Tuesday, November 30, 2010

East Tennessee Chili Cook-off and More - Far Too Much

Chili Festival, World's Fair Park, Knoxville
Here's an example of how much is happening downtown all the time: I love chili. Who doesn't? Sure it may lead to a little gastronomic discomfort, but it's worth it, right? So how could I not blog about the East Tennessee Chili Cook-off to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank held earlier this month on the World's Fair Park? It's pretty simple: I can't possibly tell you everything that is happening downtown.

Brackins Blues Jam, Chili Cook-off, World's Fair Park, Knoxville
Some weekends there are half a dozen or more options. I also didn't mention the Brewer's Jam which benefited Community Shares or the Race for the Cure which benefits breast cancer research. Knoxville is pretty good about combining fun with a worthy cause.

This blog winds up being what I either find interesting or what I stumble into. You should really come downtown and explore for yourself. In the meantime, here are a few shots from the Chili Cook-off to keep you warm during this cold snap. Check out the huge inflatable superman.

Massive Superman oversees the chili contestants, Worlds Fair Park, Knoxville

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Final Autumn Pictures: Up on the River Bank

Church Street U.M.C. Bell Tower, Henley Street, Knoxville
Here are more pictures from that same afternoon, but up the bluff and into the city. One of the great things about living downtown is that when those perfect days strike - the combination of time to do what you want and weather to encourage being outside, you are already down here and don't have to convince yourself to drive in. At least for me that's an advantage.

Old Courthouse, Main Street, Knoxville, November 2010

On this particular afternoon, not having any specific reason to be downtown, I would not have driven here if I still lived outside the area. I would have missed a golden day. I hope you enjoy these final "Final" autumn pictures.
View of the Tennessee Theatre looking north on Gay Street

This final picture may need a little explanation. I've always had an infatuation with Mercedes sports cars. I've never driven one. I've never ridden in one. I'll never be able to afford one. If I had the money I probably wouldn't buy one for any number of reasons, but I still have a crush. I don't know why.

Union Avenue in front of Pete's, Knoxville, November 2010

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Final Autumn Pictures: Down by the River

Henley Street Bridge, Knoxville, November 2010
 As often happens with the ending of a month, I look back at some images that never quite found a story and pass them along for your pleasure. One Sunday afternoon in November I walked around for several hours and got some photographs that I really loved. I don't know if the light or my luck was good or I was delusional when I thought they turned out well. I've already used some of them in my Columbus post, but here are some more. You tell me what you think. This post will focus on the River shots.

Calhoun's on the River, Knoxville, November 2010
Have you ever stood on the Gay Street Bridge when the wind was right and smelled this place? The Metropulse may be correct, that we don't have a distinctive version of barbecue, but there can be no better smelling barbecue. It was mid-afternoon and I was instantly starving.

I took these final two pictures from the river walk west of the Henley Street Bridge looking east. The couple never knew I was there. These may be my recent favorites. Next post will include pictures from the same afternoon, but further inland.

A couple looks out over the Tennessee River, Knoxville, November 2010.

A couple looks out over the Tennessee River, Knoxville, November 2010.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas in the City - Regal Festival of Lights?

Entrance to the Fantasy of Trees - Convention Center, Knoxville
I'm seeing both of the these titles thrown around for our seasonal celebration. I think the "Regal Festival of Lights" is just the lighting of the tree on Gay Street, etc., but I'm not sure. I like the less corporate "Christmas in the City," myself, though I realize it doesn't exactly acknowledge any but one religion. I guess in a public forum I think of it as more of a cultural holiday, but maybe I'm wrong. Besides, isn't "Festival of Lights" minus the "Regal" part already taken by the folks who brought us Hanukkah? It seems like a copyright infringement issue at the least.

The Ice Rink as a baby - A large pile of dirt on Market Square
One gift of living in the city, as opposed to visiting it, as I've done for decades is that in walking about one sees the stories behind the stories. Who knew that the ice skating rink required so many people so much time to set up - or that it started with a layer of dirt?

