It is difficult to articulate to those who haven’t participated in Waynestock just what this gathering has meant from the beginning to the music community in Knoxville. Each year the anticipation for what has become a tribal gathering of sorts has only grown. The affection many of them have for each other is obvious in every direction as they embrace, hang out and simply seem to enjoy each other’s company.
For fans, it’s a treasure-trove of local sounds. Chances are if you’ve heard a buzz about a band you’ll find them at Waynestock playing alongside veterans of the festival. Knoxville music legends sit in alongside newcomers in a steady stream of music for three nights and, at five dollars a night, it’s impossible to beat. Knoxville has enough musical talent to go head-to-head with most any city.
The festival started in 2011 as a spontaneous expression of support for Wayne Bledsoe in the wake of the loss of his son, local musician Drew Bledsoe. Wayne has done as much as anyone to support local music in Knoxville as music critic and editor for the News Sentinel for nearly three decades and the music community wanted to give back. It went so well a second festival was planned for 2012 and a new cause presented itself with the death of Phil Pollard, beloved long-time Knoxville musician. Each subsequent year a different charity has been selected as a beneficiary.
This year, Knoxville Girls Rock Camp received the proceeds, which fit nicely with the focus of the festival. The group, “provides workshops, camps and instruction to support and encourage young women in the field of music, fostering artistic expression that will build confidence, skills, teamwork and an empowered community of future lady rockers.” It’s part of an alliance of 65 such camps around the world, many of which have been operating for years. Operated by local female musicians and writers, the group focuses on empowering girls through artistic expression.
As always, I came into the three days determined not to bury myself under an avalanche of photographs by the time the dust settled. As usual, I failed. From a relatively modest 80 photographs the first night, I totally lost control by the last night and ended the shows with well over 500 photographs. I reduced the number to less than 200, the bulk of which will be loaded onto the Inside of Knoxville FB page later today. Those of you who follow me on Instagram got a small sample as each night progressed.
So, what you are seeing here is just a very small sample to give you a little flavor of the event. I generally try to hear every note played, but I have to confess I left a bit early Friday night (it ends at 1:00 AM – ish) given that I had to write after I got home. That meant I missed Senryu (sorry Wil) who I’ve enjoyed a number of times and I’d encourage you to check them out, as well.
Thursday night opened with a softer touch, as has been the case in other years. Jonathan Sexton joined by Jamie Cook and Evie Andrus offered an acoustic set which set the bar for quality song-writing. Between the three there was enough talent in the first act for a two-hour show, but it’s 45 minutes and done at Waynestock.
The pace immediately changed with the advent of The Jank. I’d never heard them and they were one of my favorite bands of the three day run. All instrumental, three pieces of energy directed toward late fifties/early sixties guitar rock. Of course, “Rumble” had to happen and it was excellent. I’ll very much look forward to hearing them again – and you can hear them as well or see them, if you like. They will be at Scruffy City Hall, February 18 at 6:00 PM for Wayne’s Six O’Clock Swerve show.
Handsome and the Humbles has been one of the most talked-about local bands in recent months and I’d not gotten to hear them, so I was interested in checking them out. Operating in the alt-country/Americana sphere, they delivered a solid show – complete with chest hair as lead singer Josh Smith blew a button or two. Order was restored when an audience member provided a safety pin. I’ll be interested in hearing more from this band. Someone needs to save country music. Maybe it will be them. As an aside, the black electric Epiphone is beautiful.
The night ended with Hellaphant who also has been making quite a buzz lately. An album is reportedly on the way for this power-punk trio and they are another band which will be fun to watch as they evolve. The music veers from lush to the chopping, pounding, throbbing sound you might expect from a punk band. Check out their FB page and scroll down to listen to “Family Man,” a very polished and accomplished recording.
Night two started with an act that isn’t easily topped and their fans were out in a major way. The Pinklets, comprised of the children of the Abernathy and Gunnoe/McCollough musical clans, they have evolved far past the “cute kids playing instruments” stage and have entered a completely different level of craftsmanship. They’ve always played original material and now that original material is often sounding like radio-ready pop. Another band I’ll enjoy watching.
Their parents followed with the Lonetones and then the Kevin Abernathy Band. I’ve talked in this space before about how much I enjoy the Lonetones and they gave their usual good performance. If you don’t have their 2012 release, “Modern Victims,” you are really missing something special. Kevin’s band gave one of the outstanding performances of the three nights with raucous renditions of older material as well as some more recent material such as the excellent, “Beach Music,” which may be my favorite song he’s written. His was one of the first Waynestock performances in previous festivals to spur me to purchase his music on the spot.
The Tim Lee 3 took the next set and the high energy continued. Theirs was another of those early CD purchases spurred by an outstanding set at an earlier Waynestock. Tim is one of our finest local guitarists and the trio rocks hard. It’s also fun to see them enjoying each other so much on stage. Tim and Susan are mainstays of the local music scene and are admired and loved by the entire community. Psychic Baos played next, with more of the punk music which ended night one and they were followed by Senryu to end the evening.
The final night started with Knoxville’s most recent child-phenomenon, Emi Sunshine. She’s come a long way from singing on Market Square, with appearances on television and at the Grand Ole Opry. Her energetic show and natural stage presence have won her nearly a half-million fans on Facebook. As you might expect if you’ve seen her perform, the crowd at Waynestock cheered her on from the beginning of her lively set. There’s another one who will be interesting to watch in coming years.
The pace slowed and softened with a delicate and beautiful performance by Jennifer Nicely. She’s a good example of the kinds of performers who have been around for so long that we tend to take them for granted. She actually spent about a decade in Nashville before returning to east Tennessee and her family’s farm a few years ago. Jack Neely recently wrote a very nice profile of Jennifer, her life and her career.
From there the pace quickened with the usual fun and lively set by Knoxville’s Lonesome Coyotes. If you ever get the chance to hear them, take it. It’s an almost impossible amount of talent crammed into one band who has played together with variable frequency for decades. Each of the three vocalists are solo artists of note and the quality shows when they join forces. They’re also just good people and that comes through, as well.
The penultimate act took me by surprise. A founding member and leader of the Judybats, Jeff Heiskell now records and performs as Heiskell with a full band. The Judybats predate my local music exposure and I hadn’t heard him, so I didn’t know what to expect. What we got was stunningly good. From the opening notes I was drawn in to the intelligent, if sometimes snarky and always clever lyrics, but also the excellent hooks of the songs. A reference in his on-stage intro to a recent album was all I needed. I downloaded “Arriving” after the show and have played it repeatedly since. I couldn’t help thinking of the Decembrists with a touch of Father John Misty (thanks, Rusty). I implore you to buy this album.
The show ended with over-the-top performances by Todd Steed and his many, many friends. Celebrating his 2002 album, “Knoxville Tells,” he was joined by a revolving cast of some of our very best musicians to play, sing, recite poetry, throw paper and otherwise have a great time. The crowd sang along to “North Knoxville,” to end the night. “Thank God for North Knoxville, where this town still looks like itself. It’s the last place in America ain’t trying to be somewheres else.”
It was a fitting way to end another great edition of Waynestock. I said it last year and I’ll probably say it next year: Don’t miss this event again if you love good music and if you have any interest at all in the local music scene. This is where, “this town still looks like itself.