Steve Wildsmith

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Some parting thoughts on love and community and Waynestock 3 …

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There was a moment during Waynestock 3 when the tragedy that spawned this whole beautiful thing came rushing back.

Kevin Abernathy was on stage, singing his heartbreakingly gorgeous song, “Love Alone.” It’s a track that first appeared on his sophomore album, “Beautiful Thing,” and one he re-recorded for his most recent solo effort, “Some Stories.” It’s also the song he played on stage at The Bijou Theatre during Andrew Bledsoe’s memorial service.

Working the front door with Andrew’s dad, Wayne — the guy for whom Waynestock is named — I caught a glimpse of it in the man’s eyes, which brimmed with tears. It wasn’t the only time he got emotional over the weekend — his remarks to the assembled crowd before the all-star jam that brought Waynestock to a close included a few as well — but it was a reminder of how Waynestock started.

“There would be laughter, bouncing off the walls … smiles in photographs up and down the halls … if you could live on love alone …”

The tears, however, were few and far between.

This year’s Waynestock rose money for the Community School of the Arts. Although the past two Waynestocks were held in response to tragedies — the death of Andrew in late 2010 was the catalyst for Waynestock 1, held in early 2011, and the death of beloved local musician Phil Pollard in late 2011 was the driving force behind last year’s event — this year was different. As one of the organizers, I freely admit my uncertainty of how well another Waynestock would be received without such visceral pain driving the momentum.

It’s human nature, really. When Andrew died, those of us who love Wayne wanted to do something, anything, to help our friend. Everyone we asked, from Daniel Schuh at Relix Variety Theatre (the gracious home of Waynestock since the beginning) to the musicians who played that first year to the sponsors who helped get the word out to the donors who gave of their time and equipment, agreed to take part without hesitation. The folks who came to see the music gave generously above and beyond the $5 cover. After such a weekend of magic and beauty, it seemed impossible that we could repeat its success.

But we did, last year. Again, tragedy was the catalyst, but remembrance and love became the legacy. And while there was no single beneficiary, no fallen friend or loved one, to whom Waynestock was dedicated this year, love remains the post-Waynestock emotion that best sums up the whole weekend.

“Tangled up in kisses, on the side of the road, still running on empty with a million miles to roll, if you could live on love alone …”

The doors opened Friday night to a dedicated group of Con Hunley fans who had driven all the way to Nashville and arrived four hours before he was scheduled to take the stage. Warrior-poet Black Atticus charmed and entertained, and Abernathy was the perfect lead-in to the night’s big event.

Every act who took the stage at Waynestock made fans of those in attendance who’d never heard them before, but the act that brought in the most people was Con Hunley, backed by Mic Harrison & The High Score. For Mic and the boys, it was a big deal; family members came to see them share the stage with an icon, and they were in fine form. Mic and guitarists Robbie Trosper and Chad Pelton provided killer licks and sweet backing vocals for Con’s amped-up brand of country soul, and when they opened the show (after Mic and the boys warmed up everybody with “The Colonel Is Dead”) with a rousing, juke-joint inspired version of “Livin’ on the Funky Side,” the exhilaration was palpable. Con’s older fans felt rejuvenated (and even got their balladeer fix on with a few of his slower-tempo numbers), and fans of the local music scene were content to watch in wonder as history was made with Hunley’s return to Central Avenue.

It was the sort of magic that defines Waynestock, and it would be repeated throughout the event. The Rockwells, absent from the local scene for a few years now (save for a single performance last May), were as enthusiastic as the dancers that crowded the stage during their set, with mild-mannered Tommy Bateman peeling off one killer pop-rock lick after another and Jonathan Kelly managing an impressive leap mid-song that would have made Pete Townsend proud. The Mutations, performing in front of a screening of the 1967 Peter Fonda flick “The Trip,” kept the dancers happy, with Harold Heffner getting down among them for a fired-up and impassioned version of Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away.” Yak Strangler, featuring Andrew’s brother, Rylan, on drums, wrapped up Friday night, and with winter weather moving in throughout the day on Saturday, the turnout for night two appeared, at first, to be in doubt.

Those who stayed at home missed a hell of an exotic set from Saturday’s two openers, the Gypsy jazz-influenced Kukuly and the Gypsy Fuego and the klezmer band Dor L’Dor. (Dor L’Dor dad/bandleader Ken Brown even brought out the shofar, the traditional Jewish ram’s horn pipe, for the group’s finale.) Johnny Astro and the Big Bang steered everyone back to the middle of the road with some straight-ahead American rock ‘n’ roll done to perfection, and the Americana outfit Guy Marshall proved that it’s East Tennessee’s answer to the beloved and long-running Murfreesboro band Glossary. Sam Quinn and his Americana power-trio co-horts — Tom Pryor and Jamie Cook of the Black Lillies — were the perfect lead-in to the grand finale.

