Steve Wildsmith

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

Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category

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

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waynestock

“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

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

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600328_10151980104411753_736412340_n
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 bigearsfestival.com. (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 www.bigearsfestival.com 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 www.bigearsfestival.com.”

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.

Dawes, everybodyfields, Erick Baker, Time Jumpers to headline Rhythm N’ Blooms 2013

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RNB_LOGO_2013Organizers of the Dogwood Arts Festival teamed up with Attack Monkey Productions queen Chyna Brackeen today to announce the 2013 Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival lineup, and it’s a good ‘un. Without further ado, here are the artists that’ll be performing at the event, which takes place April 5-7 in Knoxville:

And that’s not all, according to today’s press release: More artists will be announced. Other details:

Venues include The Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville Botanical Garden & Arboretum, John Black Photography Studio, Latitude 35, The Square Room, the Bill Lyons Pavilion on Market Square, the Knoxville Visitor’s Center and, new for this year, venues in Knoxville’s Old City, including Barley’s Taproom, Boyd’s Jig & Reel and Crown & Goose. Trolleys will run back and forth between the various venues, so you can park and ride without missing a show.

Tickets: A $175 VIP pass gives access to all shows all weekend in addition to priority seating and parking, a VIP welcome reception, artist meet n’ greet and more.  The $55 weekend-long festival pass provides access to all of the performances and venues occurring over the course of the weekend. Day passes for each day are $25. Passes can be purchased online at www.rhythmnbloomsfest.com, or in person at the Knoxville Visitor Center.

This year’s sponsors include Blackstone Brewing Company, sponsored by Pilot Flying J, and produced by Dogwood Arts and Attack Monkey Productions. Additional sponsors include: Sharpie, Young Professionals of Knoxville, Sound Ventures, Bandit Lites, Rik’s Backline Pros, Visit Knoxville, WDVX, WFIV, WUTK, Knoxville.com and Metro Pulse.

Venue news: Blackstock and NV Nightclub

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775598_251271605008005_1552319147_oThe new logo for Blackstock, the venue formerly known as The Valarium

Big doings going on in the music scene around here.

Yesterday afternoon, got an email from Andrea Kerns, the EDM go-to lady in the Knoxville scene and one of the organizers of the “Midnight Voyage Live” series of shows. Her email promotes “the return of the Blue Cats sound to Knoxville’s Old City,” and it signals the expansion of NV Nightclub — 125 E. Jackson Ave., where Blue Cats functioned as a live music venue from 2002-2007 — into more than just a shake-yer-booty destination.

According to the email, NV “will continue to host a wide variety of local, regional, and national and international talent spanning all genres,” and “in addition to the NV room, Carleo Entertainment (owned by Duane Carleo, who runs a number of Old City properties) will be hosting live music events at several other properties, including:
The Bowery (directly adjacent to NV, formerly Tonic)
Southbound / 90 Proof (106 S. Central)
Old City Courtyard (outdoor stage located in the  courtyard behind Southbound)
New Amsterdam on the Cumberland Avenue “Strip”

Kerns goes on to say that “Large events are in the works for Old City Courtyard, including festival-type productions which will utilize several of the aforementioned rooms.” In addition to continuing events like “Midnight Voyage,” Carleo Entertainment will soon be opening Wagon Wheel, “a country-style bar/lounge on South Central Street, next to Carleo’s,  scheduled for opening late February.”

Here’s a list of upcoming Carleo events:

  • Tonight (Feb. 1): “Midnight Voyage Live” presents Spankalicious with Bitch Please, IRell and Moniker, 9 p.m. at NV Nightclub, $5 advance/$8 at the door
  • Tonight (Feb. 1): Metal, featuring A Soul Disowned with Serene Scream, Scent Of Remains and Rot Iron, 8 p.m. at 90 Proof, $7
  • Feb. 8: “Midnight Voyage Live” presents Wick-It The Instigator with Archnemesis and The Floozies, 9 p.m. at NV Nightclub, $7 advance/$12 at the door
  • Feb. 8: Rock, featuring Mobility Chief with Appalachian Fury, Pyramid Asylum and Coalition Of Benevolence, 8:30 p.m. at 90 Proof, $5
  • Feb. 9: Konkrete Jungle Knoxville presents Squake with Shadow Cartel, 9 p.m. at 90 Proof, $5
  • Feb. 11: Rock, featuring Pathway with East Old Topside, A Body Divided, Awake The Suffering and Ark Of Covenant, 7 p.m. at 90 Proof, $7
  • Feb. 14: Rapture Productions presents “BassFace 20,” featuring Megalodon, Veltix, iRell and MSTR RPTR, 9 p.m. at NV Nightclub, $7 advance/$10 at the door
  • Feb. 15: “Midnight Voyage Live” presents MartyParty, 9 p.m. at NV Nightclub, $10 advance/$15 at the door
  • Feb. 15: Rock, featuring Lines Taking Shape with Sin, Crumbsnatchers, Yak Strangler and Smooth Operationz, 8:30 p.m. at 90 Proof, $6
  • Feb. 21: “Midnight Voyage Live” presents FIGURE with Spooky Jones and Paerbaer,9 p.m. at NV Nightclub, $12 advance/$15 at the door
  • Feb. 22: Midnight Voyage Live” presents Arpetrio with Magmablood and Dialectic Sines, 9 p.m. at NV Nightclub, $7 advance/$10 at the door
  • March 8:Rock, featuring Ten Foot Grave with Afterlife, Shallowpoint and Annandale, 8 p.m. at 90 Proof, $7
  • March 9: Konkrete Jungle Knoxville presents DJ Odi with Sarah Burns, 9 p.m. at 90 Proof, $7/$10 ages 18-20

In other venue news, shortly after it was announced that The Valarium (formerly the Electric Ballroom) was shutting down, it was also announced that Ooga Mooga Tiki Tavern/former 4620 Jazz Club owner Daniel Leal had bought the establishment and was keeping it open as a live music venue. At first, it seemed like the transition would be seamless, but an early January show by local death metal heroes Whitechapel was moved to NV Nightclub, and ever since Leal has been mum about when his establishment, rumored to be called Blackstock Auditorium, would open.

It seems that’s going to happen sooner rather than later. Leal went live with a Facebook page for (just) Blackstock last night, and there’s also a website. It’s sparse, but we’re hoping details will fill in quickly. There are already a couple of events out there slated for Blackstock: EOTO with Crizzly on March 1, and Excision with Paper Diamond and Vaski.

Wallypalooza: The End. (No. Really! Wally swears!)

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323189_239985662711999_151461354897764_684817_3848353_oWallypalooza founder Wally Miles (left), and local comedian Waylon Whiskey

OK, so local promoter Wally Miles has been saying each Wallypalooza spectacular he’s put on for the past couple of years has been the last one. He readily admits that it’s sounding more and more like a KISS farewell tour every time he does so.

But this one, he promises, is it. And I have a feeling he’ll stay true to his word on this one. After all, Blount County’s answer to “Van Wilder” is headed to school this fall for — what else? — marketing, and he’s already put together some bangin’ shows at The Thirsty Turtle Pub and Grub, 2641 U.S. Highway 411 S. in Maryville.

Speaking of, that’s where the next (and FINAL! REALLY!) Wallypalooza is taking place on March 1 and 2. Without further ado, here’s the lineup:

Friday, March 1: Christopher ScumBetter DazeAfterLifeJoe CoeBelfast 6 PackDivided We StandScent of Remains

Saturday, March 2: Rebel MountainCatalystBig TroubleShallowpointIndie Lagonethe Michael Gunnz BandCrome Molly.

The start time is 7 p.m. both nights; admission is $5 at the door. Given that this Wallypalooza is scaled back to only two nights, we suggest getting there way early, for several reasons: One, it’s going to be PACKED, and second, you don’t want to miss the opening acts … particularly on Friday. It’s a point of honor for me that Wally’s booked Christopher Scum to open up Friday’s festivities; the guy’s a legend in the Knoxville music scene and a hell of a songwriter. (Click here to download and listen to “Fifty Acres,” an unflinching look at a pretty damn horrific childhood. And yes, it’s autobiographical.)

You can read our coverage of previous Wallypaloozas here, here and here. Be there.

