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Festivals at Steve Wildsmith

Steve Wildsmith

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

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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

Wallypalooza on for March 1-4 at The Thirsty Turtle in Maryville

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323189_239985662711999_151461354897764_684817_3848353_oWallypalooza founder Wally Miles (left) and emcee Waylon Whiskey

Remember this, party people — bloody marys. Find a good recipe. Pre-make some. Keep a gallon of it in the fridge before you head out to Wallypalooza 2012: The Fifteenth Anniversary, details of which were revealed this morning by the man himself, organizer Wally Miles.

Why the need for a vat of bloody marys, you ask? Because you won’t be in any shape to make them on the mornings after, and you’ll need them to get better quick — because Wallypalooza is spread out over four nights this year.

“After 15 years of Wallypalooza, both the legend and the expectations have grown to levels unimaginable,” Miles said. “To celebrate 15 years of something I didn’t forsee still existing after all these years, the goal is to make this the absolute biggest Wallypalooza of all time, for those who have only heard the legend, and for those who have attended and have come to expect a weekend they will never forget.”

Here’s the skinny:

For those wondering what, exactly, Wallypalooza is … well, you’ve got to experience it. It began as a birthday celebration for Miles, a 1997 graduate of Maryville High School and a lifelong resident of Blount County (until recent years, at least). Miles invited friends to the lake in 1998, 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.

Read our cover stories on Wallypalooza from last March and last August.

And start doing liver squats or something, because your internal organ will require conditioning for this party.

Announcing ‘Waynestock 2: For the Love of Phil,’ Feb. 2-4 in Knoxville

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Last year’s Waynestock weekend was born out of tragedy — the death of Andrew Bledsoe, oldest son of long-time News Sentinel music writer Wayne Bledsoe.

The organizers — Tim and Susan Lee, Steve Wildsmith, Mic Harrison, Wil Wright and Jason Knight — didn’t know what to expect. All they knew was that a friend was in pain and a lot of mutual friends wanted to do something, anything, to help. And so a festival was born.

Over three days at Relix Variety Theatre in Downtown North Knoxville, musicians played and fans came, and the Bledsoe family received an outpouring of support. It was such a beautiful weekend, filled with love and music and community, that organizers knew almost immediately they wanted to do it again.

In November, tragedy once again struck the music community when Knoxville expatriate Phil Pollard died suddenly in his Virginia hometown. Although Phil departed Knoxville a few years back, the legacy he left behind — and continued to return to contribute to — is monumental in the local scene. Numerous groups benefited from his talent, and the local scene benefited from his whimsical, quirky, intellectual personality. Whenever Phil played, it was truly a show; music and art and some sort of zany magic all combined to make for nights of wonder, laughter and creative genius.

He left behind a wife and three daughters, and once again the East Tennessee music scene is being called upon to give back. Waynestock 2: For the Love of Phil will be a fundraiser for the educational fund of Phil’s three girls. It will be held again at Relix Variety Theatre, and in the same spirit as the original Waynestock, it will be three nights of love and light and remembrance and celebration, all for a good cause.

Performers include: Thursday, Feb. 2 — Songwriters in the Round featuring Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle, Greg Horne, Kevin Abernathy and Jay Clark; Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet; Ian Thomas; and Christabel and the Jons. On Friday, Feb. 3 — Sara Schwabe and Her Yankee Jass Band; The Lonetones; Tim Lee 3; R.B. Morris; and King Super and the Excellents. A post-Waynstock after-party, featuring the deejays of Magic Hu$tle (Lil iFFy, Tom Ato and more) will begin at 1 a.m. and continue into the early hours of Saturday, Feb. 4. And rounding out the weekend on Saturday night — The French (featuring Phil’s brother-in-law, Brett Winston); The Theorizt; Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere; Senryu; and finishing off the evening, an All-Star Tribute to Phil, featuring members of his various bands and some of the titans of the music scene paying homage to the man so many knew and loved.

