While chalk artists were assembling downtown and preparing and then plying their trade, there was art of a more aural sort happening, as well. Rhythm and Blooms is a sprawling, three-day affair that happens in businesses and more traditional downtown concert venues all around the Uptown area. After two days in the city, it concludes in the Knoxville Botanical Gardens just to the east of the center city.
The last day is always hard for me to make due to family responsibilities and the fact that I’m generally exhausted by that time. While it
does feature the most prominent artists (Felice Brothers last year, Amos Lee this year), I also have a car phobia on the weekends. Once I park it on Friday I’d just as soon forget it until Monday. It’s one of the reasons I moved to the city. So, I generally do the first two days.
This year’s festival featured a twist with the pricing: The great show at the Tennessee Theater required a weekend pass. That meant I
had to pay $55 which was not a bad value by any means, but it was still $55 and that’s a good chunk of change. Surely Knoxville Urban Guy should start seeing some press passes come his way (hello Chyna :-)) with all the great coverage he provides. Did I just talk about myself in third person? Sorry.
After scanning the schedule and listening to the artists online, I decided I would park at John Black Studio and let the music come tome. That was a great move. My new friend Chris worked the sound to perfection and the spacious room kept the crowd from getting too uncomfortable. There were also plenty of chairs (at least until the final act) but I sat on the spacious window ledge near the front and had a great view. The only complaint I heard was that there were no beer/wine sales. That probably helped make Just Ripe’s night as cold six-packs of PBRs keep coming in the front door.
The first artist was Tony Furtado with Danny Barnes. They traded songs and licks on their banjos and Tony’s amazing slide work (which he displayed again the next night with the Black Lillies). The set sounded like pretty traditional music, but I wasn’t sure if it was original in that style or actually older songs.
Next up was Jamie Cook as a solo artist, though backed by some pretty impressive friends. Jamie normally plays drums with the Black Lillies but has recently written songs and is preparing to record a CD of his own compositions. Tom Pryor joined him throughout the set on guitar, while Robert Richards, the Black Lillies’ bassist moved to drums making way for Sam Quinn (Everybodyfields) to take the bass. Cruz sat in on the piano for several songs.
The music reminded me of some of the Jorma Kaukonen-influenced Jefferson Airplane – which in my mind is the best of the Airplane. Some of the folk sound was shaped by the fact that Jamie plays a right-handed guitar left-handed and doesn’t reverse the strings. I can’t imagine, though Jimi Hendrix did the same thing. Jamie’s father sat near me and explained that they fell it gives the guitar a different sound. I think that’s probably true, though upside-down and backwards guitar playing just seems impossible to my brain.
Next up was Cheyene Marie Mize who I also enjoyed. Most of her music early in the set involved simple, repetitive strumming or almost percussing on a very nice Les Paul guitar. Alternately, she played another guitar and then violin. Joined on stage by her band for several songs, the music acquired more of an edge and I must say I enjoyed the last several songs better than the first. I’m not sure if it was stronger material or if it was just the addition of the band.
Hoots and Hellmouth followed Ms. Mize and they gave a very high-energy folk-n-roll show. The best comparison I could must was Mumford and Sons. It was a bit hard for me to focus on the music with so much activity – especially from the vocalist, but I liked what I heard. I’d certainly consider getting some of their songs.
Finally, Darrell Scott finished the night in the venue with his great songs and rock-solid vocals. He was accompanied this time around by a very talented conga player who drew subtleties from the instrument that made it sound as if it were several instruments. Interestingly, for a songwriter of such stature, it was the cover songs that seemed to shine. His version of the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Running” got the greatest crowd response of the night while his tender version of Johnny Cash’s, “I Still Miss Someone” was delicately beautiful.
After Darrell finished his set I walked to the Square Room just about midnight to hear “Boxer Rebellion.” I’d heard some of their songs on the radio and I have “Flashing Red Light Means Go” on my Ipod, but I wouldn’t say I know very much about them. It turns out the lead vocalist is from Maryville while the rest of the band is from England. There seemed to be a large contingent of Maryville support and the band was introduced by Steve Wildsmith, music critic for the Maryville newspaper.
The crowd had a great time dancing and singing until nearly 1:00 AM. Many of them seemed to know the lyrics to the songs. I was very tired after a week at work and being out so late, so I probably didn’t give them my best shot. I’ll admit that after a while the songs started sounding pretty similar to each other as far as I could tell. One reason for this was that the vocals were not very clear – an unusual observation to make at the Square Room. I realized how muffled they were when I left during the encore and could understand the lyrics better outside. Still, it was a fun way to end the night.
Tomorrow I’ll post pictures and thoughts about Saturday’s music including Citizen Cope and the Black Lillies. I’ll leave you with a video of Boxer Rebellion.