Archive for January, 2011
Susan Bauer Lee said it best: Is it possible to write a love letter to your hometown?
I love Knoxville and East Tennessee. I was born here, grew up here, came back here in 2001 a beaten and broken individual with nowhere else to go. As I put my life back together, I began to see this place through new eyes. No longer did it seem like a city I wanted to run from, and today I relish the drives down rural backroads where I can get a glimpse of our mountains in the distance.
Being reborn is a beautiful thing, because you get to experience life in a way that seemed unattainable before. There’s a profound sense of gratitude that accompanies a second chance, a desire to do better, to be better, to rise above faults and foibles and do whatever you can to make your particular corner of the world a better place. Yeah, I know that sounds like some bad arthouse film script, and maybe it is, but it’s the one truth that’s kept me away from the dark rooms of my soul where I came so close to losing all that I am.
As I fell in love with my hometown for the first time, I was also discovering just how incredible the East Tennessee music scene could be. I’d come from Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the talent existed for something great but the ambition seemed to get sucked out to sea by receding tides; far too often, promising bands would fold to inner turmoil and brilliant musicians would squander their talents because they didn’t have the willingness to do more with what they had.
In Knoxville, things were different. I met a hell of a lot of talented people, heard an incredibly diverse array of genres and saw a town brimming with possibilities. Some of the best shows I’ve ever seen have been by local bands, by musicians who aren’t playing to impress label scouts or radio executives, who may never scrape up enough money to make another album, but they pour everything they have, everything they are, into one show, one song at a time, because it’s what they do. They play, and if someone happens to enjoy that playing … if they’re fans of the joy or the darkness or the spectacle or the melancholy … then that’s all the reward they need. Sure, fame and fortune are nice dreams to have, and more than a few locals have gone on to achieve such. More often than not, however, most realize they’ll never see their faces on the cover of Spin or their songs on the Billboard charts, and while that’s a fucking shame, it’s also reality. It is what it is. And yet they still play.
I learned these things, heard these bands, befriended these amazing musicians while living in a halfway house off of North Central Street in Downtown North Knoxville. I stayed there from 2002 to 2004, when I came to Blount County, and so it was a with a sense of deja vu that I drove those same streets over the weekend to spend two nights at Relix Variety Theatre, 1208 N. Central St., where WayneStock: For the Love of Drew would take place. When those of us who conceived of this festival first met on Dec. 17 … the same day of Andrew Bledsoe’s memorial service, we had no idea how this past weekend would turn out. We didn’t know how much money we might raise to help out Sentinel entertainment writer Wayne Bledsoe and his family. We didn’t know who would agree to play, when it would be held … any of those critical details.
All we knew was that a friend of ours was in unimaginable pain, and by proxy our own hearts were bloated with grief and shock and helplessness. The first two only time could ease; the latter … well, dammit, we were only as helpless as we allowed ourselves to be. And so we decided to do something about it.
In four short weeks, we turned this around and had what can be described — honestly and without hyperbole — as the best East Tennessee music festival in recent memory. It was perfection on every level, in every sense of the word; it was a weekend of light and love and joy and uplifting moments too numerous to be catalogued, too profound to be described. I can’t quite grasp the scope of how magnificent this weekend was, and I’m afraid to write too profusely about it, because no amount of words can describe how amazing it truly was. You had to be there. You just had to be there, because if you were, then you felt it — a thread of hope and goodness that weaved its way from heart to heart, wrapping us all close and shielding us from darkness.
The list of those I wish I could thank would turn this post into even more of a gray block of text than it already is. So many people came together to make this possible and did so with such selflessness, such purity of heart, that to turn their efforts into a physical thing would be to tap some mystical maple tree where the sap runs so sweet and divine it causes the tongue to sprout rose gardens and rainbows. Seriously. There aren’t enough syrupy sweet images and analogies to get across how driven everyone was to make this festival happen, to make it perfect, for the sole purpose of offering aid and succor to someone else.