This year’s organizers also include Rusty Odom, editor/publisher of Blank News; and Wayne Bledsoe, the festival’s namesake. In putting together this year’s lineup, organizers wanted to maintain the spirit of community that permeated the original through inclusion of some of last year’s acts, while at the same time including as many of the acts with which Phil was associated as possible. The groups scheduled for Waynestock 2 will continue the Knoxville spirit of talent, grace and beauty of spirit that made the first festival such a weekend of magic, and organizers believe its connection to Phil and the people who loved him will make it every bit as successful.

Admission is $5 per night, and the music begins at 7 p.m. each night. Other activities are being planned around the weekend-long event, the details of which will be announced in the coming weeks.

It’s an opportunity for those who feel they’ve received so much to give back … a chance for remembrance and celebration … a time for musicians and fans of all genres, styles and types of music to come together and lift their hands in unity for a guy who’s spent his life uniting an amazing East Tennessee music scene through his words.

We hope you’ll join us. For more information, check out the website set up for this event — www.waynestock.org, and look for further releases and e-mail blasts as the event draws closer.

Smoky Mountain Highland Games brings Albannach to East Tennessee

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The Smoky Mountain Highland Games will return to the Maryville College campus May 18-20, 2012, and if you missed out this year, it’s a chance to take part in and witness a weekend of international revelry, unusual athletic competitions and food that may or may not cause you to vomit. (Haggis, anyone?)

This year, one of the high points was the music, which took place all day on the festival grounds and was part of a concert put on by the Downtown Maryville Association. It looks as if music will be just as big of a part of the festivities this year, with performers on the bill including Colin Grant-Adams, the Martin Family Band, Father Son and Friends and Albannach. I interviewed one of the members of Albannach back in 2008 and had this to say about the band’s music:

“With the shrill call of the pipes, the steady banging of the drums and the call-and-respond nature of some of the vocal parts (there’s very little singing), it’s no wonder Albannach’s style has been described as Celtic ‘battle music.’ It’s a ferocious, primal thing of beauty, the sound of ancient ancestors being summoned up from rich earth to tell tales of battles and victories and celebrations around fires so big the darkness of a Scottish night was pushed back beyond the nearby hills. The band’s music creates a different sort of mosh pits than those at metal concerts — the feel is more tribal, the stomping more rhythmic, the clatter of boots and shoes desperate to tap into the elemental forces of earth and stone and water that seems so closely associated with Scotland.”

Keep in mind those are just the headliners. In addition to those four signature entertainers, Games organizers are setting up two more stages for local and regional musicians — so if you’re interested in being a part of, email entertainment@smokymountaingames.org.

Written by wildsmith

December 8th, 2011 at 9:05 am

‘Boom in the Park’ festival postponed

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Boom in the Park logo

Hey, remember back less than three months ago, when we told you about “Boom in the Park” Music Festival, the day of classic rock that was going to accompany the Labor Day BoomsDay fireworks show?

Remember? The one featuring Lou Gramm, formerly of Foreigner; John Elefante of Kansas; Bobby Kimball of Toto; Mickey Thomas and Starship; country musician Chuck Wicks, Columbia Nashville teen recording artist Jordyn Shellhart; and country songwriters Benita Hill, Kirsti Manna and Bernie Nelson? That was gonna be at World’s Fair Park?

Yeah. Ain’t gonna happen.

Hot off the wire:

Knoxville, Tenn. (June 21, 2011) – The Boom in the Park Music Festival scheduled for Sunday, September 4, 2011 has been postponed until September 2012 due to a change in concert promoters. Event organizers decided to push the Music Festival back one year to allow adequate time for a new promoter to book an exciting lineup for the 2012 festival.

“Boomsday is one of Knoxville’s signature events, and it is very important to continue to provide our community with a top-notch event year after year” said Kim Bumpas, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for KTSC. “With the change in concert promoters and the time constraints of booking musical artists, we felt it was important to postpone the event and debut Boom in the Park in 2012.”

The 24th annual Boomsday Festival will take place as planned on Sunday, September 4, kicking off at 1:00 p.m. on Neyland Drive and Volunteer Landing. Fireworks begin at approximately at 9:30 p.m. For event information and schedule visit www.boomsday.org.

For more information please contact Kim Davis at (865) 342-9119 orkdavis@knoxville.org.