From the madman who came up with ‘Wallypalooza’ comes ‘Walloween,’ Oct. 10-14

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323189_239985662711999_151461354897764_684817_3848353_oWalloween/Wallypalooza founder Wally Miles (left) and comedian Waylon Whiskey

On tap for Walloween, the latest idea from Wallypalooza mastermind and founder Wally Miles: Rock ‘n’ roll Unholy, terrifying and slutty attire. Alcohol. Profane, gut-busting stand-up comedy. Jell-O wrestling.

If Lucifer doesn’t stamp such an event with his personal seal of approval, then Miles might as well get out of the party-throwing business.

If past Wallypalooza events are any indication, however, then the upcoming five-night Walloween bash — slated to take place Oct. 10-14 at The Thirsty Turtle, 2641 U.S. 411 in Maryville, will go down in the history books as a glorious Bacchanalian celebration of All Hallow’s Eve, albeit a few weeks early.

“After Wallypalooza ended this year back in March, people were wanting to do it again, but I didn’t want to over-saturate or water it down by doing two or three this year,” Miles told us recently. “I’ve done that in the past, and they went well; point proven. But Halloween — well, that gives everybody an excuse to dress up. And if I can find an excuse to dress up like Gene Simmons, I’m going to do it.”

For those unfamiliar with Miles and the legendary parties the carry his name, read our cover stories on Wallypalooza from March 2011 and August 2011. They started out as a birthday celebration for Miles, a 1997 graduate of Maryville High School and a lifelong 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 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. In fact, one of the reasons he’s expanded Walloween to a five-night celebration is because so many bands and musicians have requested the opportunity to take part.

“With all the entertainment, we need to a week to fit it in,” he said. “Plus, we want to make each night special. People tend to wait for the weekend because they think those will be the best nights, but we’re going to make Wednesday and Thursday nights so good that people will say, ‘We can’t miss a night.’ On Wednesday night, we’re going to kick it off with a bang — we’ll have stand-up comedy, three bands and Jell-O wrestling.”

So far, eight female contestants have signed on to battle it out in the gelatinous pit of doom, including one match that will feature two girls against Miles himself. It hardly seems fair, but Miles has been involved in the local amateur wrestling circuit for years under the pseudonym Jagger Sterling.

“I’m putting the Wallypalooza belt on the line for this one,” he said with a chuckle. “And even if I lose, I still win in my opinion.”

Thursday night will feature a Halloween costume contest complete with cash prizes and more live music; and Friday through Sunday will offer more of the same. Although the final three nights of Walloween will coincide with the popular Foothills Fall Festival in downtown Maryville, Miles doesn’t see them as competing events.

“Once people leave the fall festival, if they don’t want to go home just yet, they can come on by, because we’ll be going late,” he said. “The way I see it, there’s something going on for everybody that weekend. Nobody can complain there’s nothing going on in Maryville anymore.”

The musical lineup for Walloween features several Wallypalooza veterans, as well as some new faces.

“It’s a good ensemble of bands, and it’s not an exclusively metal thing,” Miles said. “We’re trying to have something for everybody, and I’m thinking it’s going to have a good appeal to a wider audience. We’ve got Indie Lagone this year, which is Allen Swank’s band, and he’s been playing around here forever. When I was old enough to start sneaking into shows, his old band Malice in Wonderland was going strong, and they’re kind of why I wanted to get into music, truth be told. And VanKale, that band played Wallypalooza in 2010, and they brought the thunder then. Now that they’re reactivated and playing again, I’m looking forward to bringing them back.”

The Turtle has become something of a permanent home for Miles’s fetes, which have been held at Nater’z, the now-defunct Confused Bar and Grill and at Big Daddy’s, the former occupant of the Turtle location.

“Other venues shy away, but they’re like, ‘Bring it on,’” Miles said. “They trust me and work with me on every level, and that’s pretty cool. We’ve got a good working relationship.”

For Miles himself, the 10th can’t arrive soon enough — to provide a respite for himself, and a good time for everyone planning on coming out.

“Everything I do right now is about Walloween,” he said. “When I get up, it’s the first thing on my mind. I’ll get up at 6 in the morning because I have an idea, and just because I love doing it. I love seeing people have fun. I know it sounds hokey, but the excitement people have for something like this, I feed off of it.”