There were no egos involved — no grandstanding, no musical masturbation. When a band finished its set, even if there was time left on the schedule for them to play longer, they politely declined. There were no grand entrances into the venue or exits after the show; everyone arrived early, stayed late and watched the other bands. For some, it was the first time they’d had the opportunity to see and hear their peers. Robbie Trosper of Mic Harrison and The High Score, outside on Friday night, was slapping himself almost for never having seen the Melungeons before, even though he first saw front man Rus Harper play in the early 1990s. Katie and the Bass Drums, the one-man act of singer-songwriter Zac Fallon, astounded many who’d never heard his incredibly witty songs before.
Hector Qirko on stage with R.B. Morris, Greg Horne and the Tim Lee 3, returning to the limelight wearing his infectious grin like a veteran Major League pitcher back on the mound for the first time in weeks … Scott Miller blowing the harmonica and wailing along with Mic and The High Score on Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money” … Bob Deck as “Dr. Manfred Minsk,” clad in a white labcoat as he introduced Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere … Harper’s gibbering, gleeful imp, spewing insults and ripping through a sleazily evil version of “Third Eye,” ending the Melungeons set with his trademark “Cheers, motherfuckers!” … Steven Rodgers back behind the drumkit for Senryu’s set, pounding so hard the cords of muscle in his arms stand out as front man Wil Wright and the McCormack brothers throw themselves forward to the crowd-screamed refrain of “I Am a Battering Ram” … Kevin Abernathy on stage with the Tim Lee 3, Tim Lee on stage with the Kevin Abernathy Band … Randall Brown and Quartjar opening up Friday night’s portion of the event with some gut-churning blues-rock, a portent of the awesomeness to come …
So many highlights. So many moments that a local music geek like myself ends up staring in wide-eyed wonder, asking, “Is this really happening? Am I really witnessing this?” So much good will and charity and kindness. It was cathartic, as the performance by Andrew Bledsoe’s old band, Psychotic Behavior, demonstrated — their words were heart-wrenching, their groove-laden instrumentals gave the young crowd, many of whom were friends with Andrew, a chance to mosh and laugh and remember. For me, I think the most poignant, most beautiful moment of the whole weekend came on the final song of Friday night. The Drunk Uncles, with Sarah Pirkle filling in for fiddler Gordy Gilbertson, did their honky-tonk-meets-reggae version of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” (with Naughty Knots/New Vernacular/Christabel and the Jons bassist Milly Cavender adding some sweet harmony vocals).
It’s an image that will be forever frozen in my mind’s eye — standing at the top of the backstairs, looking down on the crowd, all of whom were singing along … arms raised … arms around Wayne, who stood toward the back with a few of the many who love him, their arms around his shoulders, swaying back and forth to the music, singing, singing, singing: “Every little thing … gonna be alright …”
For one weekend, it was. It was more than alright. It was magic, and going back to the real world on this Monday, I find myself hoping fervently that all those involved, all those who attended, take the lessons of WayneStock — unity, selflessness, making our little corner of the world a better place — and carry them forward. It’s what we should do for one another, as friends and as human beings.
A letter to my hometown? Absolutely. But more importantly, this post is a letter to a scene, one so many people have yet to discover and come to love the way that I do. Driving home on Friday and Saturday nights, I saw crowds lined up to get in the door of Southbound Bar and Grill in the Old City, the butt-shakin’ dance floor songs tumbling out the doors and rattling car windows. Their eyes were filled with simple hopes — getting drunk, getting laid — and I felt sorry for them. They might think they were going to have a good time, and some of them probably did … but only because they didn’t know any damn better.
They weren’t at WayneStock. They weren’t a part of. And so they have no idea what a good time, what a rewarding time, this weekend really was. I’m so glad that I do.
“I’d rather lay here than live any other place …” — “Hometown Bounce,” by Senryu
FREE MUSIC: Download “Hometown Bounce,” by Senryu — right-click here (choose “Save Link As” or “Save Target As”)
So what happened to that Kickstarter campaign Quartjar front man Randall Brown announced for his band’s forthcoming album, “42″? We told you about it a year ago, but as Brown filled me in this week, things didn’t go as expected with the fundraising project. It’s an excellent way for bands to take in advance payment for a new album, but there’s a downside to it as well, he said.
