to the genteel charm, they’ve been pushed further back into the shadows.

It’s not easy clawing one’s way out of the black abyss of addiction and alcoholism. We’re marked by scarlet letters as weak, as morally bankrupt, as men and women who have brought our affliction upon ourselves. In one sense, that’s true; our dire straits are of our own making, a result of one bad decision after another going back to the first time we picked up that first drink or did that first drug and it flipped some switch deep inside our heads, setting off a cascade failure of life-altering proportions. For whatever reason, we get fucked up as a coping mechanism — to feel good when we’re down, to feel even better when we’re up, to dull pain and quell anger and dampen depression. We use, and then we use more, and the promises we make to ourselves, the “I’ll never do that” and the “I won’t cross that line,” fall like dominoes with all of the other promises we make. We steal, we lie, we cheat, we con, we manipulate in order to get more of what our bodies and brains scream to have, and when we come down the crush of guilt and shame strikes our souls like an avalanche of heavy stones, and before we know it, we’re walking those cold and lonely streets, not recognizing the reflection staring back at us in grimy storefront windows and pleading for just a second glance, a flicker of acknowledgment, from those who pass us by.

“These things that have comforted me I drive away, this place that is my home I cannot stay, my only faith’s in the broken bones and bruises I display …”

By the time I got to the E.M. Jellinek Center, the only things I had in the world were a suitcase full of clothes, a job here at The Daily Times that gave me one chance to straighten out and my life. My family, wounded and hurt by the pain I had inflicted upon them, had cast me out. Friends whom I had manipulated pushed me to the margins of their own lives. I laid my head down at night praying to whatever God exists to kill me in my sleep, and I threw a fistful of curses His way when I awoke the next morning, still alive. I knew nothing except self-inflicted pain and guilt, and that what I had become wasn’t what I wanted to be anymore.

For two years, I lived on Hinton Street and slowly put my life back together. Under the mentorship of the late Frank Kolinsky, I re-learned those basic fundamental principles instilled in most people as children, those that addiction had slowly worn away over the years: Be good to other people. Take pride in your appearance. Help others. Have discipline. Treat others with respect. It was the simple things at Jellinek that made the biggest impact: Tuck your shirt in before you enter the dining hall. Carry out your assigned duties with pride and efficiency. Make your bed. Don’t be late to meetings. Don’t curse in front of women. (One rule I’ve woefully failed to uphold; my apologies, Frank.) When I moved out in 2004, I had two years clean, and I’m blessed to be able to say that I haven’t had a drink or a drug since March 2002. Some of that, of course, is due to my own diligence, but I owe a great deal of that, too, to the E.M. Jellinek Center. The people there taught me how to be a man, and in so doing set the stage to help me be a good husband, a good father, a decent human being.

That decency, I like to think, played a part in helping get Waynestock: For the Love of Drew off the ground in 2011. When my friend and fellow writer Wayne Bledsoe lost his son, a few of us couldn’t just offer condolences. Those were well and good, but we felt driven to do something more, and so we put together a three-day festival of love and light and music drawn from the deep well of talent here in East Tennessee. We came together and celebrated the legacy of Andrew “Drew” Bledose, lifted up Wayne and his family and realized we had created something special. The next year, we can together and did it again for the family of the late Phil Pollard; last year, we selected the Community School for the Arts as the recipient of Waynestock 3’s proceeds. This year’s event, which takes place Thursday, Jan. 30 through Saturday, Feb. 1, will benefit the E.M. Jellinek Center.

Ever since Frank Kolinsky died a few years ago, the facility — which has been helping men who suffer from alcoholism and addiction for roughly 40 years — has struggled to stay afloat financially. Times are tough, and Frank was the glue who kept things together when it came to state funding and other bureaucratic matters. I was asked to serve on the board of directors a couple of years ago, and the center has made a number of changes to keep the doors open. The biggest is the opening of a 21-day treatment center, named after Frank, that adds another level of care to the center’s programs.

Throughout all of the uncertainty, however, the doors have remained open. There’s no sign out front — “This is our home, not the Holiday Inn!,” Frank used to declare when asked why — and a drive down Hinton Avenue might reveal little but a row of white houses with green roofs, well-kept lawns and a sense of peace and quiet that’s in stark contrast to the cacophony of the surrounding neighborhood. When I pull up to the curb in front of the main house, I’m reminded that this place, these people, are still home to me, because during the darkest time of my life, it was the light that led me back to the land of the living.

