Rhinestone Fest 2023 Sparkles Up The Old City

Vancie Vega, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023
Julia Cannon, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023

This was quite the weekend for downtown and the nearby area. Bike Boat Brew and Bark set up residence along the river bank on Saturday morning. Rappelling off the Trotter Building with Over the Edge started soon after that. Saturday evening brought the Bob Dylan Birthday Bash at Ijams and by Sunday, Open Streets Knoxville took to the road on the north side of downtown for their great event. And through it all, from Friday to Sunday, the Old City celebrated all things Dolly with Rhinestone Fest.

I’ve covered all those events in the past, but when they all collide, complete coverage becomes impossible. I’ve added Heather to help expand our reach and we divided but, alas, could not conquer. She did the preview article for the events last week, I lead a walking tour with a small but mighty group for Bike Boat Brew and Bark and she joined us. I attended the heart of Rhinestone Fest and she enjoyed Open Streets with her family. That, unfortunately, left people dangling from buildings and Blowin’ in the Wind on their own. We aren’t super heroes. Happy 82nd Birthday, Bob, I’m sorry I missed your party.

Jack Neely, Carol Evans, Urban Guy, Bike Boat Brew and Bark, Knoxville, June 2023
Urban Guy and the Small but Mighty Urban Walking Tour Group, Bike Boat Brew and Bark, Knoxville, 2023

Part of the backdrop to all that is that I’m heading to New York City with Urban Daughter starting today. By the time most of you read this, I’ll be walking gritty city streets, eating great food, hearing great music, and generally taking a break. You know when I return I’ll share what strikes me on this trip to the city. In the meantime, here’s a look at Rhinestone Fest and later today Heather will fill you in on all things Open Streets. The rest of the week is already packed with articles I’m excited to share, so look for your daily fix while I’m gone. As for me, I’ll see you next week.

My one small Friday foray into everything Rhinestone came that night about 8:30 pm, when a friend and I attempted to enter Jolene’s, the pop up inside Brother Wolf wine bar. Confronted with an absolute wall of twenty-five-year-olds, we decided to move on. We stopped into two other places which we found similarly packed, before landing at Harvest on Gay Street. Not much of a start, but I was able to grab a table in a shade on part of  wonderful patio for a drink on Saturday.

Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023
Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023

After leading my walk at Bike Boat Brew and Bark, I ran out to Marc Nelson Denim to pick up a pair of jeans before slipping into Rhinestone Fest. I made it in time to hear Julia Cannon‘s set and found her to be an absolute, genre-bending delight. Her sweet vocals, gentle guitar work, fun stage presence, and quirky lyrics make for  a great show. I’ll look forward to finding another live show by this special artist whose folky spin on jazz hits my sweet spot. I’m listening to her as I write this and I’d encourage you to track her down (easy as saying, Alexa, play . . .).

All about the area (the parking lot across Jackson from Rala) crowds grew as vendors painted faces, sold t-shirts and offered a shot at dunking Jolene (thanks to a booth set up and designed by Caroline Farris (ACF Jewelry). One of the best things about Rhinestone Fest each year is the people-watching. Lots of ladies dress their spangly best, blonde wigs abound — and not all of those are sported by women. Cross-dressed men celebrate as well, and thanks to a ruling that came just in time for Pride Month, a Tennessee judge ruled just Friday that the Tennessee bill restricting drag (though not by name!) is unconstitutional.

Jolene Pop-up in Brother Wolf, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023
Jolene Pop Up at Brother Wolf, Knoxville, June 2023 (Photo by Heather Ryerson)

I did take a break from the sun to explore some of the shops featuring Dolly goods, including a quick stop inside Honeymouth and time for a look at the extensive line of Dollywear and accessories inside Rala. Rala was also the home to the Dolly Art Show 2023. Some of the works were amazing and they drew a steady crowd. They are still up in Rala, so go by and check them out and see if your favorite Dolly art (or accessory) is still available.

Boyd’s Jig and Reel provided a little break from the heat as I enjoyed the True Blue Bluegrass Band. I also, as I said above, cooled off with a drink from Brother Wolf (AKA Jolene’s). While I didn’t get the themed drinks, Heather dropped in at another time and got a photo of one, as well as good photos of the space. As a Pride Month celebration, the pop-up will continue until June 19. A portion of proceeds from the themed drinks goes to a very good cause, Positively Living.

Rala, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023
Rala, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023
Honeymouth, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023

I enjoyed a set of music by Michelle Lewis, and then joined everyone (people sort of came out from the shadows en masse at this point) to celebrate Dolly with Vancie Vega of the officially sanctioned Not Dolly show (which was performed in full later at the Mill and Mine in a ticketed event). I can see why she’s been given the D.S.A. (Dolly Seal of Approval) because, even from close to the stage, she delivered a pitch perfect performance that could prank even the most particular Parton partisan. The soundtrack she cleverly used was a live recording with great swells of appreciative applause and adoration which only served to excite her live crowd. I never saw her miss a word and her mannerisms nailed Dolly’s.

The Dolly Look-Alike contest serves as the centerpiece to the day’s theme and is always fun. Ten contestants, decked out in Dollyness, strutted, pranced and otherwise presented themselves to the audience. The two runner’s up agreed that dressing to look that cheap is expensive. When the winner was asked she said, “Dressing this cheap is cheap. I got my dress at a thrift store!”

Dolly Look Alike Contest, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023
Dolly Look Alike Contest, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023
Vancie Vega, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023

I curtailed my experience, in favor of going home to started editing pictures and writing, ending with a great set by the Montvales. The duo is from Knoxville, but currently makes Cincinnati their home-base. They are touring out west most of this summer, but watch for a chance for them to cycle back through. Their interwoven vocal lines and stellar harmonies, reminiscent of the Indigo Girls, offer an infectious, rich tapestry that will draw me back when given another opportunity to hear them.

Cutest Lady in the House, Rhinestone Fest, Old City, Knoxville, June 2023

Here’s the whole set of photos. Enjoy and put the event on your calendar for next year!