I know there are other stories which have already broken around downtown for the new year – and I’ll get to those, but this being a marathon of stories and not always a sprint, I’m going to linger one more day over the holidays. I had a great time bringing in the New Year and I hope you did, as well. Here’s to a good one.
Over the last several years our New Year’s Eve has evolved a bit downtown. Previous years saw organized city-wide musical events to bring in the new year. In January 2012 it was so much fun and so extensive that I broke it up into five articles, which must have absolutely driven my readers to want to rip their hair out. Here’s the final installment from that run, which included Matt Woods, Hudson K and Angela Howard (with a flying circus). I promise this won’t be a five-part post as we have other topics to pursue.
After the demise of First Night Knoxville, each New Year’s Eve downtown seemed to focus on a large concert at the Bijou or Tennessee – Scott Miller or the Dirty Guv’nahs, for example. This year there was none of that and I heard at least one person say there was no reason to go out.
For my money, there were too many reasons to go out – as in I couldn’t get to them all, which was frustrating. I also had Urban Brother along for the trip, so I needed to consider what he might like and who (in my opinion) he needed to see. In the end I decided not to see Royal Bangs and Guy Marshall, though that had to be a great show. It also meant deciding not to see Lil’ Iffy’s final show ever, which happened at Scruffy City Hall. Both were painful.
What we did, however, was excellent, so I can’t complain. We caught Count This Penny at Crafty Bastard where, by all accounts, I drank a beer. A fruity beer with a French name, but nonetheless, an actual beer. In full disclosure, it was half a beer. Still. I’ve talked about Count This Penny before and I’ll say again that they are a fine vocal duo and songwriting team. Yes, their music is often sad, but that has served many of our finest writers from Hank Williams to Lucinda Williams just fine and it serves them well. Hopefully, we’ll get some new material from them soon. If you don’t own “Pitchman,” their latest effort, you really should.
Crafty Bastard, by the way, was hopping with a crowd of mostly late-twenty-somethings and somewhere-in-my-thirties something. The crowd listened to the music – which Amanda of Count This Penny assured them wasn’t required all the while drinking and having a large time. The business is one of the best success stories of 2015. 2016 should bring more breweries which hopefully have their own audiences awaiting. Oh, and the acoustics were amazingly good for a large industrial space.
Jenna and Her Cool Friends also staged their last show ever the same night. We took a car to Crafty Bastard so we could make a quick return to the heart of downtown to walk over to the Knoxville Museum of Art for the show. The show, produced by Michael Gill – who produces the fine Alive After Five series – was antithetical musically to the previous set we’d seen, but it was also superb.
Jenna’s “friends” include, among others, Michael “Crawdaddy” Crawley on harmonica, Michael Jordan on lead guitar (who is excellent, though I can’t help miss “Detroit” Dave Meers) and the phenomenal Ben Maney on piano. The band rocked the enormous crowd that filled not only the main hall, but tables in the lobby and on the second floor of the museum. The show was an excellent send-off for a band I’ve really enjoyed for the last several years and about which many people feel very strongly.
We left the KMA in time to make it to Market Square and check out the action for the ball drop. No doubt the spot was hopping. As midnight approached the crowd became so thick there was no walking through, with everyone attempting to gain the best view of the ball possible. It’s hard to judge the size of the crowd since the skating rink takes a big bite out of the square, but it became gridlocked where we were for probably ten minutes or more after midnight.
It’s a fun place to be as the year turns, but it’s probably not for the faint of heart. I’d love to see the city make it even more spectacular. Like I’ve said before, a wire strung between the TVA towers, with the ball lowering between them would be much more attractive. What if at the zero second it arrived onto a base and mimicked the Sunsphere? That would make it feel more like ours and would certainly beat a crane dropping the ball. I’d also love to see if a laser show shooting out from the TVA plaza might not offer a little more cool factor.
Afterward, we hung out in the new Market House Cafe, which displayed a flexibility I’d love to see in more downtown businesses: It stayed open past its 11:00 PM regular close time to serve the crowds gathered and it immediately started serving traditional foods, such as black-eyed-peas and greens at midnight. Both very smart moves which resulted in a significant number of sales and great exposure for the new business.
So, it was a good evening. I hope yours was, as well. I wish I could have been in more places at once, but I like my choices and I hope you liked yours. This is going to be a great year in the city – not perfect, we are already seeing some bumps, but really good overall. I’m looking forward to the ride and I hope you’ll tag along.