“These things that have comforted me I drive away, this place that is my home I cannot stay, my only faith’s in the broken bones and bruises I display …”

Today, the E.M. Jellinek Center serves as a beacon for similarly afflicted men. I’ve met so many good, decent people in the years since I lived there who have no idea of my background, who seemed shock to learn that I was once one of those lost souls plodding toward the next stop on a long, rocky path to hell … that I was once that “one-legged dog making its way down the street.” The E.M. Jellinek Center saved my life, and I’m honored, and so very, very grateful, that it’s the beneficiary of this year’s Waynestock.

This year will be the first Waynestock my wife and I won’t be able to attend; in the past, we’ve manned the doors and collected the cover charge (a paltry $5 per night) and strapped on wristbands. We’ve hugged friends and helped stage manager/Waynestock guru Tim Lee make the trains run on time. We’ve taken care of artists and watched local musicians with hearts bigger than they are leave everything they have on the stage, all for the sole purpose of giving away to someone/something else. We have a newborn this year — another of those blessings that I’ve been granted in this life — whose status as a preemie makes it a bad idea to take him out during cold and flu season, so as much as it pains us — and believe me, I feel despondent about it — we’re having to cheer the event on from the sidelines this year.

But if you don’t have a newborn … if you’re a regular Waynestock attendee or have never been … if you have no plans (or if you do — stop by afterward!) this weekend … if you want to support a good cause and give back to a worthy organization that’s given back so much to men like me over the years … then please, attend Waynestock this weekend. I guarantee you that the music you see and hear will go toe to toe with everything else going on in town, whether it’s Art Garfunkel or Queens of the Stone Age. I promise, you’ll be caught up in the love and life and beauty of the event and the people who make it such a wonderful part of Knoxville culture. (The full schedule is here, and you can confirm your attendance on the Facebook event pages for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.)

But more than anything else, when you’re driving home after all is said and done and you see those shadow people in the doorways and under the bridges, the men and women who exist but do not live, you’ll know that you’ve done something to help them out. You haven’t put a $5 bill in their hands, and you haven’t walked by pretending as if they don’t exist. You’ve helped them, and in so doing, you’ve helped me … because I once lived in those same shadows and reached out for help with the same trembling hands. I’m grateful the E.M. Jellinek Center was there to grasp mine, and that with the support of Waynestock, it will continue to help others.

“You’ve seen me, I come and stand at every door … you’ve seen me, I always leave with less than I had before … you’ve seen me, but I can make you smile when the blood it hits the floor … tell me, friend, can you ask for anything more?”

Written by wildsmith

January 27th, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Gran Torino reunites to help out The Bijou Theatre

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1526258_709946322372394_1360964408_nThe big news out of the local music scene today: Knoxville jam-dance-rock outfit Gran Torino is returning to the stage on March 15 at The Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville.

When Knoxville jam-dance rockers Gran Torino called it quits in January 2003, even the members themselves were bummed.

At the time of the group’s two-night “farewell weekend” of shows at the Old City club Blue Cat’s (now NV Nightclub), the reasons for the breakup were financial, keyboardist and trombone player Dexter Murphy told us at the time: “One was a lot of things at the record label [Red Eye] they promised they would do to promote the new album [2002's "The One and Only"], but never happened. That led to bad promotion of the album and not many people coming to the shows, and that caused us to lose money instead of gain money.”

The band formed at the University of Tennessee in 1995. After releasing “One” in 1997, the band gained a quick reputation for a sound anchored in rhythm-and-blues, soul and funk. Gran Torino was famous for its non-stop, late-night shows where the songs extended toward 10 minutes, and the group quickly sold out old Knoxville venues like the Mercury Theatre. For its next record, 1999’s “Two,” the band shifted its sound toward a more melodic pop-rock formula, leading to the minor radio hit “Moments With You,” which won the Grand Prize Award in the 2000 John Lennon Songwriting Contest’s pop category.

After “The One and Only” failed to do what the guys hoped, the members went their separate ways. But singer/frontman Chris Ford — who now owns Sweet P’s BBQ and Soul House — said they’ve always stayed in touch, and when the opportunity came about to reunite for a good cause, they couldn’t say no.

“The guys have been wanting to do it, but I was really finding a hard time wanting to do it because of all the stuff that comes with it — putting the show together, promoting it,” Ford told me. “I’m on the board at The Bijou Theatre, and they came to me about us doing their annual fundraiser — the Bijou Jubilee — and I thought that would be a great venue to do this because (a) that was our favorite place to play back in the day and (b) they take care of all of the stuff. Basically it’s a good place to play and not have it be such a headache (logistically).”