“Too bad the heart has to have a mind, to tell it what to do when the eyes are blind …”

And once again, art and community and love were elevated into something else. Magic seems too hokey, too generic, to describe it, but what other word fits? What other word accurately captures the wonder of seeing the Tim Lee 3 (Tim and Susan Bauer Lee with drummer Chris Bratta) sharing the stage with Greg Horne, Mike McGill, Kevin Abernathy, R.B. Morris, Black Atticus and Jodie Manross? Atticus flowing smooth the lyrics of R.L. Burnside’s “Snake Drive” while the band powered behind him like a growling muscle car … the boogy-woogy honky-tonk of McGill and the rest howling through his original, “Women, Whiskey and Pain” … Sam Quinn, grinning like a madman and watching the Lees blister through his haunting takes on Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and “Cortez the Killer” … Manross and Morris, trading lead as well as Bonnie Raitt and John Prine ever did on Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” … the whole damn family, wrapping up the night with a gloriously ramshackle version of Morris’s “Distillery” … that’s the stuff that Waynestock is made of. That’s the juice.

That is magic.

“There’d be no children troubled in their sleep, nothing else desired, nothing else to need, if you could live on love alone …”

After the house lights went up and the instruments were packed away and the last drinks poured, those of us who conceived of this thing felt like exhausted children on Christmas night. We take no credit for the creation of that magic, and like everyone else who walked away amazed and grinning and wearing those “did-that-just-happen?” expressions of slack-jawed joy, we recognize that Waynestock is so much more than just us. It’s so much more than Andrew Bledsoe and Phil Pollard, who no doubt were in the house and dancing and grinning along with the rest of us over the weekend. It’s so much more than the assuaging of grief and the remembrance of those departed and the banding together to overcome tragedy.

It is about celebration. It is about unity. It is about beauty and music and lifting up what is so good and right about this beautiful, brilliant and occasionally bizarre scene. It is about raising a flag in Happy Holler and declaring, “WE ARE KNOXVILLE.”

If we could live on love alone, then we would never have to leave Relix. The kegs would never run dry and the bottles would never dwindle. The sound would never be muddied and the instruments would stay tuned and the infinite possibilities of musical mayhem would play out for the rest of our days.

Love alone, unfortunately, isn’t always enough. And in a way, that’s OK, because Waynestock then becomes this bubble, this magical (yeah, yeah; there’s that damn word again) world to which a door is opened once a year and everything good about who we are as musicians and music lovers and human beings who call Knoxville, Tenn., home manifests itself in vibrant, vivid ways. Shutting that door for another year — and knowing there’s no guarantee it will open again — is bittersweet, but something tells me this will happen again. Part of me screams that it must. It’s too good, too special, to not revisit.

Besides, the key is simple … love. It opens the door. Love alone is all that’s needed to get back to the place that Waynestock shows us is possible. Love alone … well, sometimes it is enough.

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

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.

Phil Pollard update

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See below post for the full story. This morning’s status update, courtesy of Ms. Donna Davis: “Our son in law, Phil, is still with us while preparations are being made for him to give life to others, when he slips from us. We are overwhelmed with grief yet buoyed with the knowledge that Dawn and the children will be surrounded by a wonderful family of friends to help them through this tragedy.”

We have no words, other than a post on that great website Knoxblab that seems too apropos: Someone proposed that when Phil gets to heaven, he’s allowed to be in charge of thunder.

Rest easy, man.

Written by wildsmith

October 29th, 2011 at 7:24 am

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FINAL UPDATE: Rest in peace, Phil Pollard

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FINAL UPDATE: Saturday afternoon post: “Our beloved Phil passed into the arms of angels at 1:54 pm, with the love of his life, Dawn and his family at his side. Our hearts are broken.” We feel the cracks down here in East Tennessee, and many of ours break as well. Thoughts, prayers, love and warmth to his family.
SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE: See below post for the full story. This morning’s status update, courtesy of Ms. Donna Davis: “Our son in law, Phil, is still with us while preparations are being made for him to give life to others, when he slips from us. We are overwhelmed with grief yet buoyed with the knowledge that Dawn and the children will be surrounded by a wonderful family of friends to help them through this tragedy.” We have no words, other than a post on that great website Knoxblab that seems too apropos: Someone proposed that when Phil gets to heaven, he’s allowed to be in charge of thunder.
UPDATE: Don’t count the big man out just yet. If you’re reading this post for the first time, the information below this update was posted this afternoon. At the time, Phil’s passing seemed imminent; now, the picture is a lot more murky and a lot of people are holding onto hope that he pulls through. As of 7 p.m., his sister posted the following: “Please understand, Phil is still with us. He is gravely ill and on life support. We are with him and will let you know when things change.” This has prompted an outpouring of fervent prayers and hopes for a miracle, including from this writer. If anything, I look forward to the day Phil looks back on everyone sending him on home to Jesus too early and laughing, genuinely and heartily gut-laughing, at all the hubbub. Hang in, good sir. For now, we’ll leave the below information as is. As a journalist, the thought of writing a retraction is an anathema; in this case, I pray to the journalism gods that in the next few days, I’ll do just that.