Greenery being hung on Gay Street, Knoxville
Who knew how they got that garland up around downtown so high over the entry-ways to the buildings on Gay Street? Downtown residents knew. It's been fun to see from that perspective this year. I had already moved last year, but I was probably emptying boxes in my new home while the decorations were being spread and hung about.

The Fantasy of Trees - too big to photograph, Convention Center, Knoxville
Friday of this week finally marked the official beginning of the celebration by any name. There was almost too much for a family to take in on that big day. The Fantasy of Trees in the convention center was flooded with people from the moment it opened and people continued to line up into the afternoon (and probably after, though I can't personally verify that fact).

Skaters of all skill levels take to the ice - Market Square, Knoxville
The ice skating rink officially opened on Market Square and was busy from morning into the night.

Lights at the entrance to Krutch Park with vendors lining Market Street
Crafts were available for purchase on Market Street and into the western edge of Krutch Park. Of course, all the stores downtown were open and buzzing with their own versions of Black Friday festivities.

Fireworks and a lighted, 38 foot tree, Krutch Park, Knoxville
The culmination of the day came with the lighting of the 38 foot Christmas Tree on Krutch Park. The lighting was accompanied by fireworks and the whole thing was set off by Mayor/Governor-elect Haslam, Santa Claus and a couple of stray reindeer. Mickey Mallonee was thanked by Mayor Haslam for all her years of planning various festivities for the city, including this one. She retires as the celebration ends. In a measure of her level of service and commitment, she went from that lofty moment of exaltation all the way down to manning the information booth on Saturday morning.

Grace Baptist Praise Choir, Krutch Park, Knoxville
The night ended with a concert from the Grace Baptist Praise Choir on the Krutch Park stage and the Ho Ho Ho Down hosted by WDVX on the Market Square stage with several thousand people ice skating, shopping, drinking hot chocolate, eating funnel cakes and generally trying to stay warm in between the two.

Urban Baby says, "I was a cowgirl for Halloween and I'm a mummy for Christmas, right?"
Even the Weather Maker decided it should feel like Christmas. Maybe he wasn't so mad, after all, about the misappropriation of his original Festival of Lights.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Twelve Best Things About Downtown Knoxville

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I know it hauls a lot of emotional freight that it can't always carry,but at least it tries in the right way. It hasn't been successfully commercialized to the extent of the other holidays. We don't feel pressured to find the perfect Thanksgiving present or to select the perfect Thanksgiving clothes. If you send or receive a Thanksgiving card it's more likely to be a genuinely thoughtful expression rather than an obligatory sentiment. It's a quiet, reflective time set aside for family. At least that's how I imagine it. Sometimes the reality is a little different.

It's also an odd blend of the spiritual or religious and the state. Normally a blend of my spiritual life (or yours) and my country makes me nervous for my country and my church. This, however, seems to hit just the right note - at least to me. It's something that the country comes together around, even if it is built on a national myth - at least it's our myth and at the same time it has a spiritual side that doesn't have to exclude anyone who feels just a little blessed, fortunate, lucky or thankful for everything we have.

That said, this blog is about Knoxville, right? So I'll assume we're all thankful for our families and I'll cut right to the things I'm thankful for - or appreciate - regarding our little city by the river. In reverse order, after much struggle and strain, here is my top twelve:

12. A warm home off the streets – Many of our friends and neighbors downtown have no home and a home is a valuable thing far beyond the dollars it would bring. Those of us who can afford to live downtown are very blessed. Yes, we worked hard to be here, but many people work hard and can’t afford a home in the city.

11. Clean, well-lighted, safe streets and the people who make them that way. People who don’t live downtown may not realize the people who are up all hours of the night cleaning our streets, picking up our garbage, blowing our sidewalks and parking lots clean, responding to emergencies and keeping us safe.

10. A small, walkable city – We may not have everything downtown that we wish for, but everything that we have is easy to walk to. And it’s safe to get there.