The lineup for the show isn’t 100 percent set in stone, but the guys have it covered — “Because we had so many people, it’s easy to put together a version of the band,” Ford said — but all of the alumni are invited. Members included Ford, Murphy, Whit Pfohl, PeeJay Alexander, Steve Decker, Todd Overstreet, Dave Hyer, Jonathan Mann, Jason Thompson, Scott Pederson and Johnny Pfohl; Decker now lives in Los Angeles and Whit Pfohl resides in Texas, so it’s questionable whether they’ll be able to make it in for the reunion show … but the rest of the band members are keeping their fingers crossed.

As for Ford, he’s crossing those of his other hand that the performance remains a one-off gig, much like the New Year’s Eve show by The V-Roys a few years back.

“I’m praying it is! But only because I’ve got family and the business, and I couldn’t see making time to go out and play shows,” he said. “We have rehearsed, and it is fun. I haven’t played in 11 years; the last time I played was with them, so we’re all really looking forward to it.”

The show takes place at 8 p.m.; tickets are $30, unless you want to spring for the VIP package, which is $100. Buy tickets here.

Written by wildsmith

January 17th, 2014 at 12:32 pm

BIG EARS FESTIVAL: Announcement time. (And a Rhythm N’ Blooms teaser!)

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Allow us to pat ourselves on the back a bit: We were the first to get confirmation from AC Entertainment founder and head honcho Ashley Capps that avant-garde music event Big Ears Festival would return in 2014, back in December of last year.
AC rolled out the official announcement a few months ago along with the dates — March 28-30 — and today the company is releasing a few of the names coming this year. Here’s part of the press release:
This year, the enormously influential, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steve Reich, proclaimed “our greatest living composer” by The New York Times, will be in attendance. Rock icon John Cale, co-founder with the late Lou Reed of the legendary Velvet Underground, will be presenting new work as well as old classics at the festival. In addition, a virtual “who’s who” of groundbreaking musicians and performers from the worlds of electronica, avant-rock, jazz and beyond will be performing, including Julia Holter, Susanna, Son Lux, Buke & Gase and more.

“New additions to the line up, as well as information and details about performances, workshops, talks and installations will be revealed in the coming months at (EDITOR’S NOTE: According to the announcement article written by my pal Wayne Bledsoe over at the Knoxville paper, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood will also be one of this year’s performers.)
As always, Big Ears concerts and events will take place in different venues, all within an easy walk of one another, in Knoxville’s historic downtown.  The heart and soul of the festival will be at Knoxville’s two remarkable historic theatres, the Tennessee and the Bijou. Full initial lineup and information will be available at beginning at 11 a.m. Dec. 4. Weekend passes for Big Ears go on sale at noon Friday, Dec. 6. Passes are $150 and are available online at”

Save up your money and your show-going energy, by the way … one week after Big Ears wraps, the Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival, part of the Dogwood Arts Festival and produced by Attack Monkey Productions, will take place. You can already buy tickets — only $60 for a three-day pass — on the R ‘n’ B website, and organizers teased the festival by announcing three of the artists on Tuesday: Singer-songwriter Brett Dennen, Americana duo Shovels & Rope and Brooklyn-based band YARN. (Pollstar also shows that multi-instrumental roots music maestro Tim O’Brien will be part of the festival.) More artists will be announced in the coming weeks.

“World Class Bluegrass” at the Clayton Center … and more!

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Airport display WCB D low res

WDVX-FM is a phenomenal steward of great music shows in the Knoxville area — Friday night’s “World Class Bluegrass” show at The Bijou Theatre, featuring The Grascals and The Boxcars, is one example — but next year, the station is branching out.

On Jan. 11, the station will present a “World Class Bluegrass” show at the Clayton Center for the Arts, 502 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway on the Maryville College campus, and it’s a good ‘un featuring two of the  most respected bands in the genre: the Del McCoury Band and Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, with opening act (and Blount County girl!) Jesse Gregory and Faultline. Tickets go on sale Friday, Nov. 22, at all Knoxville Ticket locations, from the Clayton Center for the Arts box office, by phone at 656-4444 and online.

There’s also more. It’s not a “World Class Bluegrass” show, but just as dandy: Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, a husband-wife duo who make amazing music together (he with the Flecktones, she with the Sparrow Quartet, of which he’s been a part in the past), will perform a show at the Clayton Center on March 9; tickets go on sale Monday, Dec. 2, and they’ll be $30 and $35. The concert came about thanks to Richard Battaglia, a 1974 graduate of Maryville College who’s served as the house engineer and tour manager for Fleck and his trio of highly skilled jazz-meets-everything combo — bassist Victor Wooten, percussionist Future Man and harmonica player Howard Levy — for years now. I’m not sure if he told Fleck about the venue or gave him a tour; either way, Fleck wanted to do a performance there.

