New York City, Knoxville, San Francisco and Oakland

Mayor Rogero Introduces and Welcomes the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2017

Worlds sometimes collide and that was the case for me, yesterday. After five days in New York City, Urban Woman, Urban Girl and I returned to Knoxville. I love Knoxville. But New York City, which I’ll probably write more about in the coming days, is, after all, New York City.

Our visit there was fabulous in so many ways. And you get used to those buildings cradling you on every side and we had breakfast in our favorite spot one last time on Thursday morning and then caught our plane. The green as we neared Knoxville was beautiful and the mountains sparkled. But the city is so small. Reentry to downtown seemed difficult in a way.

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Knoxville, October 2017

Swag Ensemble from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2017

Swag Ensemble from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2017

Then I took a walk with Urban Boy who’d decided (at two, he decides a lot, believe me) he would spend the night. We stopped in to Union Avenue Books to see Scout, but Scout wasn’t in. We walked to Market Square, played lightly in the fountain and got a cupcake, muffin and coffee at Market House. I started remembering the tiny touches of why I love the city, though still feeling that small town thing.

When we heard sounds coming from the Market Square stage, Urban Boy’s ears perked up a bit. I think he’s got that love of music I share with my brother, wife and daughter. I hope he has my brother’s talent. He decided we would go to the stage and check it out, which we did. I learned that the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus had stayed in Knoxville for an extra evening and that they would perform.

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Knoxville, October 2017

Urban Woman and Urban Boy, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir and San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus Concert, Market Square, Knoxville, October 2017

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Knoxville, October 2017

I’d been very disappointed when I learned that their Lavender Pen Tour of southern cities was coming to Knoxville and that I’d be in New York City when they performed in our coliseum. The tour of five southern states in seven days was set to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and to offer support to LGBTQ communities throughout the south. Money raised in our area was directed to PFLAG in Oak Ridge, the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus and Positively Living.

After a successful performance Wednesday night, plans called for a concert at noon on Market Square. That performance, as it turned out, was delayed to 7:00 PM, which offered me the chance to hear the groups, though only the ensemble, Swag, from the larger San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus performed with the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir with Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir, Knoxville, October 2017

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Knoxville, October 2017

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir with Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir, Knoxville, October 2017

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir with Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir, Knoxville, October 2017

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir with Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir, Knoxville, October 2017

A good crowd gathered on Market Square by 7:00 PM, despite the short notice, and Mayor Rogero introduced the groups, expressing her gratitude that Knoxville was included on the small tour. And then they rocked. After a couple of songs from the ensemble, the Oakland Choir sang and then the two joined forces. Of course, many in the crowd were from the chorus, so they knew all the words and what to do with them.

It was uplifting and encouraging. A mix of praise songs and gospel standards had the crowd on their feet, singing, dancing and clapping hands. By the time the night ended with an upbeat and powerful version of, “We Shall Overcome,” the crowd had become completely engulfed in the joy of the music presented. Urban Boy, decked out in his Captain America pajamas (it started at his bedtime) heartily approved.

And so, my reentry to Knoxville turned out to be a reminder of why I love this place. It’s small, yes. It may sometimes seem provincial. But it’s friendly and warm and open. It’s comfortable and friendly. It’s urban to a degree, but with a small town charm. It’s home.

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir with Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir, Knoxville, October 2017

We’d seen great shows and sights in New York City. I’d happily hop a plane and return, right now, if offered the chance. But, in my small southern city, I’d walked two blocks from my home and encountered the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. For free. And with a large, happy, responsive crowd. That’s not a bad welcome home and no small reminder of how special this place is that we live.

 

Comments

  1. And, Alan, I’ll look forward to reading about your upcoming comments from your New York City travels. NYC is one of my favorite places on earth; I’ve visited several times each year since 1991. We will have to compare favorite spots. Based on friends’ requests from Knoxville and elsewhere, I’m now offering NYC trip options and advice for Southerners (in particular) who want to explore the City in fun and unexpected ways. http://www.southernwomentouring.com
    So — I’m always on the hunt for fresh ideas to explore in my favorite spot (only next to Knoxville, of course).