“The whole thing about that page is that if you don’t make that goal you set at the beginning, it doesn’t automatically collect the money people have offered to give to your project,” he said. “I set a lofty goal that I thought would pay for the recording and the duplication, and we met about a third of that. After the Kickstarter thing didn’t make the goal, I sent an e-mail to everybody — mostly relatives who pitched in for it — and said, ‘Hey, if you still want to donate, we’ll still aceept those funds and fulfill the offered premiums we offered on the Kickstarter page.’”
One of those packages: For a $100 donation, you could get a copy of “42″ upon completion, and Quartjar would write a song for the person making the donation. They ended up with four such payments and are in the middle of writing those four songs, he said.
“We went back and forth with whether the four songs we were writing for people were part of the album and how best to deliver those,” he said. “We’re still working on getting them together to be able to play them.”
The band recently went into Shed 55 Studios in Knoxville and laid down 10 tracks for “42,” which are in the process of being mixed and will thereafter be mastered. As far as duplicating the record, the Internet age and digital downloads have Brown looking at a different strategy than the one he applied to the group’s 2007 album, “Years of a Monkey.”
“I had 1,000 copies made of ‘Years of a Monkey,’ and I’ve still got about 750 of those,” he said. “Now that duplication companies will do shorter runs, I’m going to get 100 copies of ‘42′ made, and we’ll see how well we recoup the production cost.”
Some of the songs on “42″: “Not a Cowboy,” an “existential, romantic, train-beat cowboy song,” Brown said … “Right Now,” a more laid-back, bluesy number … a prog-rock instrumental by bass player Malcolm Norman … and an “epic power ballad” called “My Green Heaven.”
“We’ve covered some classic rock basics,” Brown said.
In interviewing “Fat” Mike Burkett punk band NOFX this week (his group plays The Valarium on Thursday, Feb. 3), I asked him about the punk supergroup/cover project Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, in which he plays with Spike Slawson of the Swingin’ Utters, Joey Cape and Dave Raun of Lagwagon and Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters. The band will release an EP, “Go Down Under,” on Tuesday (Feb. 1), but Burkett said not a lot of touring action is on the horizon for the band.
“All of us are in other bands, and it’s too hard to tour because aside from a couple of people, we all make more money with our other bands,” Burkett said. “Frankly, I have a better time in NOFX. After a while, being in a cover band, you realize you are in a cover band. People don’t like the band; they like the songs. And you end up feeling like a clown in Vegas.”
Friday night at The Valarium, 940 Blackstock Drive in Knoxville’s Warehouse District (or on Ramsey Street, depending on which direction your GPS points you toward), there’s a very cool all-ages show by four young bands — On My Honor, The Hits, Your Favorite Hero and A Hero Remains. We’re running an interview with On My Honor on Friday, talking about the guys’ brand of pop-punk (most excellent stuff, by the way) and all-ages music around East Tennessee, so look for that. And if you plan on going, be one of the first 200 people there, because that distinction comes with a very awesome treat — a limited edition compilation CD by local bands featuring a hand screen-printed, numbered cover, courtesy of Peacock Print Shop and Martyr Inks. Here’s the track listing:
1. On My Honor, “Who Wet My Mogwai?”
2. Your Favorite Hero, “Killer On The Lower East Side”
3. Beyond The Coast, “STD Free”
4. Faretheewell, “All Night”
5. Bellevue, “Amity”
6. Furthest From Fame, “Fast Forward To Goodbye”
7. Always Look Before You Leap, “The Big Woah”
8. LoveWar, “Story In The Sand”
9. Chokeslam!, “Queso Culo”
10. The Hits, “On My Own”
11. The Young, “Shot In The Dark”
12. Waves Like Weapons, “See, This Is Why We Don’t Have Nice Things”
13. Bones In The Museum, “Honest Mistake”
14. Cutting Through Clouds, “Hardcore Is What She Aimed For”
15. San Miguel, “Demonie Llevado de Angel”
Big concert announcements are coming down every day. Here are the latest:
- After selling out headlining concerts in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville, ACM and CMA Vocal Group of the Year Lady Antebellum brings its “Need You Now Tour” to the Knoxville Civic Coliseum on May 1. Tickets are $43 and go on sale March 25.
