After a bit of a false start on New Year’s Eve, after numerous construction challenges, after a few battles for the design they wanted, Scott and Bernadette West officially launched Scruffy City Hall at 32 Market Square this past Friday night. Located two doors down from Preservation Pub, it’s a different kind of venue. While Preservation Pub hosts numerous musical artists, Scruffy City Hall is designed specifically for music. It has room for a larger crowd, a great design for seeing the spectacular stage and a state-of-the-art sound system.
It’s a long way from finished, but it’s made an incredible journey from its condition when I first wrote about the space last October. Follow the link and you’ll see what I mean. It’s pretty close to miraculous to consider the place didn’t have a roof and had missing walls just three months ago. Most of what is left to do in the main hall and upstairs has to do with trim. The three large window-shaped spaces behind the stage will be filled with church-like stained glass windows which, and this is only a guess, will likely be re-purposed from a church. The brewery downstairs is a project left for last. It will be some months coming to life, but will be view-able through the glass on front of the stage.
There are church touches throughout the space, which surprised me a bit. I was told to expect a viking theme and that is certainly in place with arched doorways flowing inward from the arched windows outside the balcony. There’s lots of wood and rock and iron. The spindles on the balcony rail are iron spears and that theme is carried behind the stage. Plans include large wooden tables that might be lowered from the walls by chains. The lights are from iron chandeliers resembling something medieval.
But there are also church pews in the balcony complete with the communion cup holders on the back. There’s the afoementioned spaces for church windows behind the stage and, of course, stained glass sort of implies cathedrals or churches to most of us. Along one wall in the balcony are two re-claimed stained glass windows originally commissioned in honor of Annie and John Davison. They might be surprised to find where their windows ultimately landed.
But somehow it works. I told Bernadette Friday afternoon that I could have never imagined it as it was described to me in October. I certainly could not have conceived the idea from scratch, which is what Scott West did. At the show Friday night excellent local photographer Bill Foster told me he was there when Scott drew the plans on a napkin. From napkin to reality.
The floors, bars and decor are beautiful. The seats on the outdoor balcony will be highly prized when the weather turns pretty this spring. The lighting and the stage add attractive touches to the space. Enough can’t be said about the sound. It hit a small glitch toward the end of the evening Friday night, but when it was functioning properly, it was excellent.
Not known for wasting time, the Wests schedule a concert to start within hours of the inspection. Three musical acts took the stage, though the pivotal artist on the stage remained the same through the three bands. Doesn’t make sense? Wil Wright has been the center of a vortex of evolving bands for years in Knoxville. He brought three to the Scruffy City Hall inaugural show: Wil Wright’s Weird Miracle, Senryu and Lil’ Iffy.
I’ve heard Senryu and Lil’ Iffy, but it was my first Weird Miracle show – and according to Wil, only their third with one at the Well and the second as an opener at the Tennessee Theatre. Not a bad start and, for my musical tastes, maybe the best incarnation. The songs echoed a sixties pop sensibility, with a couple of songs seeming like something the Beatles might be comfortable performing, while other songs went more far afield. It was Wil at his most melodic and accessible. I loved the textures provided by the excellent band which included two young women on backing vocals, George Middlebrook on guitar, Bob Deck on Guitar and Preston Davis on upright bass.
Not only is Wil a charismatic frontman for his various bands, he’s also clever and quick-witted. He pointed out that the entire idea of fronting three bands on one night was a pretty vain thing to do and said he wondered how he could take the vanity to another level. He decided he could do so by covering himself. With Weird Miracle on stage he then performed a Senryu song which he said, “is one of my all time favorite songs.”
Senryu, for me, is more of an acquired taste. The songs aren’t as melodic and the lyrics just a little less accessible. Still, the band’s musicianship and Wil’s enigmatic presence on stage make for a rewarding journey. While it would be unfair to call the band “punk,” I think there’s some of that attitude and musical presentation in Senryu’s music. They are certainly worth a listen.
In a demonstration that the cosmos has a sense of humor, Wil’s most successful venture to date was one that started as a sort of goof. Lil’ Iffy is his rap persona offering up hard core rap with a Harry Potter Theme. I’m probably one of a half-dozen people who have never read or pretend to have read Harry Potter. I’m sure that makes it harder for me to get what they are doing. I also have a hard time understanding everything that Wil is saying.
And I love hearing them. Even with those handicaps, they are pure fun. It’s crude, so prepare to get your ears blistered a bit, but it’s hard core delight. Somehow the crowd knows the words and raps or shouts at all the appropriate moments. He’s even garnered national attention for his efforts and he says it feels more personal to him than one might expect. It’s definitely no joke.
The crowd for the night grew from big to huge. Without a cover and with such great music, word spread. Of course the beer flowed as the night moved along. They are awaiting their liquor licence, so it was beer or beer, but a wide range of offerings on that front. I think I counted 28 taps on the downstairs bar. Upstairs is a more scaled-back version.
Look for a chance to stick your head in and look around this very cool new venue. I expect it to really put that Market Square place on the map. I’ll likely spend an evening or two listening to music from those church pews in the balcony, just me, Annie and John Davison, and a few hundred of our closest friends.