Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wrap, Wrap, Wrap, Wrap it Up - And Start It All Over Again

It's time to say goodbye to the year ending and hello to a new one. I hope you are saying goodbye to a good year. If not, at least there is the looming new year full of possibilities. There is always hope the next one will be better.

For our city I think it was a pretty good year. Many businesses opened downtown. Property values seem to have stabilized. Our mayor is now our governor and we might hope he remembers the people back home as he assumes his new office. I think he will. On the down side, we appear to have completely lost hope of having a new downtown library and we don't know if our new city mayor will be as strong or effective an advocate for downtown development as our last mayor. At the county level we have replaced a very unpopular mayor and we'll see how the new mayor plays out.

For now, what can we do? Throw a big party and celebrate the good from the last year and our hopes for the coming year. I'm usually inclined to stay at home and quietly bring in the new year, but downtown offers too many tempting possibilities. First Night Knoxville is the city's official celebration and it looks to be very good this year. I caught part of it last year and while we aren't Time's Square, Market Square was a pretty exciting place to be. I'm sure it will be fun again this year. The stage at the newly named Bill Lyons Pavilion (congrats Bill) will be filled with great entertainers including two of my favorites to catch: Jodie Manross and the Lonetones as well as Hudson K and many others.

The traditional host of the Bijou New Year's Eve concert, Scott Miller, will be at the Shed this year and that promises to be a great show. The Bijou booked the Dirty Guv'nahs with opening band Dishwater Blonde and that's where I'll have to be. I would say join me, but unless you've got your tickets, it's too late: they sold out. I'll tell you all about it in a blog sometime soon.

In the meantime, I hope you have a safe, happy beginning as we turn the calendar over one more time.

I'm going to have to leave you with two videos. The first is logical: It's a great Dirty Guv'nahs video in honor of their New Year's Eve concert. The other was sent in by my friend Kevin and I can't help but use it just because it is so great. What does Bob Marley have to do with Knoxville and the New Year? Well, maybe we'll just Stir It Up a bit around this place! Happy New Year, Ya'll.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lost and Found Objects, Friends, Stories on the Street and Happy Endings

Strollstice Group holds candles and sings, Market Square, Knoxville
Recently I donned my coat and hat ready for an evening of pictures on the street. It was the night of the Tour de Lights and the Strollstice. I hoped to sing along with the carrollers and return to take photographs of the bike ride. The last thing I do before I head out the door is grab my camera. That's where the night took an unexpected turn. My camera was not to be found. I had taken it out earlier and made stops at Bliss and Mast, so I hoped I'd left it on the counter as I made my purchases and that I would find it there, safe and secure. Honestly, my first thought was that I hoped I could retrieve it in time to take pictures of the events in question.

I passed the group gathering for the Strollstice. It's a gathering started last year by the late, much loved, Robert Loest, hero of many downtown residents. His idea was to banish the darkness with candles at the beginning of the Winter Solstice after the longest night of the year. A blessing was given by a priest and the group paraded around downtown singing carols into the night. This year's event was also set in remembrance of Robert who died unexpectedly last February.

Strollstice Group sings "Auld Lang Syne" on Market Square
I spoke to Victoria at Bliss who took my number, but reported no camera. I checked the shelves near where I selected gifts for Urban Baby. No luck. My pulse and my pace quickening, I walked to Mast and spoke to the crew at the front counter and looked on the shelves there. Nothing. I walked back home with the sinking feeling that I would have to buy a new camera which is definitely not what I need to spend money on at Christmas. I searched the house again. I returned to Bliss. I returned to Mast. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Forget the events of the evening, how would I blog at all until I got a new camera?

I decided I had to leave my number there though, realistically, I knew if the camera had not shown up in the first hours since I left it, it would not be returned by someone who was sudddenly stricken with an attack of conscience. I said as much to Amber (pictured in last photo in the Tour de Lights post) who had not been at the counter when I asked the first time. She informed me that a manager had found a camera earlier. The angels sang. I sang (inside). My blogging career would not end, after all.

