Final Sundown: Black Cadillacs and Warren Haynes

Black Cadillacs, Sundown in the City, Market Square, Knoxville

I had mixed feelings about the last Sundown in the City. I’m always sad to see it end, knowing I’ll miss it and wondering if this will be the last of a great series. I also had a dinner planned at Tomato Head with friends and all the restaurants are more crowded on Sundown days, though that turned out to be fine. I most looked forward to the Black Cadillacs with their raw rock and roll sound. I’d missed their set at the Dylan Bash and it had been a while since I’d heard a full show by them. As for Warren Haynes, I wasn’t really that excited, but figured I’d give him a chance.

Will Horton and Philip Anderson of the Black Cadillacs

Black Cadillacs, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, June 2011

As fate would have it, I missed most of the Black Cadillacs’ show, seeing only the last two or three songs. The boys really have grown musically. They still don’t look like rock stars – just a little too squeaky clean – and they don’t quite have the rock star nonchalance down, but they know how to rock, and I think that’s a little more important than the other stuff. If these guys can hang together and make it through all the inevitable ups and downs inherent in the business, they could wind up doing themselves and Knoxville proud.

Warren Haynes and Band, Knoxville, June 2011

Warren Haynes, Sundown in the City, Knoxville

The crowd was obviously buzzed for Warren Haynes. As I said earlier, I wasn’t that thrilled. I believe I’ve seen him twice before, which I realize is an odd statement: Have I or haven’t I? Well, I saw the Other Ones on their first tour after Jerry (that’s Garcia, as in the Grateful Dead for those of you not into that scene) died and I think he was one of two guitarists doing Jerry’s parts. I thought at the time if I closed my eyes and listened, I could imagine it was Jerry playing both parts. I also believe I saw him with Phil Lesh and Friends (bass player for the Grateful Dead) when they toured with Bob Dylan.

Warren Haynes, Knoxville, June 2011

I’d never heard Gov’t Mule or a Warren Haynes solo show. I had formed an, as it turned out, unfair stereotype of Warren Haynes as a mindless jammer. I know he’s popular on the Jam Band circuit, so that’s what I expected: a bit of song followed by ten minutes of aimless noodling on the instruments.

Warren Haynes

I should know better. Not all jam bands are created equally. I really enjoyed the Grateful Dead and they could stretch it out interminably for some people’s taste. I enjoy a good jazz jam, though not so much a Phish extravaganza. The jam model that applied the most was the one that was most logical: The Allman Brothers. Logical because he has a long history of work with them. He even sounded like Greg Allman lite at times – and that’s a compliment because I think Greg has one of the all-time best rock and roll voices.

Warren Haynes, Knoxville, June 2011

I enjoyed the night enough that I stayed all the way through and I hadn’t necessarily planned to do that. He is touring in support of his new solo album Man in Motion which was recorded for the Stax label – that bastion of soul that I didn’t know still existed. This fact has shifted his music more in the direction of traditional soul, which probably explains why I enjoyed it so much.
The jams didn’t seem to bend the songs beyond recognition and his playing was tasteful and soulful. I know, I should have know. I’m not sure where all the negativity came from. Along the way the keyboard player did some great work both on the keyboards and vocals. He seemed to have the most charisma of anyone on the stage, which made it a bit unfortunate that he was so anchored behind the organ.

I did not catch the name of the woman singing backing vocals, but I thought she was a nice addition. I felt she could have been used more for harmony vocals to soften his ragged cords. She wasn’t on stage for about half the songs. I believe I caught she is new with the band, so maybe they are working her in slowly. She did sing a portion of Living For The City, the Stevie Wonder classic which, interestingly was also performed by Jonny Lang at the last Sundown.
The crowd was very large, but sort of polite. I stood one person from the front by the end of the show and I didn’t have to be rude to get there – there seemed to be a larger need for personal space among this crowd and a number of them listened for a while then drifted away.

Warren Haynes concludes Sundown in the City

Sometimes I felt that the band had the Allman Brothers’ feel, but without the great songs. Or maybe I just am less familiar with them. The concert ended with the song Soulshine, which was recorded by the Allman Brothers and got some airplay, but which was written by Warren Haynes. It’s an excellent song and served as a great closer.
I’ve enjoyed the shows this season and, though I wasn’t thrilled with the line-up initially, maybe the promoters have found the right level of famous for the space. I hope they feel good about it because I certainly want it to return. Here’s hoping.