Don’t forget the other goodness coming up at the Clayton Center next year as well: Americana artist Paul Thorn will play the Lambert Recital Hall on Jan. 16 as part of a fundraiser for Interfaith Health Clinic (tickets are $35); ukulele phenom Jake Shimabukuro will showcase his talent in the Recital Hall on Feb. 6 (tickets are also $35); actor Hal Holbrook will bring his acclaimed “Mark Twain Tonight” one-man show to the Clayton Center stage on March 8 (tickets are $20-$45); country group Diamond Rio performs on Nov. 11 (tickets are also $20-$45); and comedian Jon Reep, fifth-season winner of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” performs May 2 (tickets are $10-$25).

That’s just the tip of the iceberg; there’s a whole lot more going on at the Clayton Center, and you can find out on the venue’s website.

Local scene odds ‘n’ ends: Robinella, Tim Lee 3, LiL iFFy, Steve Kaufman, “Behind the Barn” and more!

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First Sundays of the month with Robinella

It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since Robinella (that would be Robin Ella Tipton Bailey, if you’re from Blount County) played her final regular Sunday night gig at Barley’s Taproom in Knoxville’s Old City.

For years — first with the CCstringband, featuring her former husband, Cruz Contreras, now of The Black Lillies — and later with her long-time group of ace backup musicians, she got the dance floor heated up and made for a weekly rendezvous of fans and friends who fell in love with her honey-sweet voice and her infectious combination of country, folk, jazz and a little of everything else.

Well, Robin’s coming back to Barley’s on Sundays: Earlier this week, she and husband Webster Bailey confirmed that starting Sunday, Nov. 3, Robinella and her full band will perform on the first Sunday of every month at the new Barley’s Maryville, 128 W. Broadway Ave., downtown. It’s a full band show that’ll start at 8 p.m., and it’ll be free.

You can call Barley’s at 983-0808 to confirm; you can also read our recent cover story on Robinella and her new album, “Ode to Love.”

“Behind the Barn” October lineup announced

Speaking of Barley’s Maryville, we told you a week or so ago about how another fixture of the restaurant’s sister venue in Knoxville’s Old City is returning to the stage, only in Blount County: “Behind the Barn,” which ran from 1999 to 2004 as a live radio show and hosted by Blount County singin’, songwritin’ couple Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle, kicks off at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, featuring the Trinity River Bluegrass Band.

It’ll be a regular thing every Thursday night at Barley’s Maryville — it’s also free — and Barbra shared the lineup of upcoming shows for the month of October with us. They include:

He also said the show on Halloween night will be a costume party, and that he’s dressing up as Conway Twitty. We can only hope.

Tim Lee 3 Pilot Light residency kicks off Thursday

Have we mentioned lately how much we love Tim and Susan Lee of the Tim Lee 3?

Because I don’t think we’ve gushed over them enough. Not only are they two-thirds of a killer rock ‘n’ roll power trio that calls East Tennessee home, they’re stalwarts of support for their fellow musicians and enthusiastic for collaborations that get them outside the standard genre boxes that hem in too many other bands.

And they like early rock ‘n’ roll shows, a boon for old SOB’s like yours truly. Which makes their third annual “4×4″ Pilot Light residency — kicking off this coming Thursday (Oct. 3) at The Pilot Light, 106 E. Jackson Ave. in Knoxville’s Old City — a grand thing indeed.

Like last year, the Lees (with drummer Chris Bratta) will share the stage time with local poet/playwright/singer-songwriter/raconteur R.B. Morris; this year, they’re also adding a multimedia element to the shows, which will take place at 7 p.m. every Thursday night during the month of October, and cost a mere $5. (Early show … cheap … music and multimedia … you won’t find a better way to spend a school night, kids. Plus, you’ll be back home in time for the 11 p.m. news, since all shows end around 10.)