Written by wildsmith

June 22nd, 2011 at 10:25 am

Posted in Festivals

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Worship in the City wristband pre-sale through this week

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WITCity poster

There’s a massive Christian music festival taking place at the end of August, and through this week, you can buy wristband tickets for a great price.

Through Friday, June 10, VIP tickets to Worship in the City, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26 and Saturday, Aug. 27, are only $38 for a weekend pass/$20 for a Friday-only pass and $22 for a Saturday only pass. After Friday, the price will rise to $46 for a weekend VIP wristband, $24 for a Friday-only VIP wristband, and $30 for a Saturday-only VIP wristband. VIP wristbands purchased at the gate will be $48 for the weekend, $28 for Friday and $30 for Saturday. The cost of a general admission wristband will not change on June 10.

Both VIP and general admission wristbands will include access to the regional/local stage, choir stage and all park activities; however, only those with a VIP wristband are guaranteed access to the main stage lawn. A jumbo-tron featuring a live stream of the main stage will be available for those with a general admission wristband. Artists performing on the main stage Friday will include MercyMe, Jars of Clay and Shane and Shane, and artists performing on the main stage Saturday will include Third Day, Hawk Nelson, Blind Boys of Alabama and Alberto and Kimberly Rivera.

In addition, the community will be invited to participate in our Feed the Need initiative, a combination of efforts designed to help alleviate hunger here and around the world. Festival organizers have joined forces with both Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee and Kids Against Hunger, a humanitarian organization that distributes food to critically starving and malnourished children and their families the world over. Festival-goers and other community members will be asked to donate one hour of time over the course of the weekend to help prepare 1 million highly nutritious, prepackaged meals for Kids Against Hunger. From the staging area in the Knoxville Convention Center, Kids Against Hunger will redistribute those meals to starving children and their families in over 60 countries through partnerships with humanitarian organizations worldwide. In addition, Worship in the City will provide both financial and in-kind support to Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, which provides food, services and education to address the nutritional needs of people at risk of hunger in 18 East Tennessee counties. In order to support this work, organizers will donate $2 from every ticket sale to Second Harvest and sponsor a canned food drive throughout the weekend. In addition, organizers have arranged to keep 10 percent, or about 10,000, of meals packaged for redistribution to those experiencing chronic hunger in the East Tennessee area.

Besides live music, festival-goers will have access to live performance entertainment, exhibitions, art and events for families, all providing fun and education in an inclusive, child-friendly environment.

For more information about Worship in the City, including ticket prices and event specifics, visit www.worshipinthecity.com.

Written by wildsmith

June 6th, 2011 at 7:21 am

Donna the Buffalo to headline Meadow Lark Music Festival at Ijams

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45283-250More summer festival coolness, courtesy of WDVX-FM and Ijams Nature Center. Here’s the full press release:

Two of Knoxville’s nationally renowned non-profit organizations, WDVX Radio and Ijams Nature Center,  have joined forces to create the Meadow Lark Music FestivalIn Tune With Nature, from 1-10 p.m. Saturday, June 18. The inaugural event will host the widely popular roots band Donna the Buffalo, famed for igniting a herd of fans with their rootsy, rocking style.  The festival lineup also features The Hackensaw Boys, Phil Pollard and the Band of Humans, Valley Young, Spirit Family Reunion and other locally popular bands in a full day of performances in the meadow of Ijams Nature Center.  The event is being supported by individuals and companies, including New Belgium Brewing known for its philosophy of environmental stewardship.

“Ijams meadow is a beautiful setting and a great listening space so having a roots music festival there will give people a wonderful music experience,” said WDVX General Manager Linda Billman. “Donna The Buffalo is known for its eclectic and often socially conscious music, so DTB is a perfect band for the festival’s debut and for launching the Ijams and WDVX partnership,” according to Ijams Executive Director Paul James.

Advance tickets to the festival are $20 and available at BrownPaperTickets.com.  A limited number of VIP tickets, which include special seating and hospitality are available for $75 each. The Meadow Lark music festival will include art and craft vendors, children’s activities, educational displays, and food vendors. Other founding sponsors of Meadow Lark include Elizabeth Eason Architecture, LLC, Three Rivers Market, knoxmusictoday.com, Tomato Head, and WBIR-TV.  Employees of Green Mountain Roasters are festival volunteers.