SCHEDULE OF WALLOWEEN EVENTS (admission is $5 per night)

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 10

  • Doors open at: 7 p.m.
  • Activities start: 8 p.m.
  • Bands: What’s Left, the Michael Gunnz Band, A Soul Disowned
  • Stand-up comedy by: Nakht Ricks and Waylon Whiskey
  • Also: Jell-O wrestling

THURSDAY, OCT. 11

  • Doors open at: 7 p.m.
  • Activities start: 8 p.m.
  • Bands: Centric, Belfast 6 Pack, KraIzIn
  • Also: “The Ultimate Walloween Costume Contest”

FRIDAY, OCT. 12

  • Doors open at: 7 p.m.
  • Activities start: 8 p.m.
  • Bands: Afterlife, Binfield, Indie Lagone, Divided We Stand, VanKale
  • Also: “The Walloween Scream Queen Contest”

SATURDAY, OCT. 13

  • Doors open at: 7 p.m.
  • Activities start: 8 p.m.
  • Bands: Stonemosis, Shallowpoint, Big Trouble, Decombrio
  • Also: A special performance by the White Lightnin’ Burlesque troupe

SUNDAY, OCT. 14

  • Doors open at: 7 p.m.
  • Activities start: 8 p.m.
  • Bands: Awake The Suffering, Psychosystem, KraIzIn, Scent of Remains
  • Also: “A Night of Comedy with Nakht Ricks and Friends”

Written by wildsmith

September 27th, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Local acts fill out Foothills Fall Festival lineup

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FFF_Logo1

The headliners for the 2012 Foothills Fall Festival were announced last month (Gary Allan, Train and Darius Rucker), and this week organizers have released the names of several local acts that will round out the schedule, as well as one additional national headliner.

Two more acts are still forthcoming.

Here’s the lineup by day; new additions are in bold:

FRIDAY, OCT. 12

SATURDAY, OCT. 13

SUNDAY, OCT. 14

Tickets go on sale July 14 and will cost $50 for a three-day pass. For more information, visit the Foothills Fall Festival website.

Written by wildsmith

July 5th, 2012 at 11:42 am

Paying regards to SITC: I hate to see that evening Sun go Down …

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Sundown-in-the-City_webSundown in the City circa 2010, courtesy of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation’s website

I can’t remember the last time I attended a Sundown in the City concert.

It may have been the summer of 2007, when local favorites (mine, at least) Dixie Dirt opened for the Drive-By Truckers. DD wasn’t long for the scene, and they were pulling double duty that night — first at Sundown, later at Barley’s Taproom in the Old City.

I remember it was hot and crowded and intense — so much so that we cut out a few songs in the DBT set. Good as they were, it just felt wrong. I believe a great band that’s playing its heart out should have the attention of those in attendance, and even five years ago, it was obvious that Sundown had become a destination as much as a concert.

It didn’t used to be that way. When it started as a single concert in 1997, the free concert series drew large but respectful audiences, and it’s fair to say the series had something to do with the revitalization of downtown Knoxville. 15 years ago, downtown after dark wasn’t exactly a desirable date destination, to say nothing of bringing your young kids down there.

Now, it’s a hub of activity at all hours of the day and night. Restaurants, venues, retail spaces, residential buildings have come together to give Knoxville a sort of urban sophistication that’s still quaint, given the city’s size, but also incredibly cool. And that coolness began with the music.

As a music writer, it’s been an incredible experience to document. I’ve interviewed dozens of artists who came to play Sundown, from Steve Winwood and Gillian Welch in 2004 to Sleater-Kinney in 2005 to Little Feat in 2006 to George Thorogood, Ozomatli and the Avett Brothers in 2007 to Jamey Johnson, Grace Potter and Arrested Development in 2009. Looking back on those names, all I can think about is how blessed we were to get such diversity — and such up-and-coming artists before they exploded.

Perfect example — The Avetts. They’d only started playing Knoxville a couple of years prior, doing occasional free shows at Preservation Pub, but they’re such genuinely good dudes and burn with such passion for music that they’re undeniable. The folks at AC Entertainment saw that early on, and this year, they’re one of the headliners for Bonnaroo. They’re getting ready to put out their second major-label release produced by the iconic Rick Rubin, and the last time they came to East Tennessee, they filled up Smokies Stadium.