9. Natural Environment: Natural beauty surrounds us. The mountains are minutes away, and while we have seasons, even in the middle of winter or the heat of summer, we’ll have days of respite and grace. When we get that true spring or fall day, with a slight chill in the air and deep blue skies, life in the city feels more perfect than ever.

8. Festivals and Parades – We have far too many to name including the Hola Festival, Chili Cookoff, Rossini Festival, Saint Patrick’s Day, Christmas Parade, Dogwood Arts, Veterans Day Parade, Brewer’s Jam and Kuumba. There is something (or multiple things) for everyone’s taste and each of these add to the cultural richness of our city.

7. TN Theater and the Bijou – How can you not love these special places that so many people have worked to preserve? I’ve attended shows in each for nearly thirty years and I loved them when they were more shabby than elegant and I love them still. Not only are they beautiful and acoustically excellent, but we are treated to an apparently never ending stream of amazing talent. This year I’ve seen R.B. Morris, Scott Miller, the Dirty Guv’nahs, Emmylou Harris and Donovan Frankenreiter and Jimmy Cobb in the Bijou and B.B. King at the Tennessee. Crosby, Stills and Nash, Sheryl Crow, Barenaked Ladies and many others performed at the Tennessee. Many cities don’t have one special venue like these and we have two!

6. Market Square – The soul of the city or just a great place to eat and people watch? Probably both.

5. Farmer’s Market – This has been spectacular this year. Supermarket vegetables don’t even look good to me, anymore. I’m already looking forward to spring for the return of these friends and their good food.

4. Great music, including WDVX, Sundown in the City, Scott Miller, R.B. Morris, The Dirty Guv’nahs, Robinella, Donald Brown, The Black Lillies, Indie Grrls, Bill, Rodney and all the buskers. We are very, very lucky.

3. Great food and coffee – We all have our favorites, but I love the food at Trio, Tomato Head, Nama, Latitude 35, La Costa, Cocoa Moon, Oodles, French Market, Dazzo’s and Café Four. We have an embarrassment of riches with good coffee at Java Old City, Coffee and Chocolate, Remedy, Downtown Grind, French Market and Trio.

2. People who add to our texture: Jack Neely, R.B. Morris, Ashley Capps, Tony Lawson, Zeus, Matt Morelock, business owners who risk everything to enrich our lives. There are also the developers who get slammed in the comments in the local press, but without whom most of us would not have a home. From Christopher Kendrick to David Dewhirst, they took chances and helped make our city livable.

1. Friends and acquaintances on the street. I knew I would like much of what I’ve included on this list, but one thing I did not expect was how many people I would come to know and look forward to meeting on the street. The image of a city as a place where people keep to themselves and avoid eye contact doesn’t seem to apply to Knoxville. I knew more people downtown in my first two weeks of living here than I knew in any neighborhood I ever lived in. It’s a comfort to know that you are always just around the corner from a friendly face.

So, there you are. What do you think deserves a place in this list? What would you leave off to keep it to an even dozen?

 Finally, I'm also thankful that you are a reader. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Knoxville Sculpture Moves You?

Sunsphere, Knoxville, Tennessee
I had visitors recently and we logged a number of miles walking around downtown. The two iconic sculptures that captured their attention were the Sunsphere, which reminded them of a large microphone and the basketball atop the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, which they thought was funny. The rowing man mildly interested them and they thought Flow Mojo was pretty cool, but there was nothing that moved them.

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama
I've thought about this a bit recently because of my visit to Montgomery. While in Montgomery, I made my way to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor from 1954 to 1960. 1955 was the year of the historic bus boycott and this church served as a headquarters for much of the civil rights activity. For anyone who understands the history of that era, the spot can be very moving.