  2. Nancy Sharp Voith says:

    As Oslo said, “Dang it, I can’t believe I missed this.” Yet another in a long list of reasons to love Knoxville and its welcoming spirit. We convinced good friends, who retired from working for a global phara company in Switzerland, to move to Knoxville (out of all the other locales they were considering in the South). When they first arrived, the wife would mention or call me with a question and normally a story of how someone local went out of their way to welcome them here in a simple way. My consistent response got to be a joke between the two of us. I’d just throw up my hands and simply say, “Welcome to Knoxville!” Now, she will do that with me and others.
    It is a special place.

  3. Shannon Kelley says:

    Alan Sims: That next to last paragraph, about your reentry to Knoxville, is my favorite that you’ve ever written. Often, I drive downtown in the early mornings on Saturday and Sunday to just look around and absorb the architecture. Your paragraph encapsulates my feelings on so many of those mornings. Would it be alright to quote you?

  4. I got to meet two of the performers from the Gay Men’s chorus when the dropped by the museum on Thursday. Forgive me for forgetting their names but they were such nice guys and they told me they were enjoying Knoxville. I asked them how their trip through the South was going and they had the nicest things to say. They said they had been embraced everywhere they’d been and Knoxville was no exception. So very glad to hear that they were having a great trip.

  5. The first comment exactly describes the mission and purpose of our tour! As an OIGC member, last night was truly remarkable. Thank you Knoxville!

  6. The visit from the SFGMC and the OIGC was like a comet- it was short but intense, and will not soon be forgotten. I absolutely loved seeing the “LGBT spirit” on our streets for two days. I even saw a young UT gay couple holding hands as they walked down the pedestrian walkway yesterday, which filled my heart- it was like they felt some of the courage and support in the air, enabling them to show their affection for each other in the small yet powerful ways that most of us hetero, cis people take for granted every day. Given the school board anti-harassment policy issue that was ongoing, having these amazingly talented, out and proud people in our city was a major shot in the arm for all of us working to make our city more welcoming for our LGBT friends, family and community members. Your blog post was a perfect encapsulation of why I love this city, and why I loved having these folks visit our city. Their spirit will stay with us as we continue to work towards making this amazing city even better.

    Lettie Flores, Knox, Anderson, Blount County Committee Chair, Tennessee Equality Project

  7. Jon (from SWAG -SFGMC) says:

    It was so wonderful performing for y’all last night! You are wonderful. Your mayor is amazing! Such a mountaintop experience.

  8. Michael Kyle (SFGMC member) says:

    Thank you so much for this awesome recount!! I too fell in love with your charming city. Can’t wait to return someday!

  9. Oren Yarbrough says:

    I am so glad you got to see the performance last night in the Square! I was able to attend the show on Wednesday and it was absolutely amazing. The level of talent that both choral groups have is astounding. The Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus worked very hard to be chosen as one of the cities on the Lavender Pen Tour and should be thanked for all the things they did to make the tour’s visit all the more enjoyable. From all the conversations I had with the performers last night after the show Knoxville was very impressive to them and they loved how active and friendly our community is.

  10. Misha (OIGC) says:

    Thank you for your blog, your support and enthusiasm. This entire tour has been a mission of love for love of all! Last night’s experience was phenomenal. Your Mayor Rogero is a gem and seeing her dance and celebrate each human being was monumental! I look forward to coming back!!!

  11. Thank you for sharing your article with us, hope we get to return soon. I know I will on my own!

  12. Becky Dodson says:

    Can I just say we have the coolest Mayor! Inclusive, loving AND she’s got rhythm. Gonna miss her servant leadership. Thanks for the article Alan and glad you chose our little downtown for your great blog.

  13. Dang it, can’t believe i missed this!

    • That’s what I just said! I heard music coming from the square on our way back from the District 6 Candidate Forum, but wasn’t aware of anything scheduled. Now I know why. So mad I didn’t walk over to check it out!

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