Waynestock: For the Love of Drew, Night Two

Relix Theater in former White Store, N. Central, Knoxville

Fortunately for us working types, the second night of the festival was a Friday night, so sleeping in figured into the possibility of another late night. With a great line-up including several bands I’ve wanted to hear, I planned to stay to the conclusion.

Art in Action, Relix Theater, Waynestock, Knoxville, Tennessee

The people watching wasn’t as good as the music turned out to be, but it was fun in its own right. The music legends of Knoxville, past and present, circulated through the crowd, including Opry member Con Hunley, Cruz Contreras fresh off the Black Lillies’ fabulous concert at the Bijou, Hector Quirko and Scott Miller back in town for the event, members of the Lonetones and the bands from each of the nights. A local artist named Gillian (I believe) painted through the show. The painting was ultimately auctioned for the cause and brought $300. Madeline Rogero also hung out in the crowd seeming to really enjoy herself. I was impressed that she stayed until the end. That’s a potential mayor with taste and stamina.

Quartjar, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

But people watching wasn’t what the night was about. Quartjar got everything moving with their hard-driving rock and roll. Built around simple riffs, smashing drums and heavy bass, the trio sounded different to me than their recorded output. I heard a sort of melodic metal, while the music on their site sounds more like late sixties rock ala Deep Purple. I guess there isn’t that much difference between the two, but it seemed like it at the time.

Todd Steed and the Sons of Phere, Waynestock, Knoxville, January 2011

Todd Steed and the Sons of Phere stepped in next and provided their usual quirky brand of eccentric pop and rock. Todd is a talented veteran of the local music scene and a very witty person who does a great service to Knoxville in a number of ways. The music of the band, however, often wears thin for me. Many of the songs are built around a single clever conceit and once exploited, they lose their capacity to surprise. The melodies also seem to fall into a limited, repetitive range, but the fun lies in Todd’s somewhat unpredictable personality. Other musicians seem to really love him, so I’m probably missing something. The inclusion of local favorite Dave Nichols on guitar is always a pleasure.

Kevin Abernathy Band, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

Around 9:00 the Kevin Abernathy Band started their set and the night really began to sparkle. The spectacular guitar work, crisp sound and excellent vocals by Abernathy, put to good use on well-crafted pop/rock songs made this a set to remember. The sound of this trio wasn’t as over-powering as the first of the night, but the result was a much more focused sound that emphasized the songs. The backing vocals from the bass player and drummer were also pitch perfect for the music. Kevin has an excellent grasp of economic guitar playing, providing just enough fireworks in a solo to make the listener wish it could continue just a bit longer. The first complete high light of the evening for me came when Tim Lee joined the group on stage for a power guitar avalanche. His most recent recording is A Beautiful Thing and this is one of the two artists from the night most likely to wind up on my ipod.

Mic Harrison, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

Scott Miller joins Mic Harrison, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

Mic Harrison and the High Score followed Kevin Abernathywith their brand of straight-ahead rock and roll and Americana tinged songs. Wayne had their most recent release, Great Commotion, pegged as number eight of his top ten local releases last year. Mic has been a part of the Knoxville music scene for many years and was a founding member of the storied Viceroys along with Scott Miller. Mic made rock and roll look easy and the band provided a spirited set which culminated in the arrival of Scott Miller on the stage. This provided the second highlight of the evening, as the band and the house went through the roof. Wearing a “Bruce, WTF?” UT shirt, playing harmonica and singing, Scott accompanied the band on the final two songs of their set.

The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

Rus Harper of the Melungeons

Rus Harper, The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville

The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville

Next came the band, the Melungeons. This was the group I was most interested in hearing. Wayne placed their most recent album, Blackwater Swamp, as the third best local album of the past year.His description of their music as “gritty, nasty, and totally arresting,” about sums it up. Lead vocalist Rus Harper struts and stumbles all over the stage, sometimes falling. He growls, howls, screams and occasionally sings between expletives hurled lovingly at the crowd that he deemed, “weirdos.” Profane, sacrilegious on occasion and often monotonous musically, this strange amalgamation of musicians provided easily the most compelling spectacle of the event. The music sometimes elevated itself and often seemed on the verge of falling apart, only to fall together again in the hands of a front man who seems crazy and may be crazy, but despite his missing tooth and pot belly or maybe because of them, his stringy waist-length hair, black trench coat and black-painted nails he was completely captivating. Really, how could you not watch – you would be afraid to turn your back to the man.

The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville

The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville

Rus Harper, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville

Rus Harper: is this the face of a normal person?

The Drunk Uncles ended the show and provided a complete 180 degree shift from the dark nastiness that preceded it. Their country songs and upbeat vibe eased the crowd away from the precipice and out onto the dance floor. With the excellent song-writing of Jeff Barbra, perfect musicianship and excellent vocals – particularly from Mike McGill, who has a great country voice – this batch of fun will remind you of what real country music used to sound. I wondered as I listened if there couldn’t be some small space for them on country music radio, but probably not unless they were overproduced beyond recognition. If you like country music, you can’t go wrong with the Uncles. This is the other act from the evening most likely to wind up on my ipod.

The Drunk Uncles, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

I headed home exhausted from standing, dancing, sitting on church pews and a long week in general. Not that I would consider missing Saturday night’s show for anything. I’ll post on it, next.

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