I found the Strollstice group as they ended their walk. I missed most of the event, but perhaps got the best part. They sang "Auld Lang Syne" on a cold and wet winter night, candles held aloft. Small voices, small glimmers of light. As the group dispersed I talked to friends - not old aquaintances, but good new ones. I felt thankful for the great place I live and for friendly faces on the street. Of course, I felt thankful for my camera.

Cynthia Markert, smiling as always, stands on Union Avenue
One of the most consistently friendly faces downtown is Cynthia Markert. Her paintings are well known treasures, but her warm presence is even more of a jewel. I bumped into her just after the Strollstice gathering ended. She, like myself, was taking pictures on the street of the bikers and enjoying the joy of the occasion and the season. I told her the story of my camera and she told me the story of one of her paintings.

She'd carried a number of her paintings out to her car parked on Gay Street and had driven off, only to realize later that a painting had been left on the street. She said, "Of course, it quickly became my favorite." She thought it was lost forever until she got a call from a couple who found it leaning against the escalator behind the Regal Cinema. They had tracked her down and wanted to return her painting.

So what is the moral of these stories? I'm not sure. I do know that objects lost and found become more precious. I know that there are good, honest people in downtown Knoxville. And mostly I know that I'm happy and proud to find myself among those people.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sights from an Ending Year

Still Moving, Market Street, Knoxville, December 2010
I usually have a few random images that haven't found a home. I keep running into this truck around town. It is marvelous that is still able to move about town at all and, as such, is a great inspiration to those of us of a certain age who hope we can keep doing the same. My first vehicle to ever own was a 1949 Ford Pickup truck with a busted head gasket. I owned it for only a week or two, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for old rust heaps. I do miss that leopard-skin print ceiling someone had custom-designed for the old girl.

Skating on the Square, Market Square, Knoxville, December 2010

Skating on the Square, Market Square, Knoxville, December 2010
Skating has been a theme for Christmas in the City, as it has for the past several years. It's great to see so many people having so much fun. As I mentioned in a previous post, however, there are those who are raising questions about its continuation. Merchants seem to have mixed feelings about it. There certainly is no way to suggest it adds to the aesthetic quality of the Square. It is without question pretty much an eyesore unless you are standing close to the rink and watching the skaters. Still, there are some days it is packed, so that's worth something.

Holiday Market, Market Street, Knoxville, December 2010
Finally, the Holiday Market pictured here has been on my radar for the first time even though we lived downtown last year when it happened. This was our first year to buy extensively from the Farmer's Market and we absolutely loved that experience - both the good food and the familiar friendly faces each week. So, as it ended before Thanksgiving to be replaced by the Holiday Market, we had some hope of stretching out the great experience. It just wasn't the same. As pictured here, the crowds were often sparse. The weather didn't cooperate given the colder temperatures and unusually rainy month. I hope the vendors did well, but it just didn't have the spirit to which we had become accustomed. It also meant more necessary, but not so attractive vendor tents.

I feel like I'm griping a bit here and I don't really mean to, but one other thing stands out in my mind that diminishes the aesthetic quality of any large event on Krutch Park or Market Square: Porta-Potties. How about some real bathrooms downtown for the general public to use? I understand that businesses don't want a steady flow (bad pun) of visitors to their facilities, but what are the folks to do? It seems like an obvious need that should be addressed by the city. Maybe the new mayor would like to forever be memorialized by permanent public facilities in Krutch Park. Probably not.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Downtown Churches, Christmas Eve and a Slight Inexplicable case of the Creeps

One of the little secrets about downtown to the people who aren't involved is that there is a lot of action in the streets around midnight on Christmas Eve. Just after midnight is when a number of downtown churches end their Christmas Eve services and probably between one and two thousand people spill out into the night. First Baptist, St. John's and Church Street UMC have services and I believe Immaculate Conception does, as well. As the various parishioners move out into the cold night, the bells ring and it's Christmas day.

St. John's Episcopal, Cumberland Avenue, Knoxville
On my walk Christmas afternoon I took a small stab at photographing St. Johns. It is one of the most beautiful of some seriously beautiful churches downtown. I stopped after one picture because I couldn't find a way to capture the whole thing. It's worth taking some time the next time you are in the city to check it out.