- AC Entertainment has announced that “Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown” will make a tour stop in Knoxville on June 19 at World’s Fair Park. The tour features Nelson in concert with Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Brantley Gilbert, Craig Campbell, Lee Brice, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. Admission is $47.50 in advance, $50 on the day of the show.
- “The Shed” at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson, 1820 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville, has filled in some of the gaps in their spring/summer/fall concert schedule. Some notable additions: Al Nelson’s Tribute to Roy Orbison and his Rock-n-Roll Review on April 15 … Husky Burnette opening for The Nighthawks on May 7 (the ‘hawks are a legendary roots/blues band out of Washington, D.C., founded by Mark Wenner in 1972) … perennial favorites Scott Miller and the Commonwealth will be there May 21 … and classic rock band Blackfoot will perform on Sept. 2.
- There’s been no announcement that I’m aware of, but the touring website Pollstar is reporting that country diva Miranda Lambert will perform at the Civic Coliseum in Knoxville on March 26.
- Keith Urban announced he’s added country star Jake Owen, last seen in front of Maryville crowds at the 2010 Foothills Fall Festival, to his Aug. 12 show at Thompson-Boling Arena.
That madcap Wil Wright of the band Senryu gave fans their first taste of his band’s new album, “Half Wild,” at midnight this morning (Jan. 25) when the single “Great. Expectations.” was posted online as a free download.
It’s a linear progression from the band’s last full-length, “Inkling,” similar in mood, but whereas the title-ish track (”Inklings”) from that album maintained a steady, Zen-like atmosphere throughout, building on intricate layers of beauty, “Great. Expectations.” sounds like the deteriorating conversation between two feuding lovers. A troubled atmosphere of melancholy colors the opening verse, the tension simmering beneath the surface. Over the course of three-plus minutes, any semblance of order dissolves into a maelstrom of angst and rage and frustration and heart-wrenching heartache, with Wright’s screams underscored by the beautiful chaos created by his bandmates.
When Wright sings “I wasn’t expecting a big finish,” he’s certainly not talking about this song, and that makes us anxious to hear the rest of the album.
You can check out Senryu this weekend at Waynestock: For the Love of Drew, a three-day festival of music and love being held at Relix Variety Theatre, 1208 N. Central St. in Knoxville’s Downtown North neighborhood. Senryu performs at 11 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29. Admission is $5 per night. And keep your eyes on Daytrotter on Thursday, Jan. 27, for an appearance.
Dean Allen Spunt and Randy Randall of the Los Angeles-based post-punk/noise rock band No Age are known for playing unconventional venues and cross-pollinating their music with a number of other art forms — cinema and the visual arts, among them. Centered are the LA all-ages club The Smell, the guys are always looking for new outlets for their creativity, although their hectic schedules these days (they play Sunday, Jan. 23 at The Pilot Light in Knoxville) doesn’t allow them to do everything they’d like, Randall told me in a recent interview.
“The one project that I was really looking forward to pursuing that hasn’t come to fruitation is with Ian Crause, who was part of this amazing (British ’80s post-rock) band called Disco Inferno,” Randall said. “It was a band Dean discovered, and we were listening to a lot of their catalog when making this record (“Everything in Between,” released last year), because those guys made these amazing sound collages in the realm of pop music.
“We reached out to Ian through Facebook, and we got a chance to meet him in England. In the back of our minds, I think we knew we’d love to collaborate with him. He came to show and said he hasn’t played music in 15 years, so we just said, ‘Well, let’s do something.’ I think it’s just a matter of time. For the past two years, we’ve been pestering him, and I think he’s coming around.