It’s with watering eyes we’ve received word this afternoon of the imminent passing of musician Phil Pollard, a titan of a man in terms of stature, musical talent and warmth of heart.

His heart, apparently, couldn’t handle the load of such a spirit. Yesterday was his birthday; amid the flood of well-wishes on Facebook, friends were notified that Phil had suffered a “cardiac event.” This was soon posted: “Today, Second Grade teacher Phil Pollard suffered a Serious Medical Event. He was transported to MCV. He went into cardiac arrest. Medical personnel were able to revive him. However, he’s been placed in a medically induced coma. This coma will last for 24 hours. As we receive details we will inform the community as a whole.”

Roughly an hour ago, his sister posted the following: “We are preparing to say goodbye. He has suffered several strokes and will not recover. He is surrounded by his family and many dear friends. He is comfortable and not in any pain. Please pray for peace for Phillip Andrew Pollard.”

It’s funny, being out here in the Blount County “hinterlands,” a good distance removed from the people I write about. I think I only met Phil face-to-face a time or two, but we talked occasionally by phone, and I was well aware of his enormous influence on the East Tennessee music scene. Whether fronting his own bands or filling in on drums with a group like The Drunk Uncles, Phil Pollard was a machine. He overflowed with jovial mischievousness, an adventurous spirit, a keen intellect and a love of good music, good fun and good people.

Hearts are hurting in the local scene, and mine goes out to those who knew and loved him so well and so long. There won’t be another like him around here, and that’s the damnable thing, because it is unique personalities, colorful characters and talented musicians like Phil who make this scene such a beautiful, beautiful place to chronicle.

Rest in peace, Phil. I went back and dug up this old conversation we had for a story several years ago. I reprint it in your honor …

LIT-ROCK QUIRKINESS: Phil Pollard wants to be your musical RIF day

Daily Times, The (Maryville, TN) – Thursday, February 1, 2007

Author: Steve Wildsmith ; of The Daily Times Staff

Most musicians would be pleased if a fan left their show, went out and bought a Bob Dylan album or a Bruce Springsteen record or an old Pavement CD.

Local Band of Humans front man Phil Pollard would be just as happy if they went out and bought a book.

For Pollard, music and literature are intertwined – quite literally. A Band of Humans show is often billed as a performance of “lit-rock,” given Pollard’s proclivity for reading poetry, excerpts from classic novels and even famous prose like the Gettysburg Address over the group’s music.

The band’s unique style developed out of Pollard’s background with percussion, which came about as a lad growing up in Baltimore. In the fourth grade, he and his classmates were encouraged to pick out an instrument to play, Pollard told The Daily Times this week. Always one for the offbeat and the unusual, he chose the viola.

“Everybody else was picking the violin or whatever, so I came home and told my parents I wanted to play the viola,” Pollard said. “My older brother was a drummer, and my dad said, ‘Your brother picked a drum. We bought a drum. You’re going to be a drummer.’”

The parental decision to change Pollard’s instrument of choice didn’t have negative long-lasting effects, however. By the time he was 14, Pollard had joined the marching band for the NFL franchise the Baltimore Colts.

“That’s where I really became a drummer, playing with those guys,” Pollard said. “I actually did that until we moved here, and I was with the Ravens band at that point. Of course, I took lessons and studied this and that in school, and that’s sort of where the music came from.”

(As a sidenote, don’t get him started about the Colts. He has fond memories of playing with the team’s band in Baltimore, but when they picked up in “the middle of the night,” as Pollard puts it, and skipped town, it left a bad taste in his mouth. And even though the Colts are in Sunday’s Super Bowl and Pollard enjoys watching football, he prefers it when both teams come out as equal – meaning he wouldn’t mind a bit if the score ended in a tie.)

After college, Pollard taught chemistry and physics at an all-girls Catholic high school, as well as teaching philosophy classes on the weekend at a local community college. Eventually, he and his wife moved to Knoxville to be closer to her family, and Pollard slowly worked his way into the local music scene.