Is it any wonder, then, that as the schedule grew from a few concerts early on to more than two dozen at the height of the series that people started coming? They came for the music, and they helped make downtown a destination, and then everybody was coming to downtown just to be downtown. Market Square turned into a sea of people on Thursday nights, and while many businesses didn’t mind, a few did — along with the people who had moved to the area and had to contend with traffic, drunks and throngs of people milling around in what amounted to their backyards.

I remember looking around at everyone on that particular evening. Hundreds were paying rapt attention to the bands … but hundreds more were wandering around, poking their heads in various shops, talking on cell phones, looking for their children, who seemed to be turn loose like crazed ferrets to roam the downtown landscape at will. “Too big,” I thought. “This thing is too big.”

Maybe it was … but it was good for Knoxville. And even though I never made another Sundown show, there was something reassuring about the idea that, if I so choose, I could head over on a fine Thursday evening, see some great live music and still be home in time to watch the 11 p.m. news.

This morning, AC announced that Sundown’s time had come to an end.

“… after having initially scaled back to five bi-weekly events two years ago, it has become clear to us that Sundown in the City simply no longer fits its Market Square home,” company founder Ashley Capps says in a press release. “With that in mind, AC Entertainment is electing to look towards the future. We will, of course, continue to book and produce the great shows and programs at the Tennessee Theatre and the U.S. Cellular Stage at the Bijou Theatre. We are also looking forward to putting our time, energy, and resources into bringing new festival concepts to life in downtown Knoxville in the near future. And…who knows? We may ultimately find a way to reinvent Sundown at some point.”

Facebook, et. al. was abuzz with word of the cancellation, and it was almost as if a collective “Awwwww …” went up from everyone. No doubt, many people who loved Sundown during its early years found themselves turned off by the event’s growth into a social hangout more than a concert, and others, I’m sure, hated that their favorite off-the-beaten-path restaurant or bar turned into a subway station on Thursday nights in the spring and summer. But aside from a vocal few, we loved Sundown — the music, certainly, but also the fact that the music was happening in the middle of downtown Knoxville.

What a town. And even though the city center is a big boy that can walk on its own these days, I’m sure many people will find themselves with a lot of time on their hands on Thursday nights this spring, and more than a few who happen to be on Market Square will stare wistfully toward the stage and wonder when the music might start up again.

Written by wildsmith

March 16th, 2012 at 10:36 am

Rhythm N’ Blooms 2012 lineup gets leaked early!

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Pilot and Cherokee Distributing, in partnership with Attack Monkey Productions, was geared up for a big press conference at 3 p.m. Monday to announce the lineup of this year’s Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival, scheduled for April 20-22 in Knoxville as part of the Dogwood Arts Festival.

Unfortunately, the alt-weekly over in Knoxville got a look at the lineup and let the cat out of the bag early, no doubt making tomorrow’s big announcement not nearly as exciting as it could have been. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t excitement to be found about the festival, because Attack Monkey, run by Chyna Brackeen (who also books shows for The Square Room and manages The Black Lillies), has gathered up one hell of a roster of talent for this year.

Some of them we already knew about; Brackeen confirmed Jessica Lea Mayfield, Jake Shimabukuro, YARN, Darrell Scott and The Boxer Rebellion back in early January, when we did our big year-in-preview section. Here’s the full list of performers that’ll be announced tomorrow; the first two are considered the festival’s headliners:

Some programming notes: Langhorne Slim will perform on Thursday, April 19, at the second “Scruffy City Roots” show at The Square Room and will stay over to perform a solo show at Rhythm N’ Blooms. Amos Lee will have the headline spot on Sunday, April 22, at Knoxville Botanical Garden. On Friday, April 20, Big Sam’s Funky Nation will perform on the outdoor stage at Market Square, the only free show of the weekend; according to Brackeen, there will be some overlap with other performances going on at the same time, but organizers hope to schedule any overlap with acts that are on the opposite end of the stylistic spectrum.