Civil Rights Memorial, Montgomery, Alabama
Nearby is a Civil Rights Memorial sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is accompanied by a museum dedicated, like the memorial to those who died in the struggle. Designed by Maya Lin, the same person who designed the Wall in Washington, D.C. and, locally, the library at the Alex Haley Farm in Clinton. The memorial consists of the granite wall pictured here with a thin film of water moving over it and a table with the names and a thin film of water moving over its surface. The effect is mesmerizing, comforting and definitely moving.

Knoxville doesn't have the civil rights history that Montgomery has and in some ways that's a good thing, but what would it take for us to have one, large, moving and powerful sculpture that visitors would not simply think was funny or strange, but would emotionally engage them to the point they would remember it and talk about it after they left?
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Michael Knight at the Laurel Theater

Michael Knight speaks to the Knoxville Writer's Guild.
At the November meeting of the Knoxville Writer's Guild, local favorite and nationally known author Michael Knight read from his book The Typist and talked about its genesis. Better known for his short stories, several of which have appeared in the New Yorker,

Michael Knight reads from The Typist.
Mr. Knight attempted to write a novel about post-World War II, occupied Japan. While at a speaking engagement in Gainesville, Florida, he happened to meet a man who was a typist for General McArthur during that time in Japan and suddenly, the story he wanted to write became a much more personal story of a single person and those around him during this epic historical event. The result is a highly acclaimed novel.

It's certainly worth checking out. While you are at it, you might take on his short stories, which I highly recommend. I greatly enjoyed Goodnight, Nobody.Mr. Knight is origninally from Mobile, Alabama (a good place to be from) and is currently a professor in the creative writing program at UT.
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

These Eyes Have Seen Alot . . .

I generally try to pass on some of what I notice on First Friday and this month I bypassed that and went directly into the heavy series of posts about panhandling, so I've decided to loop back and catch a few interesting moments from that chilly evening. The temperatures must have kept people away because after two of the largest consecutive First Fridays the previous two months, this one was pretty sparse as those things go.
Friendly Bird Outside Soccer Taco, Knoxville, November 2010
One of the charms of downtown Knoxville is that while we are big enough to display the hustle and bustle of  a city, we are also small enough to slow down and be human. Or maybe it doesn't matter where you are, people sometimes stop long enough to notice the little things. The small bird and the two attending it are pictured in the entrance to Soccer Taco. I think it was eating food that they placed on the sidewalk.

Beer-hats for sale at Fizz, Market Square, Knoxville
In August I blogged about the Indie Grrls festival that settled into Knoxville for a few days. One of the photographs in that blog showed a woman wearing a slip on the outside of her clothes, talking to a local man who was wearing a beer box on his head. I've seen him since  and he continues to wear a beer box on his head. Now I have evidence that a behavior which seems extreme in July can become mainstream by November. That's right: You may also now proudly wear your favorite beer on your head. The beer box hats are available in several brands for purchase at Fizz. Now if I start seeing multiple people wearing beer box hats I'm going to know I live with a bunch of crazy people.

John Black (center with shiny head) hosts Open House
Finally, that night offered open house at John Black Studios in the Daylight Building. Steady crowds worked through the new business looking at the beautiful photographs while enjoying cupcakes from Magpies. You really should drop by and look at the photographs and talk to Amanda and John about getting a few photos of your own. Also opening to meet the public, if not to open the store, Kristen Faerber greeted well-wishers next door at Just Ripe, which hopefully will open in the next few weeks.
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Saturday, November 20, 2010

March for Sanity, Knoxville Style

March for Sanity, Market Square, Knoxville, Tennessee
I'd be remiss if I didn't throw in a plug for Sanity. On a recent, beautiful, autumn afternoon a small contingent of Knoxvillians made their plea for sanity in our national political discourse. On the same afternoon the Mall in Washington, D.C. was covered with many thousands rallying at the behest of Jon Stewart, a solid dozen (park service estimate) local citizens made their case for the same. I'm not sure if the small number in the march means there aren't very many of our neighbors interested in sanity or if, perhaps, we feel we are just sane enough, thank you very much.

