Boulder to Birmingham (to Knoxville)

Knoxville continues to get quite a stream of musical talent. Too much for an Urban Guy to afford. So an Urban Guy has to improvise. Emmylou Harris, who is an amazing treasure in American music came to Knoxville as part of the Bijou’s Jubilee fund raising weekend. As such, the tickets were expensive, starting at around $65 (with service fees) and moving north of $100 if you wanted to be close to the front.

The good news is that the Bijou Theater, which seats around 700, doesn’t have a bad seat. A New York Times critic said it may be the best listening house in America. The building is the fourth oldest in Knoxville and dates to 1817. The theater was carved out of the building and opened in 1916. It has seen ups and downs over the years, with performances by the Barrymores, the Marx Brothers and the biggest stars of Vaudeville. It subsequently became a porn movie theater and several times has come close to demolition. It was most recently saved in 2006 by a variety of individuals including Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment who introduced Emmylou last night. I’ve seen too many shows there over the years to remember them all, but some that stand out in my mind include Koko Taylor, Bobby Bland, Joan Baez, The Cowboy Junkies, Jefferson Airplane (without Grace Slick), Roger McGuin, Steve Earle, Taj Mahal and Robert Earl Keen. Of course, there is the whole Tennessee Shines series.

I fell in love with Emmylou the first time I heard her voice on the radio. The song was “If I Could only Win Your Love,” the Louvin Brother’s song. I loved that voice from the beginning. I eventually saw her in concert when she performed in the Pavilion on the World’s Fair Park as a fundraiser for WDVX, which is one of the most important radio stations in our region, preserving bluegrass and Appalachian music and serving up great doses of Americana, as well as live music daily. The show that day was wonderful and I fell in love with Emmylou all over again. She stayed after the show and signed my album covers and sat beside me and talked as comfortably as if we had always been friends.

So, having seen her, I was having a hard time paying $65 and a hard time knowing that she was only a few blocks from my house and I would not see her. I went to the show with the idea that I might get a cheaper ticket and, if not, I would walk home a little sad, but not so broke. I got worried when I saw the “sold out” signs on the door, but just like with B.B. King last winter, a kind soul immediately sold me her spare ticket for $30. I sat on the back row, but the theater is so small, that wasn’t bad and since I was sitting next to the soundboard, the sound was perfect.

I can’t remember all the songs she performed, but there were no poor performances. The band was tight and her voice was much better than I had hoped. It has clearly lowered over the years, but is still distinctive and clear. She sounded very close to her original recordings even on the early songs. Some of the songs she performed include Orphan Girl, Red Dirt Girl, Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight, Love and Happiness, Wheels, Pancho and Lefty, Michelangelo, If I Could Only Win Your Love, Bang the Drum Slowly, Get Up, John and Evangeline. The highlights for me were “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” for nostalgic reasons and “Wheels,” also for nostalgic reasons as I thought of her time with Gram Parsons. As the show ended, she brought her dogs out on stage, introduced them and made a plea for animal adoption. I’d hoped I could get a picture with her after the show, but no such luck. Still, it was a very good night.