Ijams is located at 2915 Island Home Ave. in South Knoxville. For more information, visit the center’s website or WDVX online.

Vestival, Blooms Days this weekend

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Lots of good opportunities to get out and about this weekend.

Just up the road (Old Knoxville Highway, to be exact) is the annual Vestival celebration, a festival that revels in the glory that is the South Knoxville community of Vestal. What it is, organizer and local musician Sean McCollough told us a few years back, is a working-class neighborhood known for its close-knit identity and proud of its heritage.

“It’s the simple, down-home local emphasis that makes Vestival so fun, and then I think we’re just really lucky with the old Candoro site,” McCollough told The Daily Times five years ago. “There’s something about that building and that site that’s so inviting, even though it’s in the middle of a community that hasn’t been treated very well over the years. One of the things we really enjoy about Vestival is the sort-of down-home flavor and not a lot that’s really fancy. People come and have a good time listening to local music, checking out the vendors and hanging out with friends all day. It’s such an unusual site for a festival — it’s fairly intimate and has lots of shade, and it’s an old historical building and not out in a field. I think that’s one of the things that makes it special.”

Vestival began in 2001 as a way to promote unity in the South Knoxville community through art. Organizers sought a venue for the event and discovered the After searching for a site, Monaco and others discovered the Candoro Marble Company showroom building at 681 Maryville Pike (Old Knoxville Highway), designed in 1911 in the Italian Renaissance style by renowned Knoxville architect Charles Barber.

It begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 7, with the annual Mother’s Day brunch s brunch begins at 11 a.m. and is free to mothers. Live music begins at 11:30 a.m. and continues until 7 p.m.; other activities, including cake walks, belly dancing and children’s activities, will take place all day. Bands and musicians on the bill this year include Allison Williams, The LoneTones, The Barstool Romeos, Black Atticus, Lilly Sutton, Seaside Zoo, Y’uns, Mountain Soul, Wendel Werner, Kukuly and The Gypsy Curse, Sam Quinn and Japan Ten and the Nancy Brennan Strange Jazz Trio. There’s a suggested donation of $5; for more information, visit the Vestival site on Facebook.


Normally held in June, Blooms Days at the University of Tennessee Gardens (located off Neyland Drive; parking is available in Lot 66) has been moved to this weekend “to avoid the oppressive heat East Tennessee has experienced the last few years,” according to a press release. According to the official word:

“Unique garden goods, live musical performances, garden workshops, children’s activities and more make the UT Gardens’ Blooms Days a great destination for more than just gardeners. Blooms Days has become a summer tradition, drawing families, students, and Knoxville natives to experience the splendor of the gardens.” Hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 7, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 8. In addition to the more than 20 workshops, live music will be provided Saturday by Red-Haired Mary from 10 a.m. to noon and Wild Blue Yonder from 1-3 p.m. Sunday’s entertainers include Four Leaf Peat from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Robinella from 2-4 p.m.

And it’s not just for adults; kids can visit the Kids Corner to create make-and-take projects and get creeped-out at the Insect Zoo. The festival will also include a garden marketplace where visitors can shop for handmade herbal soaps, silver and beaded jewelry, topiaries, nature-inspired artwork, trellises and wind chimes, straw baskets, birdhouses and weathervanes, garden fountains and more. Food will be available for purchase as well.

Tickets are $6 at the gate. For more information, visit the Gardens website.

Written by wildsmith

May 3rd, 2011 at 7:04 am

Rhythm N’ Blooms 2011 wrap-up …

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RNBlogoDogs, toddlers, blankets, beer, barbecue, baseball … the only sign that Sunday afternoon at the Knoxville Botanical Garden was something other than a family reunion was the stage.

As Rhythm N’ Blooms 2011 came to a close, the conditions were ideal — warm weather and a backdrop of flowering trees and green grass rolling away to the east behind a bandstand where some incredible music was made. Whether it was the one-man powerhouse that was Joe Pug or the bombast of The Whigs or the refined honky tonk of Diamond Doves, the sounds that brought the festival to a close were sublime. And that doesn’t even take into account the crowds or the final act of the night,  The Felice Brothers.