In the meantime, here’s a video of Warren performing “River’s Gonna Rise,” so you can see what you think. I think you’ll like it.

Jonny Lang and Megan McCormick Blister Sundown

Megan McCormick and band at Sundown in the City, Knoxville

This week’s edition of Sundown in the City was quite different from either of the last two. While Better Than Ezra seemed to attract a young, drunken melee and Umphrey’s Magee attracted a young, colorful crowd, Jonny Lang’s crowd was much less picturesque, maybe a bit older and much better behaved in my area. In fact, while the crowd was large, people didn’t really pack into each other the same way they have at many of the Sundown concerts over the years. As I’ve said, I figure all the poor behavior and jostling about is just part of it, but I’ll admit it was nice to be able to focus on the music more than on avoiding cigarette burns.

Megan McCormick, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, June 2011

I thought I’d never heard of Megan McCormick, but midway through her set she played the song Shiver and I realized I’d heard that and maybe another song on 105.3 (which is a pretty good radio station, in my opinion). Megan’s music moves around a bit as far as genre, but I’d call it blues overall. If you are familiar with 1970’s Bonnie Raitt music, you can pretty much imagine the style, which is not to say that she’s simply doing what Bonnie did forty years ago, but you can easily hear the connection. Further driving home the point, the only cover she did all night was a Bonnie Raitt song. Her guitar style is also very reminiscent of Bonnie’s fuzzy slide, though I don’t think Megan used a bottleneck. She was backed by a drummer who was fun to watch and a girl playing up-right bass who held the same pouty look as the back-up dancers in Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love video. The set was strong enough that I’m probably buying “Shiver” and I may buy the disk, but I’ll certainly investigate and keep my eye on this young talent (she’s twenty-three). Here’s a great video of “Shiver.”

Jonny Lang and band, Sundown in the City, Knoxville

I’ve seen Jonny Lang before, but it was when he was around five years old. OK, maybe he was eighteen, but he was very young. He came to the Tennessee Theater and my thoughts that night were that he was very talented but still needed to gain control of his talent because his playing was a bit all over the place, sometimes seeming self-absorbed and that I could not watch his face. His facial contortions go beyond rock-star-standard. I have to say it’s much like a local artist Knoxville Erick Baker. The first couple of times I saw Erick I thought he was about to cry. I’m not being funny, I really thought that as his face grew increasingly pained and distorted.

Jonny Lang, Market Square, Knoxville, Tennessee

Jonny Lang, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, Tennessee

Jonny was a little easier to watch, though the facial contortions are still pretty extreme. His playing is phenomenal, of course and his band was great. He’s really stuck to his genre, which I’d call the modern urban blues. He’s an artist who doesn’t fit modern radio very easily and, in that sense, he and we are fortunate he was able to break through to the larger consciousness.

Jonny Lang, Knoxville, June 2011

Of course, the song Lie To Me is what made it all possible and on this night he played an extended acoustic version of the song before moving into a rocking finale.

Jonny Lang acoustic, Knoxville, Tennessee

Jonny Lang acoustic, Sundown in the City, Knoxville

The band was as excellent as you might expect, with each given a turn to display their vocal or instrumental prowess. I could have done without the drum, guitar (his rhythm guitarist) and bass solos, but the organist was kicking and so was his male back-up vocalist.

Jonny’s “little sister” joins the band

The female back-up singer is another interesting story. I kept looking at her and thinking, “She’s pretty except when she contorts her face.” It turns out she’s his little sister who was making her debut with the band.

Jonny Lang basking in the after-glow, Knoxville, Tennessee

Jonny Lang and band take a final bow, Knoxville, Tennessee

They all seemed to genuinely enjoy what they were doing and each other. When you mix musical talent with exuberance, a great experience generally ensues and it certainly did on this night. Here’s a video of “Red Light,” a more recent song which was a highlight of the show.