“I wish the timing had been a little better, but he lives in England and we live in LA and we’re right in the middle of this tour,” Randall added. “Once we get done touring, if we have the chance to do something with him, we will.”
Sometimes, you just can’t fit everything into one interview. So it was with two this week, including the one I did last month with Gregg Gillis, the artist also known as Girl Talk. (Also last month, I named “All Day,” Girl Talk’s most recent album that you can download for free here, as one of the best albums of 2010.)
On Monday, Jan. 24, Gillis will play a sold-out show at The Valarium in Knoxville’s Warehouse District — a venue that holds roughly 1,000 people. It’s a far cry from his days triggering his various cuts and slices at The Pilot Light over in the Old City, where 100 people make for quite a cramped listening space.
“I played at The Pilot Light back in the day, and even back then with the shows only having a handful of people, it was absolutely an enthusiastic crowd,” Gillis told me. “It’s been great every time I go back. I played a sold-out show there in the fall of 2008, and I did the rounds in the city, stopped by The Pilot Light and things like that.”
Although his next project is up in the air, he’s looking at a number of possibilities, including going with more experimental ’60s psychedelic or ’70s avant garde noise bands — “maybe the band Whitehouse, or something super-intense,” he said.
“Obviously, I want something to focus on the new and the now,” he said. “I’m about not fitting in right. I like to make danceable stuff from stuff you wouldn’t think was danceable.”
Few people know just how blessed Blount County is with music up at Blackberry Farm, the exclusive inn and resort located in Walland. (Technically, the address is 1471 W. Millers Cove Road in Townsend, but it doesn’t matter. Not just any ol’ individual can drive up and take a look-see.)
If you check out the farm’s website, you’ll see a number of amazing-sounding events taking place there in 2011:
- “Whisperin’” Bill Anderson and Lee Brice in February;
- “Americana Music Feast” featuring three incredible artists — Rodney Crowell, Nanci Griffith and John Hiatt — on March 25-27;
- Singer-songwriter Holly Williams on April 16;
- Dierks Bentley, slated for a summer performance;
- Country star Billy Dean at the end of July; and
- Emmylou Harris and friends on Aug. 20.
Here’s the thing, though — these shows are for guests only. And to stay at Blackberry Farm, you gotta have the cash. A call to the inn inquiring about the Griffith/Hiatt/Crowell weekend reveals that the cost is $600 per person — on top of lodging. And lodging ranges from $995 per night to $1,195 per night. And yes, you must be staying at the inn to see the music.
So for the nights of March 25 and 26 … plus the event cost … you’re looking at roughly $2,600. Granted, the luxuries at Blackberry are beyond compare, but I’ve got 3 1/2 months rent I can pay with that kind of scratch.
In perusing the press release for the 3rd Annual Gatlinburg Screen Fest, scheduled for March 25-27 in the Sevier County town I affectionately refer to as “Myrtle Beach in the Mountains,” I ran across this awesome little nugget:
Gatlinburg Screenfest will also be screening the documentary “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone.” This film is a documentary about the band Fishbone, musical pioneers who have been rocking on the margins of pop culture for the past 25 years. From the streets of South-Central Los Angeles and the competitive Hollywood music scene of the 1980s, the band rose to prominence, only to fall apart when on the verge of “making it.” Everyday Sunshine is narrated by Emmy award winner Laurence Fishburne. Directed by Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler, it debuted last summer at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
I don’t know how much concert footage is included in the film, but hopefully it’s enough to give some insight into the tour de force that Fishbone is in a live setting. These cats are human tornadoes when they take the stage.
Also scheduled to be screened: the world premiere of the documentary “Nashville Rises,” a short film documentary narrated by Billy Bob Thornton, presented by Skydive Films, Lavorsia Pictures and IGBA Productions, about the power of the human spirit and how neighbor helped neighbor to overcome the flood in Nashville that took place in May ‘10.
Check out the festival’s website for more information.