Residents of downtown Knoxville might be forgiven if they suffer from a little festival fatigue this time of year. We’ve had Earthfest, Outdoorfest, the Dogwood Arts Festival, the Rhythm and Blooms Festival and the Rossini Festival. That’s a festival each for environmentalism, outdoor recreation, the arts, the specific art of music and the specific music of Gioachino Rossini. Vestival, celebrating south Knoxville happened this past weekend just over the river. It’s enough to make the head spin – and surely that’s all, right? I mean, what else could we celebrate enough to generate another whole festival about?
Well, for starters, there could be a celebration of the local music scene and the anniversary of the beginning of Blank Newspaper. Hence, this past weekend we had Blankfest on Market Square on Saturday. The brainchild of Rusty Odom, who I profiled last week, Blankfest proved to be more amazing than anyone could have imagined. The photographs you are seeing with this post were taken at the sprawling event centered on Market Square.
The Market Square Stage featured regional acts including This Mountain, Sol Cat and the featured act, Moon Taxi from Nashville. Each of the three feature photogenic and charismatic front-men, excellent musicianship and styles unique unto themselves. Each seemed to have their own following which grew as the night progressed. By the time Moon Taxi took the stage, several thousand people occupied Market Square and many of them sang along to songs off each of the last two discs. I know I’ve played their Cabaret disc to death and I still enjoy it. Of course, when they sang their line about Market Square, the audience went nuts. They actually didn’t sing it at all, but rather let the audience take that line.
With the scene on the square resembling Sundown in the City more than any other event since that series ended, plenty of action happened indoors. There was no way to catch all of it, but I heard bits of a number of bands. In Scruffy City Hall I heard 11 W, who rocked the house really hard. I also heard Feed the Birds, a relatively new band featuring long-time Knoxville music veteran Johnathan Sexton and recent Black Lillies drummer Jamie Cook. I really loved their sound and think we’ll be hearing a lot more from them. I know I’ll look forward to my next chance to see them.
Preservation Pub hosted Knoxville stalwarts Dixieghost, Kevin Abernathy and Cutthroat Shamrock, all of whom I caught and others that I wasn’t able to see. I enjoyed them all, of course. Dixieghost is really good, Kevin Abernathy really rocked about as hard as I’ve ever seen him and I connected more to Cutthroat Shamrock’s music than I ever have before. I’m not sure if they’ve changed or if I’ve changed, but I was way more into what they are doing.
I also walked up to the Moonshine Rooftop to see what the Market Square Stage and the crowd looked like from there. I fell into what is probably the most life-changing story of the night. I don’t think Blankfest quite matched Woodstock’s death and birth statistics – two or three died (depending on your source) and two were born at that event. Still, Blankfest did record an engagement. Around 7:30 on the Moonshine Rooftop, Audrey Dunham said, “yes” to Kienan Gold at their specially reserved table overlooking the square. I found them amidst their happiness and snapped a couple of photographs. Congratulations, guys. The music concentrated on that end of Market Square, but one of the most entertaining stages was called the “Filling Station,” and was located downstairs in Latitude 35. It’s a very cool space which hasn’t seemed to find its groove since its days as the World Grotto, which I really enjoyed. Maybe a variety show could work there, because it certainly did on Saturday night.
Zach Fallon (AKA Playboy Manbaby) hosted the stage and started the night off when some of his own comedy. He did a great job all night long keeping the acts flowing and the audience comfortable. A comedian and musician (with Lil’ Iffy), he may have discovered a new talent. In addition to Zach, I heard two comics: Tyler Sonichsen and Matt Chadourne and they were both excellent. The audience for the stage ran 50 – 75 pretty consistently for the night and they really responded to the comedy, which makes the comedians respond to the crowd and everything gets better. In addition to comedy, the stage also hosted burlesque, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen and improv. Einstein Simplified and Salome Burlesque supplied each and the crowd laughed and roared through all the performances. I’ll admit some of it evaded me, but I was, obviously in a minority. It was all fun.
It was another great night on Market Square celebrating all the creativity and talent in our little city. I hope each of you recognize what a fertile era in Knoxville’s music history in which we find ourselves or at least that the great tradition of Knoxville music continues. And that’s just the music. We have creative artists of many genres and forms all around us. Seek them out and support them.
So what about those other “B” festivals mentioned above? Well, festival season is only about half way through its spring run. One of the biggest festivals of the year will happen this week and weekend. The International Biscuit Festival seemed almost like a lark when it was first proposed in 2009: A whole festival for Biscuits? Is the “International” part a joke? Well, its evolved into a major festival that brings around 25,000 people into the city for events which now span four days. It starts on Thursday with the Southern Food Writing Conference ($425) which attracts top food writers from across the country for the two day event. Friday night features the Biscuit Bash with authors and their cookbooks on hand to talk biscuits and food in general. Food and drink recipes from each of the books prepared by Knox Mason chef Matt Gallaher is certain to tickle your palate. Pretty good event, right? Well, how about a little music to go along with the event? Emi Sunshine will play a short set followed by Holly Williams (Hank’s granddaughter who I wrote about here – she’s great and I’m loving her latest CD). You can get the whole Biscuit Bash experience for a $75 ticket or just the music for an incredible $10.
Saturday remains the centerpiece of the festival, with Biscuit Boulevard anchoring the center of the city. Vendors, music, contests – all biscuit or food related – spread around the site from Market Square for blocks down Market Street and into side streets and Krutch Park. The Blackberry Farms Biscuit Brunch offers high-calibur fare for $85 a ticket. Less pricey options about including a pass to sample various vendor’s biscuits are available on site. And there is far, far more. This year the festival continues into Sunday with two concluding events. Food trucks will line Gay Street in the vicinity of the Tennessee Theatre at 6:00 PM Sunday night – which sounds like a great Sunday or Monday evening event to repeat weekly, to me – for the Food Truck Extravaganza. It’s open to anyone who wants to stop by. Inside the Tennessee Theatre at 8:00 PM, the food network presents An Evening with Tyler Florence. Some of you may know (I didn’t) that Tyler hosts, “Food Truck Wars,” the Food Network’s most popular program. Tickets for this event range from $32 – $122. The “Book Fest” referenced in the headline is actually the Tenth Annual Children’s Festival of Reading. It is a free event held in World’s Fair Park from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM and the focus is on children’s and young adult literature. Past festivals have included world renown, award winning authors and illustrators and this year is no exception. This year’s festival features authors like “Michael Buckley, author of the very popular Sisters Grimm series” and Chris Grabenstein,” award winning illustrators Andrea and Brian Pinkney and many more. Storytelling, drama and book reading highlight this great day. If you want your children to be excited about reading, this is the type of event they need to attend. The Bob Bash mentioned above is actually the “Bob Dylan Birthday Bash,” the annual celebration of the music of the bard and it, thankfully, is not this weekend. Local bands and musicians perform selections from his oeuvre. Formerly held precisely on his birthday and on the World’s Fair Site, it seems to have found it’s groove the first Friday night of June (May 24th is the actual birthday date when Bob will be 73 years old). Held in conjunction with First Friday, the crowds the last couple of years have been huge and the music is great. Plan now. So, I hope to see you this weekend. Plan ahead, parking should be fun. Come get some biscuits, read some books and hear some great music. It’s all good for the soul.