Finally, Alice Smith will open for Citizen Cope, playing solo and acoustic, at The Tennessee Theatre on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville; afterward, the Black Lillies will play a late-night after-concert that will begin around 10-11 p.m. The full schedule and venue breakdown will be released by the end of the month, according to Brackeen.

Weekend passes will be $55; day passes are $25, but the day pass does not include entry to The Tennessee Theatre for Saturday night’s performances by Smith, Cope or the Lillies.

Tickets are currently on sale at the festival website, and physical tickets should be in area Pilot stores by Tuesday, according to Brackeen.

On magic, hope and Waynestock 2: For the Love of Phil …

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Even when things went wrong this weekend at Waynestock 2, they felt so very, very right.

Granted, there were few difficulties or problems as the three-day tribute to/fundraiser for the family of the late Phil Pollard took place at Relix Variety Theatre in “Happy Holler,” that beautiful neighborhood of North Knoxville where hipsters shop at the new Three Rivers Market and hookers walk the cracked sidewalks. In fact, the only real problem I can think of is the inability to Skype in Matt Morelock, Phil’s best friend and an honorary member of the Band of Humans, who wrapped up the weekend with a ramshackle jam filled with more joy and exuberance and barely controlled chaos than a traveling carnival.

The band wanted to bring Morelock, who left for Hawaii earlier in the week, into the fray courtesy of an Internet connection. Matt was primed, the technology was tested, the setlist was worked out. As with anything technological, however, there were hiccups — the inability to remove the curtains covering the giant screen at the Relix, for example, or the difficulty Matt had in hearing and seeing the band, which opened its set in near darkness to accommodate Matt’s dim image broadcast onto the curtains behind them.

Everyone was hoping for a cool addition to the song — Matt on ukulele, playing in time to the music of his bandmates thousands of miles away. What we all experienced went beyond cool and into the arena of the surreal, a glorious trainwreck of bizarre that showcased Morelock’s bearded face, a dozen feet across, bobbing in wide-eyed frenzy almost-in-tune, occasionally hanging up in a frozen comical expression while the band played on.

Somewhere, Phil Pollard was doubled over laughing and applauding. It was a moment that was so crazy and so-very Phil.

Phil’s presence loomed large in life; it only made sense that even in death, his mischievous nature pervaded throughout the weekend. How else can one explain that, of all the raffle prizes given away — from Bonnaroo passes to an autographed guitar — that Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, who stopped by for a few hours on Friday night and purchased two raffle tickets, wound up with a portrait of Phil drawn by a homeless man? It was a seemingly innocuous raffle prize, one that probably would have meant nothing to someone at the concert simply to hear good music and hoping to win something cool. But Phil had a point to make, it would seem, and the drawing — brought to Morelock by a man who asked only that it be raffled and the money given to Phil’s “babies” — went to the mayor. The crowd roared with approval when her name was read, and I’d like to think that Phil Pollard’s visage, hanging in the office of a progressive mayor who supports the arts and garnered the adoration of so many of them in her bid for election, is some kind of sign.

The entire weekend, it seemed, was one big sign — that when something bad happens, we in the Knoxville music scene know how to make it right. Like last year, the tribe was gathered, the instruments were brought out, and grief became celebration. All three nights were sublime, and though it may sounded hackneyed to say so, every single act that graced the Waynestock stage brought a particular piece of magic to the tapestry of events that healed and consoled even as it entertained.

The little moments are the things I’ll remember about Waynestock — last year and the two nights I attended, Friday and Saturday, this year. Sara Schwabe and Her Yankee Jass Band, scatting through “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and other tunes that started off Friday night with a touch of class and grace … The Lonetones, opening their set with a gorgeous song (”Top Hat”) that seemed so imbued with Phil’s spirit that the painting of him, brought by his widow, Dawn, and set on the front of the stage in a place of conspicuous honor, seemed to shimmer in the footlights … R.B. Morris, toasting Phil and two other tough losses this week, Ed Corts and Rocky Wynder, with such resounding emphasis it surely summoned their souls to the festivities as well … bringing Tim Lee to the stage to end his set with a rousing, barn-burning version of “Riding With O’Hanlon” … Whisk-Hutzel madman Will Fist power-stroking through a guitar solo on “Get There First” during the Tim Lee 3 set that Lee’s goatee seemed to smoke … and the zany insanity of King Super and the Excellents‘ frontman Dave Bowers, howling his way through Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone,” his Afro waving like wind-driven tree branches every time he jumped or head-banged or danced, of which he did a lot. By the time LiL iFFY and the Magic Hu$tle crew took the stage, spitting gangsta-wizard rhymes over DJ Tom Ato’s atom-smashing beats, the night seemed impossible to top. But then came Saturday.

