As anyone who read last Friday’s blog post can attest, there was simply too much to do downtown last weekend. Friday night I made the decision to only go two places: Alive After Five at the KMA, followed by the Bistro at the Bijou. The first featured a blues birthday party of sorts for Brownie McGhee (Knoxville’s most famous blues man would have been 97 years old) and the later featured jazz with Vance Thompson. The schedule for each fit together perfectly, but the moon had an eerie feel about it and I should have known from that alone that this night wouldn’t necessarily flow as I expected.
I arrived at KMA around 6:15 and listened to Big Jon and the Nationals, a new blues band in the city. Big Jon, who hails from the gulf coast, does the vocals and plays harmonica and the band had a solid blues sound. Intermission loomed significantly in my mind because the word was that two Delbert McClinton tickets would be given away for his show later that night in the Bijou. I didn’t win, of course.
Following intermission, Slow Blind Hill played a great set. I’ve enjoyed them for probably fifteen or more years around town and they certainly remain at the top of their game. The sound changed a bit with the loss of Charlie Box an excellent trumpet player who was replaced by Henry Perry, the band’s current harmonica player. They remain a flexible unit, due mostly to the dexterous guitar magic of Jaimie Cameron and the jazzy organ work of Eddy Roberts.
I got a text from Shaft that he’d meet me at the Bistro at the Bijou for the jazz show, so I wandered in that direction. The unseasonably warm weather made it a pleasure to stroll through the city and many people took advantage. As I approached the Bijou, the marquis displayed “Delbert McClinton” in big letters and I felt a twinge of regret I hadn’t taken the initiative to get a ticket even though with add-on fees they ran around $40.00. Never having seen him perform live and knowing that he’s seventy-two years old, I really should have taken the plunge.
I’d hardly gotten the thought through my brain as I crossed Cumberland onto the sidewalk in front of the theater when a woman asked if I’d like four free tickets. It simply was intended to happen. I helped myself to two of the four and stepped into the Bistro to find Shaft. He said he’d just been feeling that same twinge of regret, though he’d seen Delbert years ago.
We found our seats at the back of the floor, right beside the mixing board which is the best spot in the house for the sound. We had comfortable chairs we could move about to give ourselves more leg room and we settled in for a great show. Unfortunately, I was forced to leave my camera in the box office or I would have been able to provide pictures.
Delbert sounds just like he always has and his band was very, very good. The saxophone player should be worth the price of admission. Warm and personable throughout the show, Delbert seemed to still enjoy what he does and what a great career he’s had from trading legendary harmonica licks with John Lennon to “Giving It Up for Your Love,” it’s been a good ride.
The near-death experience came after the show. As we crossed the street at the crosswalk over Walnut beside John Black Studio, a car approached much too quickly, apparently only bothering with the stop sign because we happened to be in the way. After making a fast stop, the guy turned to the person beside him and seemed to vent his frustration that mere pedestrians would delay him. The gentleman driving the light-colored BMW appeared to be a well-known actor from Knoxville. As there was no officer nearby, we simply shuffled on through the dark, happy to have enjoyed a great night in the city and lived to tell about it.