That crowd … man, that crowd. Everywhere I went throughout the weekend was an occasion to stop and talk for a minute with friends old and new. Sometimes, it was just a greeting, like when Scott Miller took a break from his soundcheck to shout a friendly profanity my way. Other times, it was the opportunity to stand side by side with Benny Smith of WUTK-FM and Rusty Odom of Blank Newspaper and drink in what we were seeing and hearing unfold before us.

On Sunday, from our vantage point at stage right, beside a friendly pit bull pup named Babycakes and a shaggy Golden Retriever who was keen to bury her snout in an impromptu run to Chandler’s, I was struck once again by how much I love this job that I do and the people with whom I work in the local music community. On a blanket near the back, local songbird Jill Andrews played with her son, who toddled up to doggies and friends wearing an oversized pair of blue noise-blocking headphones to protect his delicate eardrums from the amplified sounds of musical celebration.

I watched him and wondered if he’ll ever fully appreciate, the way that her fans do, what a local treasure his mother is. Her set on Friday night at The Square Room was a remarkable thing of beauty, a glimpse at a career that goes deeper into the emotional and spiritual ponderings of her own heart to mine those depths for the rest of us. As good as her and her work with the everybodyfields and her self-titled EP were, her forthcoming full-length — “The Mirror,” due June 7 — is a work of unrestrained boldness. The expression “singing her heart out” comes to mind, because such a cliche is the only thing that works. Watching her sing those songs, the cords in her neck pushing against her skin from the effort, you could see … could hear … that those songs were coming from a place of pain and life and everything that goes along with it.

It was certainly a highlight of the festival, but not the only one. Immediately following, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside threw down an Americana hurting by way of Portland, Ore. With her perky little feet-shuffling and bobbed haircut and Buddy Holly glasses, you’d expect a voice that sounds chirping and sweet and high-pitched … and you’d be wrong. Ford belts out jazz-inflected rockabilly with the swagger of Wanda Jackson or Rosie Flores, and she makes it seem effortless. Tearing through her set like a musical tornado, she would have been a hard act to follow — had the next act not been the whimsical and charming Erin McKeown, who held her own as a girl with a guitar, some great stories and a stage presence that demanded attention.

Across Market Square, the men (and woman) of Valley Young got the music started in Black Market Square before running into a technical snafu, but they quickly got back on track, and the harmonies of Annabelle LaFoy and Artemus James called to mind the rootsy feel of Fleet Foxes. LaFoy, in particular, was stunning to behold — her voice resonates with power, yet she executes with the deftness of a lifelong professional who knows not to blow her bandmates off the stage. With James in the driver’s seat and some songs that caressed the emotions of beauty and melancholy in equal measure, it was a great way to end night one.

Saturday began at John Black Studio with a performance by local three-piece Kelsey’s Woods, where singer/guitarist Dave Kennedy confirms he’s one of the most underrated songwriters in East Tennessee. The gritty murder told on “Santa Fe,” the Civil War ballad “Union Wine” … in a town known for its prodigious songwriting talent, Kennedy deserves to be ranked up there with them all, and when fiddler Shawna Cypher joined in on harmony vocals for the last song, I was once again struck by how many beautiful female singers there are in this area as well. (And seriously, how cool is upright bass player Russ Torbett? Not only can he slap with the best of them, his easy camaraderie with Kennedy makes the between-song banter even more entertaining.)

A struggle to find food delayed our attendance at another show until checking out North Carolina-based Big Daddy Love at Latitude 35. They describe what they do as “Appalachian rock”; it reminded me of Donna the Buffalo with a Southern bent instead of a zydeco one. Electric and acoustic guitar, bass, drums, banjo and the ability to home in on a groove, lock it in and sustain it throughout the course of a song that might or might not incorporate some extended jams — these guys know how to entertain, as the dancers who got down front can attest. It was one of the few shows of the weekend where, after the last song, I found myself wishing it could have lasted longer.

Moving back to Black Market Square led to an unexpected discovery — Light Pilot, an act managed by Knoxville expatriate Lenore Kinder (who at one time shepherded Dixie Dirt). Four young guys who look like they should be playing emo — and in fact sound like it at times, but given the bluegrass/Americana bent to the music, those plaintive harmonies make what they do all the more engaging, different and very, very good.