The schedule includes:

  • Oct. 3: Tim Lee 3, R.B. Morris and friends, The Drop Dead Darling.S and The Quake Orphans, plus the book release of Morris’s “The Mockingbird Poems.” The book and posters from the book will be for sale, and R.B. will read from it between musical acts.
  • Oct. 10: Tim Lee 3, R.B. Morris and friends, Nancy Apple and a screening of a the shortened version of Nashville-based filmmaker Tom Weber’s documentary “Troubadour Blues.” Copies of the film will also be for sale. The show, incidentally, will hit the road for stops in Nashville and Memphis immediately following the Pilot Light gig, if’n you feel up for a road trip.
  • Oct. 17: Tim Lee 3, R.B. Morris and friends, Greg Horne Band and a screening of the locally made short film “The Agenda,” created for the Knoxville Film Festival’s 7-Day Shootout Competition by the Scuffletown Monkeys team,. The Tim Lee 3 wrote and recorded the new song “Bang Bang” specifically for the film.
  • Oct. 24: Tim Lee 3, R.B. Morris and friends, Chuck Cleaver (of the Ass Ponys and Wussy) and Eric Lee (of Knoxville-based band White Gregg). A late show featuring Big Bad Oven and Birthday Girl will follow.

LiL iFFy album release blowout set

If you’ve never been to a show by Knoxville-based wizard-rapper LiL iFFy — a man whose art we’ve documented extensively over the past couple of years in the Weekend section — then you’ve cheated yourself from participating in one of the sweatiest, nastiest (the good sort of nasty, by the way), most fun parties ever to be held in East Tennessee.

But you can rectify that. In fact, you can more than make up for lost time, as iFFy — a.k.a. Knox rocker/writer/mad genius Wil Wright — prepares to launch the final album in his wizard trilogy, titled “Wand Out.” (Go watch this badass trailer for the album; it’s like watching a preview for the series finale of “Breaking Bad” or something equally epic.) On Nov. 2 and 3 at The Pilot Light, iFFy and the Magic Hu$tle crew are putting on a two-night extravaganza worthy of all the pomp and circumstance of waiting in line all night at Barnes and Noble for the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Here’s what’s going down.

  • Nov. 2, a Saturday night, will serve as the official “Wand Out” album and video release party, and DJ Tom Ato — the mastermind behind the beats of just about every Magic Hu$tle project — will open the show. It’s an 18-and-up affair that begins at 10 p.m., and no doubt will be a night for which you’ll wish you had a Time-Turner so you can go back and do it all over again.
  • Nov. 3 will start earlier — at 8 p.m. — and is open to all ages. The WandcOrchestra, a group of classical musicians led by Wright’s Weird Miracle bandmate Preston Davis, will flesh out iFFy’s music with some sweet arrangements.

Two nights. No repeats. In the words of the press release, “This two-night extravaganza allows all aspects of LiL iFFy’s music to be showcased as it was intended – from the hard-hitting, raunchy party to the beautifully nuanced slow jams.” Tickets are $10 per show, or $15 for a VIP pass to both nights.

Steve Kaufman back in the running for a fourth National Flatpick Championship

A traveling minstrel of sorts in his early years, Steve Kaufman came to Maryville in the late 1970s, around the time that he started winning his run of National Flatpicking Championships at the annual Walnut Valley Festival competition held every year in Winfield, Kansas. He won in 1978 at the age of 21 and returned as soon as he was able to win again in 1984 and 1986. Over the years, he gradually built up a music publishing empire of sorts out of his home here in Blount County, having produced dozens of instructional books and videos and traveling the world to conduct workshops (as he’ll do this weekend prior to Saturday’s concert). In addition to being a father, husband and owner of The Palace Theater, he puts on an acoustic camp and concert series every summer on the Maryville College campus.

Earlier this month, Kaufman went back to Winfield for the annual competition … and came in second only to Allen Shadd, last year’s second-place winner. “Just like the first time (he competed) in ‘77, except (against) a much tougher bunch of pickers,” he told us via email. “The Kid is back and going for the brass ring.”

All them young bucks aiming for a flatpicking title had best watch out. Congrats to Mr. Kaufman!

Date, venue set for New Hope benefit band competition

Last month we told you about the “Kids Helping Kids Band Competition,” organized by Maryville High School senior Hannah Rials as a benefit and celebration for Blount County’s New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center. Rials, a volunteer at the center, was inspired to put the battle together to call attention to child abuse issues in Blount County. Interested bands can still enter the competition, and now a date and venue has been set: from 7-10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, in the Alumni Gym on the Maryville College campus, 502 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville. Tickets are $5, and they can be purchased at New Hope, Foothills Music Shop, Pokey’s Sports, Shimmer Hair Spa and Williams Cleaners. Tickets will also be available at the door. Call 696-6975 for info or to enter your band.


Battle of the Bands 1 and 2