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The Rockwells at Steve Wildsmith

Steve Wildsmith

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Some parting thoughts on love and community and Waynestock 3 …

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waynestock

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.

Wilco World: Disc Exchange to get a visit from alt-country kings on Saturday!

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I was already planning on hitting up the Wilco show at The Tennessee Theatre on Saturday night. Got kind of nervous at first because of the sell-out, but PR girl Deb Bernardini came through with a couple of tickets.

For those of you without the luxury of such hook-ups, there’s good news — Wilco won’t be performing there, but according to Pitchfork, the guys will put in an appearance at The Disc Exchange, Knoxville’s most excellent music store, located on Chapman Highway. It’s part of National Record Store Day (which you can read about here), which will feature live music and appearances by all sorts of local and regional acts, all day long. Here’s the lineup:

Van Eaton and Friends at noon (read a recent interview here)

Greg Koons at 1 p.m

The Rockwells at 3:30 p.m.

Wild Sweet Orange at 4:30 p.m.

Tenderhooks at 5:30 p.m. (read last fall’s story on the band here)

John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives at 6:30 p.m. (read today’s interview with JPK here)

Cutthroat Shamrock at 7:30 p.m. (read a recent story here)

For more information about Wilco — including a new album due in late June and featuring guest vocals by Feist — click here.

Read the new Weekend interview with A Hawk and a Hacksaw, opening for Wilco on Saturday night at The Tennessee Theatre, by clicking here.