First Baptist Church, Main Street, Knoxville
First Baptist Knoxville's Creche
I also walked to First Baptist to check out their creche. If you haven't seen it, you might want to make the effort next year. I think it is life-sized, but it seems larger than life sitting high on the front portico of the building. I'm not sure why, but it has always given me the creeps. The figures are all white and maybe that is part of it, though statues don't generally give me the creeps and they are often white. It is strange looking into their vacant eyes, though I've never been close enough to do so before this trip. Maybe the unease is from some buried fear from my childhood or from a superstitious nature I don't fully appreciate in myself.

Mary, Joseph, Jesus
Angel at First Baptist
I walked up to photograph the tableau and faced whatever was there. It did demystify the figures a bit. There's some wear. A shepherd has lost a finger, the angels are fraying a bit around the edges. What do you think? Do you see beauty and mystery or do you get the creep factor? Maybe it's just me. Maybe I should see a therapist and find out what is really going on in my little brain.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Day in Downtown Knoxville

So Christmas has come and gone, once again. What is it like to experience Christmas in the city? Of course, like anywhere, that depends on the person you ask. For everyone downtown, it's pretty quiet. The streets are empty for most of the day. A soft snow-mist fell for much of the morning before turning to more proper flakes by noon. Few cars passed in the street. In my home the day meant sleeping late, opening gifts with family and enjoying brunch around noon. It was exhausting and, of course, called for a nap. Not much different than the suburbs, right?

I was the lonely recycler.
Mid-afternoon I took a walk to check the pulse of the city. First, I walked to the recycle center to drop off our boxes and used wrapping paper. I was happy to see I wasn't the first to deliver the balls of festive, useless paper to a new life. I took a shot of a little additional urban blight as I left. These buildings could be great. I wonder how they play into the vision of Marble Alley.

State Street blight or Marble City makeover?

Homeless friends panhandling on Christmas day.
Walking down Gay Street, I found these guys. One said he was from Morristown looking for what to do next. The woman kept laughing uncontrollable and the guys told me she needs to take her Haldol. I cautioned them about panhandling in the same spot where Bill and Jake were previously accosted. One of them had a harmonica which he played sporadically, so I guess they could take the busker defense.

Christmas movie goer, Regal Cinemas, Downtown Knoxville, Christmas day
Regal Cinemas had three workers to one customer when I looked, but they claimed to have had a pretty busy day. They were one of the few businesses open. The ice skating rink was open and had about twenty skaters when I looked. I hope it has done well this year, but I've looked several times when it wasn't very busy.

Twenty ice skaters skating, Knoxville, Christmas Day 2010

James Park Home, Christmas Day 2010
I walked down Walnut Street and took a pretty good picture of the James Park house. James Park was Knoxville's second mayor. The foundation dates to 1797 with the actual structure going back to 1812.  It's pretty remarkable that it has survived. It's one of the oldest houses in Knoxville.

Umoja Abdul-Ahad, Knoxville, Christmas, 2010
I kind of hit full-cycle by the end of my walk when I met Umoja Abdul-Ahad. He was kind enough to stand for this picture as he prepared to walk the city, himself. Omoja, I learned, is the executive director of Global Recycle Summit, an organization that promotes recycling. I was relieved I recycled my Christmas wrapping paper rather than trashing it. I would have felt a bit guilty.

Dirty Guv'nahs' New Year's Eve Show
So, the action was slow, but I made a new friend. Not a bad outcome of a little walk in the city. As I turned back onto Gay Street, ice pellets fell heavily and the chill had deepened. I walked past the Bijou marque announcing the upcoming Dirty Guv'nahs' New Year's Eve show. I realized it was a farewell walk to a year that is ending. It's been a good year for our city and here's hoping the next is even better. Starting it with the Dirty Guv'nahs at the Bijou would be a promising beginning, indeed. I certainly plan to be there.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Christmas Everybody

This will be my final post until after Christmas. I may actually skip a few days while I spend time with my family. I hope you each have a wonderful holiday however you celebrate it. I wish for each of you that special, quiet moment where through the din of shopping, commercialism, Walmart and all the noise that runs counter to the true meaning of this day that you feel that special spark that reminds you of its spectacular wonder. For everyone who does not celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a moment of peace during this day and share in a glimmer of the hopefulness this day is intended to give to each of us.