If you didn’t catch Sundown, you have one more chance: Warren Haynes will play on June 16. He is a Grammy winning guitarist who Rolling Stone ranked number twenty-seven in their top 100 guitarists. I’ve seen him a couple of times, once with The Other Ones (Grateful Dead minus Jerry) and with Phil Lesh and Friends, but he’s better known for his work replacing Dickey Betts with the Alman Brothers and for his band Gov’t Mule. Opening will be Knoxville’s Black Cadillacs, a gritty, tight rocking band who ranks among Knoxville’s finest. If you don’t want to fight the larger crowds, please come see this amazing opening act. If you are satisfied, I’ll give you a complete refund. Here’s  a sample of their work, which is very good, but unfortunately is several years old. They’ve gotten much better:

Openings and Happenings – You Better Pay Attention

Fashions now available at Reruns in the Daylight Building

This is an exciting time downtown. Today featured not one, but two business openings: Reruns completed their move to the Daylight Building and Union Avenue Books, after many fits and starts, officially opened its doors at 10:00 AM, marking the complete occupancy of the Daylight Building retail space as they joined The Happy Envelope, Just Ripe (which opened a couple of weeks ago) and old timer John Black Studio.

Stocked and ready – Reruns, Knoxville

I dropped in on Reruns, which seems a bit smaller to me than their previous location on Market Square, but I could be wrong.

Sarah and Bunnie hold first book ever sold at Union Ave. Books

I didn’t buy a dress there, but I made a move I’m pretty proud of at Union Avenue Books: I bought the first book they ever sold! I dropped by yesterday (before they opened) and gave them cash and a book to hold until they officially opened this morning and had them ring it up, first. Appropriately, the name of the book is A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. It was recommended to me by a very trusted source and I snagged a like-new hardback copy for $4.00. Pretty good.

Bunny and Sarah help Susan

Be sure to visit them very soon and support this newest local treasure. They are getting in new stock everyday and can order any title you like. I ordered two travel guides and was told they will likely be in after just two days.

Now, for those happenings you can’t miss:

Thursday, June 2, 2011: Johnny Lang comes to Sundown in the City. Absolutely amazing blues guitar will send you into the night singing. Lie To Me, his debut album in 1997 was an instant classic. This one is worth battle the drunken, cigarette smoking teenagers to hear.

Friday, June 3, 2011: The Seventh Annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash is set for the Market Square Stage with music beginning at 5:00 PM and running until 10:00 PM. Local artists the Lonetones, the Black Cadillacs and Robinella would each be worth catching on their own. The featured artist is national recording artist Tim O’Brien. All artists will be offering their takes on Bob Dylan classics and one would assume O’Brien would play songs from his classic album of Dylan covers, Red on Blonde. You absolutely need to be there.

Friday, June 3, 2011: The third annual Downtown Dash sponsored by City People will begin on Union Avenue near the Locust Street Garage at 7:00 PM. This one mile race features serious and not-so-serious runners and is always fun.

Friday, June 3, 2011: It’s First Friday with shops and galleries all around town putting on the ritz. Additionally, all the stores in the Daylight Building will be open late. Come by and snag some organic groceries, classic books, funky clothes and make an appointment to have your portrait taken by John Black.

I hope to do it all. I’ll see you there and then we’ll all need to be up bright and early for the Market Square Farmer’s Market.

Sundown People

What kind of civilization would these people produce?

I’ve always enjoyed watching the people at the concerts I attend. I sometimes speculate about what kind of world would evolve it everyone disappeared except the people at that concert. Would the world be a better place or a worse place? Does it matter if the concert crowd is a Willie Nelson crowd, a Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Led Zepplin, Jay Z crowd? I suspect it does make a difference.

Happy, musical and responsible (notice the baby ear protection)

If I got to pick, I’d probably pick a Bob Dylan audience to start my new civilization, though that probably doesn’t surprise anybody reading this blog. Unfortunately, they would be a bit old. Probably a Ben Harper crowd would be a good one. Of the crowds I’ve been in at concerts, I think the worst to start a new civilization would be a George Jones crowd or the Guns N Roses/Skid Row crowd. With which concert audience would you start your perfect world?

No music necessary, just dancing.

In the case of Umphrey’s McGee they would be a college-aged, colorful group. This was one of the most fun concerts for crowd watching. I wish I could have focused on the people a bit more. I’m sure I could have had twice as many pictures, if not more.

The Dancer and the Rose Guy

I hope you enjoy the ones I did get. I have no idea the names of any of these interesting people. Maybe someone will see themselves. I do have a young demographic, don’t I? 🙂

Let’s Talk Sundown and Better Than Ezra

Sundown in the City Crowd: Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

Just imagine in a two hour period of time having your head repeatedly come within inches of being bashed by a hormone and other chemically impaired teenage boy whose idea of  a fun time consists of throwing his head and body as far back as his spinal column will allow without snapping while yelling incomprehensible noises into the night air and into your face as you stand behind him pressed by the crowd to the point there is nothing between your bodies to preserve a modicum of dignity.

Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

Consider the feeling during the same two hour stretch of having cigarette and other smoke blown into your face while you frantically dodge the burning coals from which the smoke emerges. Picture the careening body of a very drug-addled stranger nearly knocking you and a half-dozen others to the ground as he fights to the front of the stage, then turns angrily to confront anyone who complains. Of course consider yourself wet from sloshing beer glasses at every turn.

Put it all together and what do you have?

Rock and Roll, children, rock and roll.

Better Than Ezra, Market Square, Knoxville, May 2011

Better Than Ezra, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, May 2011

The above is a true and honest description of what I endured while listening to Better Than Ezra last Thursday night. I’d just enjoyed the thrill of a City Council Workshop followed by a nice meal at the French Market. Urban Woman and I met Cynthia Markert as we walked and they agreed it was a night to avoid the city streets if at all possible. I tipped my hat to the ladies and headed for the noise. I thought I knew some of Better Than Ezra’s songs, but I couldn’t have told you the names of any, so I’m certainly not a big fan, but I knew it would be a fascinating experience, as always, and that’s just the audience. The band is a bonus.

Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

The way I see it, art requires pain. For the artist and sometimes for the listener. In this case, it’s rock and roll, not the symphony, so don’t expect to sip a pleasant chardonnay while seated comfortably with an excellent view – unless you are one of the lucky people with a view from a Market Square condo. Besides, that’s like watching a football game in the booth. It may be nice. You may be cool and comfy, but you don’t hear the hits, feel the sonic boom of the crowd roaring in ecstasy and get the joy of high-fiving fat, sweaty strangers you wouldn’t hold a conversation with any other day of the week.

Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

In this case, my musical expectations were far exceeded. Better than Ezra had most of their hits years ago and I generally knew one line of the songs, as in the case of “Good,” in which I recognized the line about running through the wet grass. I always liked the song, but had no idea its name. In the case of “Desperately Wanting,” I only new one word, which isn’t exactly a word: “Unh Oh.” And I really liked that song. I may not remember running through the wet grass, but I remember when I could understand and memorize lyrics like all the teenagers surrounding me. I miss that. I also enjoyed some songs that I’m not sure I’d heard before like “King of New Orleans,” which really got the crowd started and “At the Stars.” I had no Better Than Ezra on my ipod, and I enjoyed the concert enough I added their “Greatest Hits,” on which all of these songs neatly reside.

Joining the crowd, Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra, Knoxville, May 2011

The band played straight-forward rock and roll, with a falsetto/soul twist thrown in just for fun every now and then. The melodies were strong, the vocals clear and the pretensions kept fully in check. The lead vocalist favored Jerry Seinfeld and had a very nice sense of humor, which is a plus with a rock band. I don’t care for the ones who take themselves just a bit too seriously. The bass player tended to strike the rock and roll pose, feet spread apart, bass pounding like a machine gun, but he looked too much like my dentist for me to take to seriously. (Hi Mike. I don’t mean to imply you don’t rock – you rock with the best, dude!) The drummer, who is a more recent addition to the band was game for any challenge and the band was rounded out by a multi-instrumentalist who generally hid behind the others.

Audience member Lance on cowbell joins Better Than Ezra on stage

I had a blast, but it is what it is. If you can’t handle a little rock and roll jostling about, it’s probably not your scene. This Thursday night is jam band Umphrey’s Magee. I’ll miss them. I’ve seen them before and I was pretty much bored after a while, though the crowd will likely be much more pleasant and fun to watch than last week (think children who would have been Dead Heads back in the day), so if you like jam bands, you might enjoy it. I’ll miss it because I’ll be listening to Katy Free and Wendel Werner at Remedy that night. Join me there if you like great vocals and great, jazzy music.

Greg Tardy

One final musical note: tonight the will be the first of a weekly series called Jazz on the Square featuring Greg Tardy (amazing tenor saxophone player), Vance Thompson (trumpet), Keith Brown (piano), Taylor Coker (bass) and Kenneth Brown (drums). I will definitely hit this one and hope to catch the others. I suspect you could bring a  chair to this one and sit comfortably without having your view blocked. It’s not rock and roll, it’s jazz, but it rocks, too.