Waynestock 12 Fills Ears and Hearts While Lending a Helping Hand

Dishwater Blonde, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Mal Nombre, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024

This past Thursday through Saturday night, the annual magic of Waynestock highlighted the talent and compassion of the local music scene. Intended as a one-off event to express the music community’s love for Wayne Bledsoe on the death of his son Drew, the event became an annual gathering to support a range of musicians and causes dear to the heart of Knoxville artists. Planning and execution of this year’s festival was spearheaded by the power trio of Wayne Bledsoe, Rusty Odom, and Steve Wildsmith.

This year’s recipients of all the proceeds (the venue is donated by Daniel Schuh, the talent by the bands, the giveaways by merchants and individuals, and the massive work to put it on by volunteers) are singer-songwriter Karen Reynolds (who played the event last year) and Dennis Double, her partner on the long-lived radio program Writer’s Block. Both face difficult physical (and as a result financial) issues and after giving so much to the local music scene, deserve to get a little back. I had the pleasure of hosting Karen in my home several years ago for a concert. enjoying both her talent and her grace.

Heidi Gilson, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Serrenna, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Southern Cities, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024

Complete Night One Photographs:

The fifteen plus hours of music (fourteen scheduled, the extra hour or more just couldn’t be helped at the end) started on Thursday night with a trio of singer-songwriters. Heidi Gilson, Haley Labelle, and Zack Miles each shared their poignant, incisive, and sometimes humorous musical and lyrical observations. At the heart of it all, no matter the genre, the singer and the song provide the palette for all the artistic expression we so enjoy. That songwriters would kick off the event only makes sense.

Anticipation ran high for so many of these performances, that it can only ultimately seem hyperbole to discuss each one. Serrenna performed next and wowed the crowd already excited to see her solo debut at Waynestock. A veteran of Guy Marshall, taking center-stage and making her own music now, her music steers heavily toward country and veers away just when you least expect it. She also delivered a great “Nothing Compares to You” as a tribute to Senead O’Connor on the final night and the performance delivered chills to everyone paying attention. (No offense intended, but Annie Lennox, who is great and who performed the song at the Grammys the next night, didn’t come close.)

Dos Fuegos, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024

Mal Nombre features some of the finest musicians in the city with Nate Barrett (Hudson K) on drums, Ben Maney on keyboards, Mike Murphey on bass, and Taylor Phelps on guitar. The set showcased Waynestock and Knoxville flexing their musical versatility with the jazz-infused, improvisational performance. All-around good guy, Luke Brogden (who arranged that home concert with Karen Reynolds), and Southern Cities made it clear that Knoxville can rock as they closed out the first night of the festival.

Husband-and-wife and musical duo Maggie and Owen (Tharp) started night two with a mellow vibe. You can catch Maggie at the Bijou soon as she competes in the Tennessee Songwriter’s competition. The energy kicked into high gear with the rock and roll of Econopop, the country honky-tonk of JC and the Dirty Smokers and the shift back to rock and roll with the fantastic Gamenight. Hip hop fusion duo Dos Fuegos, and the pop-rock sounds of Senryu, one of the several vehicles for the genius of Wil Wright, and one of the city’s longest running bands, closed out the night.

Econopop, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Gamenight, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Maggie and Owen, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Senryu, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024

JC’s appearance provided an emotional high point for everyone gathered. After a serious accident just over a year ago nearly cost him his life and left him with serious physical challenges, he was the recipient of the funds raised from the previous Waynestock. That he would perform this year’s concert would have been beyond imagination for the most optimistic observer a year ago. He delivered a honky-tonk tour-de-force.

Dos Fuegos defy description. Hip hop with socially conscious lyrics, yes. Words delivered rapid fire to a staccato beat not provided by a machine, but by a human playing real drums . . . while playing a driving guitar owing more in sound to metal than anything. Altogether they rocked the house and carved a space out in Waynestock history. Senryu always tops a night off in perfect fashion.

Full photos from Night Two:

The final night opened at a high volume with the Pirkles and never slowed down. Local music stalwart Andy Pirkle, his sister and renowned singer-songwriter Sarah Pirkle, Andy’s children, and a niece kept it all in the family performing a generous selection of both Andy and Sarah’s songs. The crowd danced to kick off the night. Willa Mae made her solo Waynestock debut after performing with The Pinklets when she was just a baby. Now a woman with a lot on her mind and a musical gift backed by a solid band, she feels ready for bigger things.

Dishwater Blonde, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024

Tennessee Brando (Brandon Fuson and a great band) delivered a great country-infused performance with large doses of positive vibes. Cruz Contreras brought his solo talents to the stage including some doses of material we came to know as Black Lillies’ music. The formal end of the artist performances, delivered by Dishwater Blonde, offered a feast for the eyes and the ears. In their first performance in a decade or so, front man Davis Mitchell showed he can still bring it. That he has a great band behind him, including Cozmo Holloway (better known recently for his stand-out work with the Dirty Guv’nahs) doesn’t hurt the cause. And the visually arresting, high-energy show adds tremendously to the crowd’s (and the photographer’s) experience.

The Pirkles, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Willa Mae, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Tennessee Brando, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Cruz Contreras, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024
Musical Tributes, Waynestock 12, Relix Theatre, Knoxville, February 2024

Three things outside music must happen for Waynestock to be Waynestock. Wayne must get a birthday cake while we serenade him, he must give a heartfelt speech during which we all cry, and we have to tip the musical hat to all those we lost through the year. The festival ended with that trifecta.

Andrew Bryant, drummer for Garage Deluxe who served as house band for the tributes to the recently lost. For single-song performances, several of these tributes would make the “best of” list for the festival. I can’t detail them all, but several bear special mention: Andrew’s performance of The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek,” was spot on. Andy Pirkle’s delivery of Jimmy Buffet’s “My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, and I Don’t Love Jesus,” had all the humor and great delivery of Jimmy’s own version. Performances of Barrett Strong’s “Money,” The Pogues’,”Fairytale of New York,” Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” (by the inimitable Rus Harper), and the tour de force by Serrenna continually reached new heights. The crowd rocked to “Freebird,” while ending it all with an exuberant version of the MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams, Mother F****r.”

Kick out the jams, indeed. And so they did. Until next year.

Complete Photos from Night Three:

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