It’s really pretty simple: If you love music and want to support local bands, there really isn’t a choice about where to be for the next three nights. Forget the good reasons I’ll list below to be selfless and support good causes and good people: be selfish. For five dollars you can see the very best local bands play extended sets. You get four to six hours of excellent music for about a dollar an hour. If music isn’t worth that much to you, I’m not sure where your priorities are.
I know. It’s a bit pushy of me. But it’s really an amazing experience – even more so if you do all three nights. If there are local bands you love, chances are you will find them here, whether in the audience, on stage in their normal configuration or joining friends for their sets. If you want to learn more about the local music scene, this is the place. If you didn’t know Knoxville has an excellent local music scene, this is the place for you to start learning what you’ve missed. That’s exactly what I’ve done for the last five years.
There have been many highlights for me. The first year highlights were the collaborations: Tim Lee with Hudson K, Tim Lee with Kevin Abernathy, Scott Miller joining Mic Harrison on stage, RB with Hector Qirko – but also Psychotic Behavior with an empty microphone for Drew Bledsoe. The mind-blowing set for me was the Melungeons. Stunned, I was. Absolutely stunned. The second year I fell in love with the sounds of Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet. The most special moments for me were R.B. Morris singing “City” to newly elected Mayor Rogero and Phil Pollard’s parents speaking from the stage. Year three’s highlight set was Mic Harrison and the High Score backing Con Hunley and the highlight song was a duet with RB Morris and Jodie Manross singing “Angel from Montgomery.” Last year was pretty spectacular with the Barstool Romeos, Teenage Love 13, the John Myers Band, Donald Brown and the transcendent Lou Reed Tribute to close the final night.
The series started in 2011 as a spontaneous tribute to Wayne Bledsoe and as a fundraiser as he paid funeral expenses for his son, local musician Drew Bledsoe. A very emotional beginning, the music community loved the opportunity to work together and conversations began about repeating it. The death of Phil Pollard of the Band of Humans in the subsequent year cemented the urge and the second year was held in his honor and to raise money for his family. The die was cast at that point,both that it would be an annual event and that each year the money would go to good causes. The funds this year go to benefit WUTK, which has been introducing Knoxville to new music for decades. It was there I first discovered both U2 and The Alarm, two of my all-time favorite bands. People may not realize that WUTK gets no financial support from the University of Tennessee, so they need our help.
I met with Wayne Bledsoe to learn more about this year’s show and to talk about the previous four. He said the first year meant so much and while it helped financially, it meant more on an emotional level to see such an outpouring of support from the local music community. What you’ll not hear Wayne say is that he engendered that good will through many years of astute reviews and observations of the local and national music scene as the music critic for the Knoxville News Sentinel, a position he continues to hold.
A number of people are responsible both for the original idea and for the continued success of the festival. Steve Wildsmith, music critic for the Maryville Times and Tim and Susan Lee have been central from the beginning. Wil Wright and Mic Harrison had something to do with the origins. Jay Nations of Raven Records and Benny Smith GM of WUTK have steadily contributed time and ideas. Tim, Susan, Steve and Wayne meet each summer to begin the process of assembling the bands and work through the fall to determine who can be there, establishing a line-up for each night, thinking of musical variety, audience draw, who hasn’t been included and so forth.
Wayne says, “The vibe is still positive. It’s not a cynical event. People are in it for the right reasons.” Evidence abounds in the range of bands and many volunteers who donate their time. Marina Orchestra is driving back from Atlanta mid-tour for their set. Daniel Schuh donates the space. Susan Lee designed the logo and Amanda Starnes manages the flow. The fun and affection between the artists comes through on stage. I’m not sure if other cities are so fortunate as to have such a talented and tight musical community. I’d speculate that Waynestock not only reflects that supportive environment, but also helps foster it. Wayne summed it up, “It celebrates Knoxville and it celebrates goodwill.”
Some highly anticipated performances this year will include Rus Harper fronting a reunited Psychotic Behavior, which was Drew Bledsoe’s band. Run Jump and Throw Like a Girl featuring Knoxville music alums Scott Miller, Todd Steed and Jeff Bills, Marina Orchestra, Bobby Bare, Jr. and the all-star tribute to Neil Young also promise to deliver a great time. I’m looking forward to seeing Subtle Clutch, The Blueprint, Brandon Fulson and Big Bad Oven.
You’ll find more than music if you come out. Sweet P’s will be providing the barbecued nourishment, Relix (out Central in Happy Holler) has a full bar and a guitar signed by all the performers will be raffled. Also up for raffle will be an incredible range of items donated by the community: An original piece of art by Wayne himself, tickets to Big Ears, a Sweet P’s Dinner and two Sarah McLaughlin tickets, dinner at the Bistro at the Bijou paired with tickets to the Clarence Brown Theatre, dinner at Sunspot, Lady Vols tickets and many, many more items.
So come out and learn about music you’ve missed or reacquaint with music you love, enter a raffle, get some barbecue and dance the night away for three nights straight. Come out to support a good cause. Just come out and have fun. I’ll be there every night and I hope many of you will be, as well.