Archive for the ‘Latitude 35’ tag
Dogs, 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.
After weeks of being a blank page, the website for the new Market Square club in the former location of World Grotto — 16 Market Square — is now active. Back in September, I blogged a bit after talking with someone who’d gotten some inside info into the venue’s transformation, but it turns out the end result might be something else entirely. It’s called Latitude 35, and according to the website, it’s “an urban outlook on comfort food, innovative sports viewing and a premier nightclub.” So far, the calendar is pretty spartan, and there are no live music listings up as of yet. No word even on a grand opening, but you can keep up by following the venue on Twitter.