“Honestly, I still was in the marching band, and I helped out with school musicals, but I certainly was no professional musician,” he said. “But down here, job after job was falling through, and I started teaching and playing, and the next thing I know, being a musician was sort of the thing to fall back on. It’s the steadiest thing I’ve done work-wise since I’ve been here.”

These days, Pollard teaches literature part-time at Roane State Community College, but he’s best known as an all-around percussion utility player who performs for area stage productions as well as with four different outfits – The LoneTones, Sara Schwabe and Her Yankee Jass Band, The Bearded and his own Band of Humans, which performs Thursday at Preservation Pub in downtown Knoxville.

“I actually started this on a fluke,” he said. “I was working in kind of a music school with a recording studio, and they said if I wanted to make a song, to go ahead. I went in and played all of the parts on a song – the bass, the drums, the guitar, some mallet stuff – and it had this really cool groove to it. Every time I listened to it, I kept thinking of the Gettysburg Address being read over it.”

Not long after, Pollard was sitting in traffic and wrote the song “Even Though” – known to fans as “the flexitone song” (it’s on the group’s Myspace site) – in his head. He turned his car around, drove back to the school and recorded it in one take.

Such is the nature of Pollard’s muse. It’s quirky and unpredictable, but the end results are always entertaining. Such mischievous inspiration led to the formation of Band of Humans, which originally debuted as a trio for the Dogwood Arts Festival.

“I got (local musicians) Matt Morelock and Geol Greenlee together, and we went out and performed and did readings and poetry over groove music,” Pollard said. “About that time, Scott West (former owner of Preservation Pub) was doing this jazz night on Sundays, and he asked if I had something groovy to bring to it. I was already playing there with Sara Schwabe, but he wanted something different, so I made it up on the spot and said, ‘Yeah, I have this band – it’s called Band of Humans.’”

Billed as Phil Pollard and His Band of Humans, the three original members called in other local musicians to fill out the sound. They were a hit that Sunday, and over time, the group’s show evolved to include theatrics and costumes as well as music. It’s all part of Pollard’s grand musical plan to integrate literature, music and drama, it seems.

“I like watching people play, to a certain point, but then at a certain point, it feel like it’s sort of awkward,” he said. “There’s only so much interest you can have in that. When we decided to start dressing up, it was sort of a way to give everybody something to look at and think about.”

The idea was to have a theme to the group’s costumes. For instance, during one holiday show, the band wanted to make a statement about how Christmas has grown so large and commercial that it threatens to absorb and supersede all other holidays – so the members dressed up as various holidays. At a Mother’s Day show, they wore nightgowns and hair curlers; at a recent wedding held at the zoo, they all dressed as animals.

It doesn’t always go smoothly. But when it doesn’t, that somehow adds to the overall quirkiness of the performance.

“Every time, there will be one or two people that have a great costume – not me; I’m usually in the middle – and then there’s one guy who forgot,” said Pollard, who frequently likes to dress as Abraham Lincoln, one of his heroes, when nothing else work. “For instance, when we played at the Knoxville Museum of Art, Jon (Whitlock) was actually an art gallery. He had picture frames all over him, and they all had a title and a price on them.

“People just interpret it in their own ways, which is what we want. I think for this next one, the band voted that we’re going to dress up as wrestlers. I’d like to get to where, eventually, we can post it on our Web site or something, and the audience dresses up as well. Just think – how cool would it be to come in, unknowingly, and see everybody, from the band to the people there listening, dressed up as professional wrestlers?

“The idea is just to give people something to look at and evaluate,” he added.

When it comes to the spoken-word part of the band’s performance, Pollard draws on a variety of his favorite works. His all-time favorite poem, he said, is Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Lotus Eaters,” which he set to music.

“I remember being blown away bit it in school, and I sat down with a guitar and started wondering what I could do with it all,” Pollard said. “I started strumming this real languid, out-of-time chord progression, and it struck me – this is what it means.”

Over the history of Band of Humans, he’s read everything from an excerpt from Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” to a short paragraph describing water by Leonardo Da Vinci (sometimes at the same time). His original songs are literature-oriented, as well – he’s written songs about Sylvia Plath and others.

“I really try to point out the dreams of the good side of humanity in what we do,” he said. “I don’t make humans look superhuman or anything. I just try to point things out, like doing something with one of Lincoln’s letters – this is war, this is a woman who lost five sons and here’s what the president said to her. I’m not making a political statement.

“And really, we just want to make music that people like to dance to. We try to get everybody dancing with what we do, and hopefully at the end of the night, somebody will go home and pick out a book and read it.”

Written by wildsmith

October 28th, 2011 at 10:12 am

Posted in Music

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