Clever and Derisive Signs, March for Sanity, Knoxville
I do know that the people interested in sanity seemed to be completely middle-aged, white and, I believe, Unitarian. It is a serious topic, of course, though the attempt was to handle it with humor.

I remain doubtful that we will be able to elevate the level of discourse in this very polarized era in our country's history. The people who shout the loudest and make the most outlandish comments seem to hold our attention far more than anyone who is quietly reasoned. Neither the left nor the right seems to be able to effectively elucidate their stance while at the same time maintaining civility for the opposing view. Even the signs pictured in this rally, while sometimes clever, reflected the irresistible urge to take shots at the opposition.
March for Sanity, Knoxville, Tennessee

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Constructive Preservation or Preservatory Construction?

Construction Site, Downtown Montgomery, Alabama
During my recent trip to Montgomery I came across a construction site that added a dimension to preservation and development that I could never have imagined. Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) is building a new headquarters downtown. I found it to represent an intriguing concept. It is the building you see under construction in the top photograph. What is different about this construction project is that the new building is being erected over and around the old Alabama Supreme Court building, which was built as a Scottish Rites Temple in 1926.

Older building beneath the new construction, Montgomery, Alabama
The historic and beautiful older building will form the center of the first floors of the new building. The historic is preserved and progress continues apace. I think it is ingenious, but I'm not sure how I feel beyond that. Yes, the building was preserved in the strictest sense of the word, but was it really? Is a building only its bones? Is the view of the building not part of the experience of appreciating what those who came before us accomplished? It will never again be seen the same way, yet, the old was kept and the new proceeded. Maybe it isn't such a bad solution in certain circumstances. What do you think? Abomination or creative solution?

It actually came near demolition in 2007 in favor of - and this part should sound familiar to Knoxvillians - a parking lot! If you'd like to see a video of its history you can find that here. It's an interesting video that gives a good bit of Montgomery history and the whole preservationist argument as well as the peril under which it found itself at that time. The building was across the street from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church which was pastored by Martin Luther King, Jr., who spent time in this building during the civil rights era.

The experience also reminded me that large-scale construction is happening in some cities. Why isn't it happening here? Maybe we need to give the green-light to projects enveloping historic buildings. Or not.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Knox Heritage Distributes Awards

John Craig opens the Knox Heritage Annual Meeting, November 2010.
The annual awards ceremony was held at the Bijou in which Knox Heritage recognizes those who have distinguished themselves in the local world of preservation. The meeting also served as the annual meeting and new members were added to the board as old members moved on.

Jim Samples, President of HGTV, speaks to Knox Heritage members, November 2010.
After an interesting lesson in the physics of preservation and energy (it really was interesting) by John Craig, president of the Knox Heritage Board, Jim Samples, president of HGTV, gave the featured address. He talked eloquently of the soul of a city and how he found it downtown when he came for his interview at HGTV.

Tim Burchett, Knox County Mayor takes the microphone for a spontaneous comment (imagine that) while Kim Trent looks on.
Kim Trent then took center stage to distribute the fantastic fifteen awards as well as others. Here are the winners with connections to downtown:

Preservationist of the Year: Pete Debusk (for the renovation of the Old City Hall/LMU Law School

Mary Holbrook (shot not taken at the meeting!) got one of the largest ovations of the night! (Yea, Mary!)
Volunteer of the Year: Mary Holbrook

Bill Lyons gives the Mayor's Award, Knox Heritage, November 2010.
Mayor of Knoxville Award (presented by Bill Lyons): Minvilla Manor, LP/Allan Associates Architects for Minvilla, 447 N. Broadway

Knox County Mayor Award (presented by Tim Burchett): Kevin Murphy/C. Randall De Ford Architecture for Murphy House, 4508 Murphy Rd.