The wise-ass country-rock of The French … the urgency and utterly cool hip-hop/rock combination of The Theorizt … the always capable Todd Steed, leading the Suns of Phere through familiar numbers and a few Smokin’ Dave surprises that delighted long-time fans … Senryu, whipping us into a frenzy with “I Am A Battering Ram,” a song I screamed along to so loudly I started to lose my voice. Recalling favorite Waynestock moments is a little like sitting around with friends after a particularly engaging, mind-blowing movie, deconstructing it bit-by-bit, recalling favorite parts, re-enacting favorite lines. By the time Pollard’s family addressed the crowd and Scott and Bernadette West of Preservation Pub came up to introduce the Band of Humans, the weekend was already, by unanimous acclaim, a success.

In the beginning, it was unclear if the Humans would perform at this weekend’s event. We, the organizers, wanted them to, and I think many of the members themselves wanted to do it. But the band was so much Phil’s baby, his lifeblood, that doing it without him seemed to them, I think, almost impossible. No doubt, the pain of their loss was still stung, even over the weekend, but in the end, they agreed to play. And I think … I hope … they go into a new week so very glad they did.

It was beautiful madness. At one point, I counted 13 people on stage, among them members of The Lonetones, Schwabe herself, Black Atticus of The Theorizt and Jack Rentfro. The latter two, along with Bowers of King Super and even Phil’s oldest daughter, filled in for the big man on certain songs, and Bowers and Atticus delivered a blistering turn on “Land of the Living” that could not be denied in terms of power, beauty and truth.

We all come from the land of the living, and Phil’s song taught us to treasure that. Yes, we mourn his passing — as we do that of Rocky, Ed and Andrew Bledsoe, the festival’s namesake — but we gathered to celebrate his life, his enormous spirit, his bottomless well of talent. The magic that was Waynestock last year was very much alive this year, and as Sunday night begins to fade into Monday morning, I find it still impossible to fathom.

How, exactly, did we get so lucky? How did we wind up with such a beautiful scene, filled with so many people of equal parts talent and heart? How did East Tennessee become such a bastion of brotherly (and sisterly) love? I do not know, but I am so very, very grateful and humbled and honored to be a part of it.

Driving home down rain-glistening Central Street after the final night of Waynestock 2, my wife and I drove past Southbound in Knoxville’s Old City, a patron sat on the sidewalk. Two of Knoxville’s finest stood over him, one offering a towel, the other taking notes. Those standing in line gaped in curiosity, and as we navigated those hopping from one side the street to the other, I saw that the front of his shirt was covered in blood. I pitied him, not for his busted nose, but for the fact he would never know the serenity and bliss those of us at Waynestock were feeling that night. I pitied whatever anger and conflict he had been a part of, because that negativity seemed so counter-intuitive to what we all at Waynestock wanted — for ourselves, for Phil’s family and for everyone in our beautiful little city.

If I sound like I’ve devolved into maudlin hippie-esque drivel, I apologize. It is not my intent for something that feels so sacred to be painted with a saccharine recall that renders such a telling of the weekend’s events as unrealistic. I assure you, it is not. Ask anyone who was there … and make plans to be there next year.

Because we will do this again. Right now, I’m running on enough good will and love to do it again next weekend, although of course that’s a lofty and impossible expectation. But it will happen again; of that, I’m certain. I want it. Anyone who was there wants it. And more importantly, those who have passed on would want it. We owe them, but more importantly, we owe ourselves such opportunities on a regular basis to circle the wagons, take care of our own and show each other and everyone else in our community the better angels of our nature.

Written by wildsmith

February 5th, 2012 at 7:02 pm