I'll leave you with a couple of videos. These are probably my two favorite Christmas songs. Happy Christmas, everybody.

The first is the song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" with lyrics by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The video incorrectly states that his son died in the Civil War. He was shot, but survived.

The second is probably too familiar, but is still powerful: John Lennon's "Happy Christmas, War is Over."

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Local Christmas Music for Your Stocking

As always, Knoxville enjoys an embarrassment of riches in the musical arena. This Christmas season has given us at least three new disks featuring local artists. You can't go wrong with any of the three, so head out to disk exchange and pick them up!

The first is by Christabel and the Jons. After much thought and consideration she decided to call her new Christmas album . . . "The Christmas Album." No room for confusion there. This is the one of the three that I haven't heard. It was sold out at Disc Exchange when I inquired. According to the person I spoke to there and a review I read it's about what you would expect: gently swinging renditions of old favorites along with a couple of quirky numbers such as John Prine's "Christmas in Prison." It isn't yet available on itunes or Amazon, but you can get it here or of course, you can get it at Disc Exchange - they told me they would have copies starting Tuesday of Christmas week.

Also available is a new disc by a collection of local artists including the Dirty Guv'nahs, Jonathan Sexton and the Big Love Choir and Jay Clark among others, called "Homegrown for the Holidays." Mostly filled with traditional tunes, my favorites are "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by the Dirty Guv'nahs and "Happy Birthday Jesus" by Jay Clark. While not all the music is superb, what makes this disc a must-buy is the fact the money raised from the sales of the album go to the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission. So you get some good music and a good feeling from supporting a good cause.

Finally, the new CD by Scott Miller is my favorite of the batch. It's called "Christmas Gift" and the only flaw it has is that it is too short, coming in at only seven songs. It has a connection to Christabel's album in its inclusion of "Christmas in Prison." Overall it has a reverent feel without relying too much on traditional songs. It's nice to hear Roger Miller's "Old Toy Trains" and Neil Young's "Star of Bethlehem on the same CD. I only wish he had done a full-length album. I wouldn't mind seeing an expanded version of this one next year. It is available on itunes and at Disc Exchange.

So how about enjoying a bit of seasonal cheer while supporting the local folks?

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bikes, Bright Lights and Biting Cold

Santa and his Rudolph, Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010
To avoid the Christmas spirit in downtown Knoxville, you must be determined to revel in your inner Scrooge. From Christmas Wrestlers to gorgeous lights, we've got enough spirit to make a Grinch run and hide. The events and fun just keep coming. Tonight was no exception.

Ice Queen and her ride, Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010

What the Dickens!?! Andi's candles are actually lighted!

Halloween at Christmas?
Thirty eight degrees and a steady drizzle didn't stop dozens of bikers from joining the annual Tour de Lights bike ride through downtown Knoxville. The cold, sloppy night still offered an upgrade from the icy conditions last Thursday when the ride was originally scheduled.

Happy couple at the Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010.

Santa in his sleigh, Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010.

Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010.

Stars of Bethlehem? Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010.
The ride brought out couples and whole families, old and young, serious riders and the less-than-serious. The spirit of camaraderie in the midst of the silliness and the fun promotion of a simple, pollution-free transportation alternative were really what the night was about.

Adult, Fit Santa, Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010

Gotta have Elves, Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010

A Christmas Story Lamp - and yes, she rode in heels.

Well paid and happy judges, Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010
The bikers gathered in a chaotic group at the corner of Market and Union. I understood the start time to be 6:00 PM, then I heard 7:00PM. By the time I heard a rumor it would be 7:30, I was getting about as stiff as my camera which periodically refused to take pictures during the event.