Which leads me back to Sunday, and the festival itself. So many fantastic discoveries like Big Daddy Love and Light Pilot exemplify what Rhythm N’ Blooms wants to accomplish — introduce music fans to hard-working, great-sounding bands that they may not otherwise get a chance to see or hear. Even for a guy like myself who gets paid to do this, I don’t know when I would have made time to see out a Kelsey’s Woods or a Valley Young show, even though they’re worthy additions to the local music scene. Putting them on the bill for Rhythm N’ Blooms made sense sonically, but it also added to the treasure trove of talent that was scattered throughout the area this weekend for visitors and locals alike to discover. All it took was a few bucks, a little effort and an adventurous spirit.

Because by the time The Felice Brothers took the stage … a few minutes before the beer truck switched off its neon lights and allowed the shadows to swallow up the edges of the Sunday festival grounds … it was a time of reflection on so much seen and enjoyed, so much absorbed and appreciated. By that time, Jill had left to get the little one home … Cruz Contreras, who sat in with Sallie Ford and performed with Robinella and the CCstringband on Saturday, had vanished into the crowd … Jonathan Sexton of Jonathan Sexton and the Big Love Choir, currently sidelined by a case of shingles, was nowhere to be seen … Sam Quinn, previously seen backstage hanging with some of the Felice boys, had moved on.

Most of the crowd pressed to the front, swaying as a unit to familiar songs like “The Big Surprise” and losing their collective minds as a new song like “Ponzi” swirled to a crescendo of man-played and electronically generated percussion, the guys wailing on their instruments and scream-singing the refrain with glorious abandon. Lying in the cooling grass, my head in my wife’s lap, I stared up at the stars instead of the stage, but that’s OK. I could hear it all … and more importantly, I could feel it — the band serenading this year’s festival to sleep, and all of the beauty that had gone on before.

Rhythm N’ Blooms lineup announced!

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In less than a month, the second annual Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival will take place, so it’s about time the lineup was delivered to music aficionados. The good news … make that great news … is that the lineup looks to be well worth the wait.
Last year, In 2010, Rhythm N’ Blooms grew from a quaint little addition to East Tennessee’s annual Dogwood Arts Festival into its own three-day celebration. A big change for 2011: Instead of only selling full weekend passes, organizers will offer day passes for single-day show-goers. Last year, organizers faced the challenge of selling the $40 weekend pass to show-goers who were interested in seeing one or two of the acts on the bill and didn’t look at the bigger picture.

“Audience members seemed to be a little tentative to experiment with new music last year,” Attack Monkey media guru and R n’ B organizer Chyna Brackeen told us back in December. “I’m hoping we can overcome that. If you’ve bought a festival pass, there’s no reason not to jump around and see if you can discover someone new who will really blow you away.”

A web-only pre-sale starts Monday (March 7) and runs through 5 p.m. Thursday, March 10. During that time, three-day weekend passes will be available for $35. On Thursday, regularly priced weekend passes ($40) as well as day passes ($20) will be available both via the website and all Pilot Travel Centers.
Without further ado, here’s the lineup for this year’s festival. Keep in mind, Brackeen said, there are still a few artists to be announced, and at least one major announcement to be made in the coming days:
  • The Felice Brothers
  • Darrell Scott
  • Robinella and the CCstringband
  • Larry Keel and Natural Bridge
  • Scott Miller
  • Danny Barnes
  • Michelle Malone
  • Jill Andrews
  • Joe Pug
  • Erin McKeown
  • The Whigs
  • Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside
  • Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen
  • Town Mountain
  • Amy Speace
  • Apache Relay
  • Ponderosa
  • Brooke Waggoner
  • Big Daddy Love
    The Jompson Brothers
  • Rayland Baxter
  • Marshall Ruffin
  • Diamond Doves
  • Sara Petite
  • Adam Hill
  • Young Buffalo
  • thecitylights*
    Valley Young
  • Light Pilot
The festival will take place at participating venues throughout downtown Knoxville.

Written by wildsmith

March 6th, 2011 at 4:04 pm