I may have mentioned this before, but one of the things that Urban Woman and I marvel at is that many of our favorite places and things to do didn’t exist before we moved. And we moved here thinking it was an amazing place to live. Union Avenue and Jackson Avenue have each come to life during our five years in the city. The 100 block of Gay Street went from a construction site to probably the most beautiful spot in the city. And there are businesses, restaurants and bars that weren’t dreamed of when we made the move.
It’s also no secret that I love listening to good music. I’ve written about shows, artists, festivals, buskers and just about everything music related short of which Pandora stations are played in which downtown businesses. Some of my all-time most read articles have been about music, particularly when I wrote about George Jones’ final concert before he died. Others aren’t so widely read, but hopefully give the excellent Knoxville music scene a little well-deserved attention.
One of those places that didn’t exist before we moved and, actually, before this year, is Scruffy City Hall. It is the latest venture for Scott and Bernadette West and the concept came to Scott in a typical Scott-like burst of inspiration. It’s been called “Appalachian Viking” and other names, but basically, they took a very run-down building at 32 Market Square and turned it into most probably the coolest space in Knoxville.
The exterior design prompted initial controversy because balconies were not common in the era in which the current Market Square buildings were originally built. Ultimately the concept was approved and I daresay that many visitors to the square are more struck with that facade than with any other. With the recent addition of hanging flowers, it virtually pulls a visitor’s eyes in that direction.
The interior is, likewise magnificent, with a large, beautiful wooden stage and a large room sometimes filled with chairs, sometimes tables and sometimes open for dancing, depending on the event. The events include everything from horror films on the massive HD screen and projection system to art exhibitions. A brewery will be installed beneath the stage, visible from the main floor. A balcony with seating in re-claimed church pews offers a great view of the shows and there are more beers on tap than a body could consume in several nights.
And, of course, there is music. The photographs here include a sample of some of the shows I’ve attended. Because of the size of the venue, which can hold over 300, they are able to stage bigger acts than would be the case in Preservation Pub or another smaller venue. Nationally known artists have passed through and when you throw in the bonus of being able to sit for a while and to enjoy the show in a smoke-free environment, it’s easy to see why I love it so much.
The shows you are seeing in the photographs include the official grand opening concert with Knoxville band the Black Cadillacs, most recently seen at Bonnaroo. The Battle of the Bands final included several bands competing for $3000 and an opportunity to record. Pictured here are Far Far Away from that contest and winners and one of the most entertaining bands I’ve seen in a long time, The Marina Orchestra.
Just Say Maybe includes Scott West getting on his inner rock star. Low Cut Connie is a Jerry Lee Lewis infused ball of dynamite. That spectacular show, unfortunately, did not draw the crowd it deserved. It’s an example of how much this place needs to be on everyone’s radar. Take a chance to hear a band you’ve not discovered and you’ll likely be rewarded.
One of the features of various art exhibitions and concerts I’ve attended in recent months which, I think, reflects the future of entertainment, is the blending of art forms. Dave Eggar, a classically trained musician brought his cello-based rock show to the venue and included break dancers. It all worked seamlessly and was one of the best shows I’ve seen.
Local indie band Hudson K pushed the envelope even further with their “Evening of Art Pop” in April. Jacynda Minor painted in one part of the room, Nate Barrett did a motion performance accompanied by a dramatic monologue, Black Atticus and others provided poetry. Several bands performed in a range of musical styles including Hudson K performing with hip hop artist Jarius Bush and rockers Tim and Susan Lee. That’s not to mentioned the belly dancing with Claire Metz and Teejei Brigham and comedy with Zach Fallen. Makes your head spin, doesn’t it?
Prepare for more head spinning. Tonight at Scruffy City Hall, WorldLine will push the envelope in different directions with their multi-sensory show. The Asheville band has a set requiring all-day set up. They’ve arranged to be joined on stage by Knoxville artist Jacynda Minor. Their show incorporates an extensive light show and video production.
Still, for a guy who has said for years that I just want good music when I see a show and all the rest is window dressing, they have the goods to deliver. The music sits at the core of what they do and they will not disappoint. You can hear a good bit of their music here, but I’ve included a fifteen second snippet of a recent performance below to give you an idea of the visual and aural feast you’ll enjoy tonight starting at 10:00 PM.
Finally, if you’d like to see more photographs from the concerts pictured above, there is a treasure trove at the Inside of Knoxville Facebook Page in the Scruffy City Hall 2014 folder. Happy weekend, everybody.