It’s a pity that more people don’t utilize our river. Don’t get me wrong – it is utilized and maybe more so now than ever. People are boating, paddleboarding and, yes, even fishing. By all accounts the river is healthier than it has been in a generation. Still, it seems sort of distant from downtown.
We have a highway that skirts most of it. I remember reading an online comment in which the traveler opined that Chattanooga was much better to visit than Knoxville because Chattanooga has a river. I realized then that a visitor to downtown Knoxville might never become aware that we had that river first. Of course, Chattanooga once had a four lane highway skirting their and chose to remove it.
River cruises are one of the fun options we do have downtown, offered by the Tennessee Riverboat Company and the Star of Knoxville. I’ll confess, I’d never been on one until just a week ago. And it’s strange, but I think there are many downtown residents who simply don’t consider it when thinking of entertainment possibilities. I’d suggest we all need to have it on our radar.
There are as many kinds of cruises as there are people. Many cruises feature music of different kinds, from country to rock and everything in between. Dramatic productions and comedy shows are sometimes featured as well as civil-war themes and more. Some cruises center around dinner, while others are free of themes, and simply offer a pleasant three hour ride along the riverfront. There are cruises mid-day, evening and in some cases, cruises that go far into the night.
Urban Woman and I took one of the cruises sponsored by the Smoky Mountain Blues Society. Each year they offer a series of monthly cruises running from May through October. Prices are a modest $16 in advance and the cruises leave at 3:00 PM or 5:00 PM. Ours was the first in this year’s series and left the dock at Volunteer Landing at 3:00 PM. The weather seemed threatening, so we drove the car down even though we would normally have walked the 3/4 mile. There is plenty of parking in the same lot that Calhoun’s customers use.
There’s a formality to the whole business, with a captain in uniform, as well as a first mate. Inside the boat simple tables are covered with table cloths, comfortable chairs line the tables and a stage sits at one end while food is sold from a booth in the back. It’s a completely enclosed room.
Above that room is another covered, but open-air deck where beer, wine and simple mixed drinks are sold. More seating is scattered about on this level, but the people on that level seemed to generally want to wander about looking at the views of Knoxville and the surrounding area from the river – a perspective most of us don’t often realize.
The Stella Vees played two very good sets and had the crowd dancing by the end. Urban Woman and I enjoyed both the band and the dancers, one of whom had to be ninety-years-old if she was a day. Several members of the cruise could really dance well and that’s always fun. Mostly, it was a relaxing mini-vacation away from our day-to-day rut. It’s a really good change-up.
I was a bit torn between staying up top and watching the river/riverside and listening to the music below deck. It is sometimes revelatory to see the city from different angles. It can change your understanding of how the pieces fit together. Unfortunately, weather cut our cruise down the river short. It means I’ll need to go back for another round to see what I missed.
If you like the blues, I’d certainly recommend a blues cruise. The remaining shows are as follows:
6/28 Uptown Stomp with Devan Jones 5-8
7/19 Slow Blind Hill 5-8
8/16 Al Coffee and Da Grind 5-8
9/20 Jenna and Her Cool Friends 3-6
10/18 Romeo Kings 3-6
But, as I said, there is a cruise for everyone, so find the one that floats your boat (I know). You can purchase tickets here. Find out more about the Smoky Mountain Blues Society if you love the blues. Tell your friends about it. Take a group on a cruise. Take your out-of-town guests on a cruise. Remind everyone you know that we have a river in Knoxville and without us, Chattanooga would hardly get a trickle.