It’s hard to comprehend the many exceptional live musical series we get to enjoy in downtown Knoxville. From the seasons presented each year by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and Knoxville Opera, to Jazz on the Square and Variety Thursdays. Alive After Five has yielded great music for many years at the Knoxville Museum of Art. Of course, WDVX has spun several great series with the Blue Plate Special being the anchor, but their First Friday Live and Six O’Clock Swerve also deliver the goods.
Tennessee Shines is one of the finest of our series. Developed by WDVX, the series has a long history. I’m not sure when the first show hit (eight years ago or so?), but originally the show was more of a moving variety show of musical artists hosted by Jim Lauderdale in the Bijou. I loved those shows and hated to see the series end – but it re-emerged with host Paige Travis.
The comeback first originated from the Visitor Center stage, but eventually shifted to Boyd’s Jig and Reel where it makes its home now with a new artist and often an author each Wednesday night at 7:00 PM. The radio audience gets an hour and the in-house audience gets an hour-and-a-half, which is a great value for $10.
This past Wednesday featured Andrew Leahey and the Homestead with local author Jack Rentfro. Paige was her usual charming self and Jack shared a creepy story about his Aunt Nin which is part of a collection of stories he’s putting together for a book project. Is Jack Rentfro the Tom Waits of Knoxville?
The Homestead is a revolving circle of musicians (the bass player had not played with the band prior to the week of the performance) around singer/songwriter/guitarist Andrew Leahey. The Nashville-based band delivers a rock and roll beat to a sweet blend of folk-inspired harmonies, perfect hooks and a country-infused sensibility.
Andrew’s recent back-story has garnered significant attention. In 2013, with successful tours under their belts and good forward momentum, Andrew was diagnosed with a brain tumor which would have certainly destroyed his hearing in one ear. With surgery he was given a 50% chance of losing hearing in one ear. Fortunately, his hearing was preserved and he was given what he terms a “second chance.”
He and the current incarnation of the band have jumped on that chance. They’ve since returned to touring – opening for Emmylou Harris among others – and they have a new album set to come out in May. While the music doesn’t “sound like” anyone else and blazes its own unique path, there are echoes, certainly, of Tom Petty – think Tom Petty at his most country – of Wilco, perhaps and even further back, the Byrds at their more country turns. The Byrds, of course, were a big influence on Tom Petty and so it goes.
The set at Boyd’s was excellent. I’m always amazed at how seamlessly (to audience ears) musicians can blend on songs that not all of them know equally well. Andrew’s warmth and home-like comfort invites the audience into a relationship of sorts and that night felt like a kitchen concert – albeit with very talented musicians. I’m a sucker for harmonies and great hooks and each stayed front-and-center for the great performance. You’ll have a chance to hear them again in February 16 at Preservation Pub and rumor is they will perform at Blankfest in August.
They also have self-titled CD from 2011 and “Summer Sleeves,” an EP from 2013, both available on Itunes. A new disk – from which they played a number of songs Wednesday night – will be released in May. I’ve included a video sample of their work below and, hopefully, later this weekend I’ll have the rest of the photographs posted to the Inside of Knoxville Facebook page. I’ve also started posting daily (or so) photographs to Instagram after being shamed by a 75-year-old woman this week for not being on the Instagram, so there you go – follow me there, if you’d like for various photographs as I traipse about the city.