By the time Madeline Rogero, America’s Coolest Mayor, stepped up on the stage with her grandson, Market Square had become an ocean of people. People stood on tops of buildings, looked out from windows and covered the square as far back as I could see. Ten thousand people seems a safe estimate. Madeline recalled the years of music on the square starting with old time fiddlers in the 1800s, tripping through Count Basie, Roy Acuff and into modern times with mentions of Sundown in the City, the Vice Roys and R.B. Morris and then, of course, she introduced the Dirty Guv’nahs. What makes her the Coolest Mayor in America is that there is no doubt she loves all that music and she genuinely loves the Guv’nahs.
The stage set-up had to be the most elaborate I’ve ever seen on the square and I’ve seen many. A stage-on-a-stage elevated the band four feet higher than most acts play, allowing the band to be seen much better. An even higher platform held drummer Aaron Hoskins who, backed by a large American flag looked down on the rest of the band. Lights mounted on every conceivable surface shot into the night in all directions and all colors. A fog machine filled the air as the tension mounted before the band took the stage.
The playing has simply become tighter and more professional with each passing tour. The road-work shows in a very good way. Some of the past exuberance seemed to be missing, particularly early in the show, but in its place was a small army of musicians who know how to pace themselves through an hour and a half set. As the night wore on the workman-like approach gave way to more abandon for all the band members except bassist Justin Hopkins who rarely broke a smile all night.
Less dependent on some of the craziness that used to mark their shows, the body of work the band has accumulated over the last few years speaks for itself. Whether pulling out old favorites such as “Blue Rose Stroll” or introducing new standards such as “Fairlane” or “Temptation,” the music speaks for itself. I think many of us enjoyed the vision before us of the boys all grown up and professional, taking pride in memories of the band at Preservation Pub, or Barley’s, which was where I first saw them. They’ve come a long way.
The crowd screamed along with every song and I say “screamed” because the music was so loud one had to scream to be certain a sound was, in fact, emitted. My ears rang far into Saturday, but it was a happy sound. I stood in front of a large speaker which pounded so hard it propelled an intermittent breeze which felt pretty good. Though loud, a perfect mix and a very expensive sound system allowed the music to remain clear and distinct throughout the night.
I enjoy analyzing band dynamics on stage and speculating about how the band really gets along and I have to say, outside of Justin’s dour expression, everyone else seemed to have more and more fun as the evening moved along which propelled the same vibe through the audience. A million miles on the road doesn’t seem to have diminished the band’s pleasure at playing with and playing off of each other.
The night ended with no surprise appearances which is a departure from past shows and it seems no longer necessary. The encore, which is often fun for a Guv’nahs show featured only two songs: A faithful rendition of “Whipping Post,” which went well, but the spectre of the great performances of that song live overwhelmed their attempt in my mind. The final song was “A Little Help from My Friends” in the style of Joe Cocker. The Black Cadillacs joined the band for the final song it soared, much as it has when I’ve heard them perform it in previous shows.
In the end, it was a great night for the Guv’nahs and a great night for the city. Definitely buy the new album, “Somwhere Beneath These Southern Skies.” We can really be proud of what this group of young Knoxvillians has accomplished. The fact that they are proud to be a part of the city and to claim it for their own only makes it that much better. Hopefully their success will give a better shot at success to some of our other very talented local artists.
A final note on the photographs: I could only use about half what I’ve kept in this post. I’ll post these, along with about this many more on the Stuck Inside of Knoxville Facebook page in coming weeks, so watch for it there. If you “like” the page, you’ll know when I post them. I’m guessing this will be the last time I’m able to photograph the Guv’nahs for a while.
Shaft and I slipped over to the Bistro at the Bijou for a late-night drink and a bit of softer music to sooth our over-loaded ears with the always enchanting Norwegian Wood. As always, a delightful set of Beatles songs, peppered with a small Stones excursion, proved just the right final note for a great evening.