Greystone Award: Johnson Bible College/Brewer Ingram Fuller Architects for the White House, River Court Road

Media Award: WBIR, Erin Donovan and Jake Resler for If These Walls Could Talk

The Fantastic Fifteen went to the developers, organizations, architects and regular folks for the following buildings which have been lovingly preserved. Here are the winners in and near downtown Knoxville:

The Ziegler Building, 9 Market Square

Daylight Building after dark.
The Daylight Building, 505 Union Avenue
PSCC Magnolia Ave. Campus, 1610 E. Magnolia Aven.
West Jackson Workshop, 514 W. Jackson Ave.
3,5, 7, 13, 15-17, 23 Emory Place
Condominiums: The Lucerne, 201 W. Fifth Ave., The Sterchi Oaks, 209 W. Fifth Ave. and Patterson Cottage, 605 King Street
2921 N. Broadway
2743 Wimple Avenue
726 Burgess Avenue
1126 Luttrell Street
2019 Washington Avenue
Fourth United Presbyterian Church, 1323 N. Broadway
2701 Woodson Dr.

I'm assuming that  a complete list of the winners, along with photographs should soon be posted on the Knox Heritage website. It was a good night for a great organization that anyone with a love of history and a respect for those who've gone before us should support. Go to the website and join. It's simple and it helps save the soul of Knoxville. Who could oppose salvation?
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Did Hank Really Do It This Way?

As a fan of Hank Williams from the time I was too young to really appreciate my own good tastes and as a native of Alabama, it's a bit confounding that I had never visited Hank's grave. I'm also a big fan of Rheta Grimsley Johnson's essays and she speaks of the grave site as hallowed ground. Family recently bought a place in Montgomery, so I decided on a recent visit that the time had come to pay my respects.

Hank Williams' Grave, Montgomery, Alabama
The grave story itself is interesting. Hank was married to his second wife when he died and she buried him in Oakwood Cemetery. Miss Audrey, his first wife, decided his body would be moved to the Oakwood Cemetery Anex, which is what she did. She arranged for a massive stone and other markers and for her own place beside him, which would be similarly opulent. On the back of his stone is a message to him from her extolling the love and devotion they felt for each other. No mention of the second wife. After she died and her stone was erected, their children, Lucretia and Hank, Jr. inscribed their messages to their mother. Hank, Jr.'s start out, "You, like daddy left to soon." No, I did not leave out a comma or forget my schooling regarding to, too and two. That is precisely what it says. I'll let you provide the punchline.

After visiting the grave I went to the Hank Williams Museum, which was recently profiled in the New York Times. Cameras were barred unless you became a $200 sponsor, so I didn't get any photographs of the Cadillac in which he died. There were no pictures of the Andrew Johnson Hotel and when I asked about it the lady who runs the operation more or less said there was no reason for such a picture - it wasn't significant. When I told her that Knoxvillians suspect - a little tongue in cheek - that Hank might have died there, she became indignant and insisted that he only stopped there for dinner the night before his death and then traveled on and that he got a ticket in Virginia and talked to the judge at that stop and he subsequently died in West Virginia, which is, indeed, where he was pronounced dead.

Andrew Johnson Building, Knoxville
She bases her belief on the account of the driver, who lives in Montgomery and is a friend of hers. It contradicts other accounts. I grew up around Clint Holmes who was a member of one of the incarnations of the Drifting Cowboys. He thinks Hank was dead long before West Virginia, though he, admittedly, wasn't there. The Cradle of Country Music walking tour brochure says, "On New Year's Eve, 1952, Hank Williams checked into the hotel for what would be the final hours of his life. Though he was pronounced dead in West Virginia, many believe Williams was dead before his teenaged chauffeur carried him out of this hotel." I've been told Jack Neely penned those words. In any case, here is his thorough description of the events of that night.

So, we'll never know for sure where he died. Everyone agrees he had his last meal and his last bed in the Andrew Johnson Hotel. That's enough reason to hoist a glass of your favorite beverage to Hank the next time you are on Gay Street.

For now, here's a nicely produced video which includes some footage of Hank and features one of his biggest songs, "Cold, Cold Heart." You may have to wait a minute for it to load, but it's worth the wait.
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