Tour de Lights on Gay Street, Knoxville, December 2010

Tour de Lights on Gay Street, Knoxville, December 2010

Strange Cycle, Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010

Tour de Lights on Gay Street, Knoxville, December 2010
It did begin around 7:00 amidst great cheer. Smiles abounded from the riders and organizers to the judges and hot chocolate personnel. In the pictures the drizzle looks almost like the snow from my pictures last week, but it was a slowly soaking mist that must have made the biking slightly dicey in a group at night. The night was cold and wet, but the friendship was warm and real and, in the end, maybe the weather was perfect for a winter time ride with Ice Queens, Santas, Reindeer and everything Christmas.
Happy Hot Chocolate Crew, Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2010
(special thanks to second from left who got my camera returned to make this blog possible)

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Shopping in the City: Downtown Shopper's Guide

Print from Rala
This is not going to be an exhaustive give guide like you might find in Metropulse. I do think it is worth mentioning, however, that great shopping is waiting for you downtown - either for you gifts prior to Christmas or as a place to spend that gift money that you are hoping will be stashed in an envelope under your tree. I've tried to support downtown stores this season and I've found that to be quite an easy proposition. The variety of merchandise available downtown has blossomed this past year into quite an extensive list.

Shirts for the Lumberjack in the family: Mast General, Half Price
 In the Old City a favorite store is The Unarmed Merchant featuring artist quality work at very reasonable prices. Another intriguing spot in the Old City is the Fortunate Traveler which features items from around the world some of which are similar to the much-missed 10,000 villages. New businesses such as Swagger (vintage athletic shoes), Rala (work by mostly local artists), Black Market (urban clothing), Fizz (jewelry and a little of everything) and Morelock Music (musical instruments and so much more). Of course there are the stalwarts of downtown which continue to be great for your gift-finding adventures: The Art Market, Bliss, Bliss Home, Earth to Old City and Mast General Store.

Oil Lamp: Knoxville Welcome Center
There are many other places to shop and buy gift certificates. One small place you might not consider is the Knoxville Visitor's Center at the corner of Gay and Summit Hill (sharing space with WDVX). They have Knoxville related items as does the gift shop inside the East Tennessee History Center.

Cups with Hand Warmer Handles: Mast General Store
As you can see from the photographs, the mission of finding gifts downtown has been successful. We've also bought gift cards and scarves. Still, we have room for improvement. We've traveled out of downtown to support other good businesses, but it would be nice if downtown had a book store (go to Carpe Librum), a CD store (go to Disc Exchange) and some place with a large selection of cheap wrapping paper (a drug store, maybe?).

Perhaps some of these short comings will be addressed by someone by next Christmas. For now, there is a large selection of perfect presents waiting for you to pick up from friendly merchants downtown. I'll look for you when I'm out.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blue Plate on Ice and a Tasty Menu at Lattitude 35

Tony Lawson, Knoxville Music Icon
Those blessed bad weather days just kept coming last week and, for me, that meant a daily trek through the ice or snow to WDVX studios on Gay Street for the noon Blue Plate Special. Once again, the performers originally scheduled to do the show could not make it, so downtown and just-out-of-downtown musicians were awakened by calls to volunteer to fill the slot.

Van Eaton, WDVX Blue Plate Special, December 2010
Today's volunteer was local favorite Van Eaton, whose associations with Del McCoury garnered him significant attention early in his career. His down-to-earth acoustic jewels and warm vocals were a perfect antidote to the cold weather outside. Tony Lawson filled in as guest host in the absence of Red Hickey who must have been iced in. The sound was a challenge, as no time was available for a sound check. Van walked in the door as he was being introduced - in a dazzling display of faith on Tony's part. The guitar also didn't like moving from warm to cold to warm again and resolutely insisted on slipping ever so slightly out of tune.

Van Eaton, WDVX Blue Plate Special, December 2010
Van will be involved in an interesting songwriters' showcase coming up soon. Called the K-Town Sound Show, it happens in the Lower 35 (which is the old World Grotto stage beneath Latitude 35) on Thursday, December 23rd at 7:35PM. Van will co-host with Jay Clark and "special guests" are expected. I believe I heard Robinella and Sarah Pirkle's name dropped. It ought to be a great event.

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