This past Saturday night offered more musical opportunities downtown than a body could handle. Over at the Civic Auditorium, the funky foot stomping rhythms of the Southeastern Stomp Fest ran amok. If you wanted to go all high-brow, the Knoxville Choral Society performed at the Bijou. On the far end of the downtown area I generally write about, one of my favorite bands, Jenna and Her Cool Friends, performed at Relix. And those are the shows I didn’t get to see.
I started my night just after 8:00 at Preservation Pub with the Walker Howard Band. I’d shown Beth and Todd, two of my Auburn friends, the Moonshine Roof Garden and Magic Beer Tree earlier in the evening and we all wound up in the Smoke-free Speakeasy for a little blue-grass based Americana. It was nice to run into a group of young folks playing semi-traditional music without going all Mumford and Sons. They were quite talented and the fiddle player was just a little bit cute. The only negative was that they ended the set with “Rocky Top.” Please tell me that even some UT fans get tired of hearing that song.
Around 9:00 I slipped down to the Square Room to check out Gungor. I’d not heard them before, but judging from the ticket prices that ran up to $35, a lot of people had. The place was packed for a standing-only show. I had a hard time getting anywhere near the point of doing any good with my camera. To make matters more difficult, the band was back-lit almost the entire show, meaning that without flash, which I never use these days, all you see is a silhouette of the band members.
The music really ran a gamut, though I suppose they would be called prog rock. I’ve never been big on synthesizers (though “From the Beginning” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer is a hug exception) and they wailed away on them. That said, the drummer pounded a great beat and the guitar player played phenomenally. Throw in some very catchy pop melodies and harmonies over the top and I quite enjoyed it. They even broke down to play a little nylon-stringed classical guitar piece.
I left the Square Room for the Old City. The Lonetones, one of my very favorite local bands, and they were set to go on at 10:00. About the time their set started, a large group vacated a couple of tables and I settled in with a very nice couple. It turns out he is a teacher at Mt. Olive Elementary and has had Sean (McCollough, the male vocalist of the group) visit his school to teach the children about music. The room was also teeming with musicians who’d come out to support their friends, which is always good to see. The Knoxville family of musicians are good like that.
The Lonetone line-up on this night was Cecilia Miller on cello, Steph Gunnoe on guitar and vocals and Sean on vocals and all the rest of the instruments. If you haven’t enjoyed their harmonies, superb songwriting and multi-layered music, you really owe it to yourself to do so. If you haven’t heard their album “Modern Victims,” you are missing a real treat. After their first set I started in on a late-night snack of Boyd’s great smoked-salmon and listened to the Drop Dead Darlings, a new band featuring Cecilia doing double duty for the night and two passably cute band-mates. (In case you can’t tell from the photographs, I’m being very sarcastic, here.)
As their set ended, midnight approached, which could only mean one thing: time to head to Pilot Light where they assured me the headlining Katy Free and the Marble City Three would start their set right about that time. Of course, they didn’t. By the time they started playing, right around 12:30, I decided I would listen to a song or two and head home. I couldn’t leave. Katy is one of my favorite singers and I love hearing her do her jazz thing. On this night it was full-tilt boogie to a rockabilly beat. Drew Fulton is a beast on guitar and the Brandon on bass and CC on drums are like a crazy machine. And Katy can rock out! Who knew?
For a tired old guy, their set was mercifully short, though at an earlier hour I would have wanted them to go on. I left Pilot Light about 1:00 AM and, as always, I marveled at all the people who are still upright at that time of night. The Old City is pretty packed and raucous at that hour with people still on their feet despite the fatigue and the amount of adult beverages they’ve consumed by that hour. The rest of the walk home was more quiet, though there were scattered people about on the 100 block, in Market Square (of course Preservation Pub was still rocking) and up and down Gay Street. I was happy when I closed my door and left them to finish the night on their own.