Knoxville in the National Press: Are We “Jaunty?”

Jaunty Knoxville Boys in the Fountain, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2013

I’m not sure “jaunty” is a word the average person walking across Market Square could define. It’s sort of an antiquated term and doesn’t really flow off the lips in casual conversation. defines it as “having . . . a lively, cheerful and self-confident manner.” Is that us? Apparently a New York Post writer thinks so.

Susan Barnes published her article, “Jaunty Knoxville: Looking for a Good Time in Tennessee’s Cheeriest City,” in the New York Post a couple of days ago. Did you know we are the cheeriest city in Tennessee? I certainly think of us as nice, friendly, and maybe even a bit laid back, but I’d never considered that we might be cheerier than average, let alone the most cheery.

Jaunty Knoxvillians play Four Square on Market Square, July 2013
Jaunty Knoxvillians play Four Square on Market Square, July 2013

She states in her first sentence that “everyone” she met told her Knoxville was seeking its identity. That’s pretty amazing that every single person mentioned that. Still, it is a topic of conversation among those of us who ponder the city pretty extensively. Well, fear not, she determined that we do indeed have an identity: We are jaunty!

She says our struggle for identity is understandable since we are in the same state with Memphis (Elvis, Barbecue, Blues) and Nashville (Music City). It’s worth noting that those are not the cities to whom I hear us compared. That would be Chattanooga and Asheville.

Still, she made a weekend visit and came away with the impression that Knoxville is a fun place that is “pulling itself up by its bootstraps.” Cliches aside, she seems to have had a great time. She biked in the Urban Wilderness and related that her guide ran into a friend who invited him to a gathering that night. That does sound like us, though still maybe more friendly than jaunty.

She mentions two restaurants: The Plaid Apron which I’d heard of and Tupelo Honey. Of course the University of Tennessee gets name-checked and she goes on for a bit about the Knoxville Museum of Art and the Richard Jolley installation that will be coming soon. WDVX and the Blue Plate Special as well as the Laurel Theater get shout-outs.

Jaunty Knoxvillian walking across Market Square, Knoxville, July 2013
Jaunty Knoxvillian walking across Market Square, Knoxville, July 2013

It sounds like someone with a good knowledge of the city and a good plan covered a lot of ground in a weekend as they escorted her around the city. It’s a very positive piece of press for our city.  She concludes, “Identity crisis? Hardly. From this visitor’s point of view, I’d say Knoxville has clearly found itself: a vivacious city that shows its residents and guests a good time — true Southern hospitality.”

A list of special events follows. It includes Boomsday, which she says is the biggest fireworks display in the country on Labor Day. She also mentions Shakespeare on the Square, though she gets the dates a bit wrong. She also mentions the International Biscuit Festival and oddly, mentions the Tennessee Valley Fair while not mentioning the Dogwood Arts Festival, Rossini or Hola.

One other note: Southern Living has a single page on Knoxville in their current edition. It’s odd in some respects. It focuses only on Union Avenue, singling it out as a “neighborhood.” I sort of consider all of downtown to be my neighborhood. I spoke with the photographer when he was in town and he told me he would likely take 5,000 pictures. Two wound up in the magazine: Tupelo Honey and a dish from Tupelo Honey. Tupelo Honey isn’t technically even on Union Avenue; its address is 1 Market Square.

Other stores got a mention. Rala and Reruns, Coffee and Chocolate were complimented, but no mention of the Happy Envelope, Union Avenue Books, Just Ripe, John Black Photography, The Tree and Vine, Casual Pint or Nothing Too Fancy. No mention of the Market Square Farmer’s Market that lines the street every Saturday or of the residents who live in the Residences at Market Square, the Daylight Building, the Pembroke or Kendrick Place, all on Union Avenue. It seems the residences would be an important part of any neighborhood.

Still, it is good press from both ends and I’m grateful to see that people from elsewhere are coming into the city and finding something of value. It’s been a long time coming and I’m glad its happening. Now, who’s buying if I start selling “Keep Knoxville Jaunty” tshirts?