Was it strange not to have your morning dose of Inside of Knoxville? I realized the normal schedule would have to be altered when I woke up at 12:30 AM this morning with my head on my keyboard – for the second time. I was no where near finished editing photographs, let alone writing the article, so I conceded that round to my human frailty and went to bed.
So, why was I so tired? I’ll blame it on that evil Rock and Roll, or maybe more accurately, that delicious Americana. The Rhythm and Blooms Festival kicked off Friday night and I rushed to the Old City to take in as much music as possible. And that meant only a fraction of what was available. The sheer number of artists, venues and overlapping show times meant hard choices had to be made. I saw none of the local artists I love and I even skipped Scott Miller, which I never thought I’d do. Still, with all I missed, each of the artists I saw were superb.
I started with the David Mayfield Parade under the James White Parkway overpass just east of Barley’s. I was a bit late because I looked for the stage all around the Jackson Avenue Viaduct, but found it thanks to the helpful volunteers who made the event run so smoothly. The pre-festival buzz was enough that I wanted to check them out and I’d seen a video that I liked (included below).
They are an Americana party on stage. Heralding from North Carolina, the party was on full display under the overpass. Mr. Mayfield was the first artist to make a joke about hanging out under and overpass, but I have to say it’s the best return on investment Knoxville may have ever seen from that parkway to nowhere. It rained during a later artist’s show, but we never knew it in front of the stage. The sound was also superb, maybe enhanced by the high concrete covering. I never heard traffic, though one train did come through, mercifully, in between acts.
Their music is a happy country/folk blend emphasizing irony and humor, with an occasional creepiness that fells like the perfect counterpoint. The facial expressions of lead singer David Mayfield are enough to entertainment for the average night, reminding me of Henry Wagons. The theatrics of the band included drummer, Jason Edwards, playing a drum solo that stretched out into the audience as he drummed along every surface available.
My discovery of the festival came in the Pilot Light at the John and Jacob show. Thank goodness for Youtube. I doubt I would have picked them off a list, and I heard others say they missed them for this reason, because the name doesn’t really say much. If anything, I might picture a folk duo like Jim and Jean ($10 for anyone who knows who they are), but that could not be further from the truth. If the videos I watched pulled me in, the performance sealed the deal and put me over the top.
Someone near me mentioned the Beatles when hearing their soaring harmonies. The comparison even works when considering their melodies which are the among the best I’ve heard. Each song featured everything a good pop song should feature: excellent harmonies and melody and a hook you just can’t shake. That’s right, I said “each song.” It just would not stop.
I determined I had to see their second show at the end of the night at Remedy Coffee. Parenthetically, I’ll say that a coffee shop should always have fresh coffee brewed, right? I mean, yes, it was midnight, but I’d been looking forward to that cup! The second show confirmed what I’d heard the first time around and I bought the CD.
This was the first show at which they sold it and it is not yet available on itunes. Their previous EP is there and it includes some of the songs from the album, though I don’t know if they are in the same form. Email and message them and demand better distribution for that new CD. You’ll thank me later. In the meantime, we’ll have to burn copies of mine all around the city. (Sorry guys.) I’ve bought CDs at shows before only to get home and realize the live show was much better. Not this time. It is amazing.
Finally, I told the band I write a local blog and that I loved their work and would write about it. They seemed genuinely appreciate, as are many artists struggling to make it. When I got home I realized how stupid I’d been. They aren’t struggling as much as they are doing very fine. The opened for the Band Perry in England and, subsequently, co-wrote “Done” with the band which became a number one hit on the country charts. At least it confirmed what I realized live: this is an amazing band.
The Felice Brothers played the big stage under the viaduct and, even though I’ve seen them many times, I could not resist another chance. They gave a shout out to Barley’s as one of the first venues they played. I was lucky enough to be there and to see them later on the World’s Fair Park. They’ve come a long way, but they’ve maintained their cheerful creepiness.
The two remaining brothers, Ian on guitar and vocals and James on organ, accordion and vocals, and band continue to serve up intelligent lyrics and rock and roll with a folk twist thanks to the accordion and to Greg Farley’s fiddle work. The closest comparison, in my mind, would be The Band who, coincidentally or not, also hailed from the same upstate New York region.
Often taking lyrical avenues others would fear to tread, the music is fluidly conversant with cocaine, murder and life of a darker sort. You may sometimes feel you need to take a shower after a few listens, but it’s worth getting dirty with the boys. Other songs like, “Take This Bread,” taut a more uplifting view of humanity. In ether mode, the band is worth exploring. I have an ipod full of them and I look forward to their June release, “Favorite Waitress.”
Finally, I heard American Aquarium at the Standard. What an amazing spot for a show! It’s as if the room was made for concerts. The set was designed and executed by Claude Hardy, the technical director at Pellissippi State. He also designed the memorable set behind the Black Lillies at their last Tennessee Theater Show. Using materials provided by Dewhirst Properties, including harvested metal ceiling tiles, windows and doors, the set made the room feel like the set for Austin City Limits. It was a big topic of conversation in the audience and by the bands. The room was also had excellent acoustics and was packed for every show I saw there.
American Aquarium plays country music the way it was meant to be played. It’s a very traditional musical approach with a modern lyrical approach that makes it seem fresh. B.J. Barham, lead singer for the band, bears an uncanny vocal resemblance to Bruce Springsteen at times. With lyrics like, “I wish my addictions didn’t mean so much/but we all can’t be born with that kind of luck,” the band cuts to the core of the human experience.
Unfortunately, a significant number of people chose to talk loudly in the back of the room to the point that B.J. confronted them twice from stage in extremely direct language. Amazingly, as uncomfortable as it was for some in the audience, those talking didn’t seem to hear him. The band also abbreviated their set, but only because of a mis-communication about their share of time.
I got home around 1:15 AM and fell into bed after a great night of music. You know there’s more coming. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if you want to see more photographs of these artists, go to Inside of Knoxville’s Facebook Page and find Rhythm and Blooms 2014 under “photos.” I’ve also attached videos of the performers mentioned above so you can get a sample of their work.