Monday, January 31, 2011

Waynestock: For the Love of Drew, Night Three

The final night of the three night festival offered an exciting musical line-up and promised to be an emotional night with Psychotic Behavior, Drew Bledsoe's band slated to be the final act on the schedule. The crowd grew as the night progressed and must have topped three hundred before it was over. The thing I learned on this night is how amazing Wayne's breadth of understanding of music must be to write as sympathetically as he does regarding such a large range of musical styles. While my critiques lean more on what I like and what I don't, he can recognize quality even if the music may not be his first choice.
Katie and the Bass Drums, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
How did I learn this lesson, grasshopper? By listening to the bands he has praised in his columns and who played on this particular evening. First up was Katie and the Bass Drums, in which there is neither a member named Katie or a drum of any kind, bass or otherwise. The act consists of one person doing comic routines cloaked with minimalist music the theme of which is almost exclusively sex. In the 1970's I had a friend who was totally taken with Cheech and Chong and would listen to their albums repeatedly. I decided that I only needed to hear a joke once and that I really didn't have much use for comedians in general. I still feel that way. It wore thin for me very quickly and, as with most comedians I hear, the sadness just over powers the humor. Listen at the link above and decide for yourself.

Westside Daredevils, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
The Westside Daredevils began their set at 8:00 and had a very easygoing, likeable sound. Some songs had rapid-fire clever lyrics like the Barenaked Ladies and sometimes they sounded more like Phish without the extended jams and endless lyrical repetition. I liked the music live and I like the recordings on the web page even more. I did think they could use a charismatic front-man. They seemed as if they might be more comfortable in their living room or in the studio than in front of a crowd. I found a great video on their Myspace page, but it is five years old. In it they sound more like Wilco or the Jayhawks, so I'm not sure where they fall, but I enjoyed them very much.

Tim Lee 3, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

Tim Lee and Kevin Abernathy, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
One of the bands I most looked forward to seeing was the Tim Lee 3. They put out a double CD in 2010, Raucous Americanus, and Wayne ranked it as the seventh best album of the year. I'd already heard Tim play with Hudson K, so I knew I liked the playing. I'd also learned that the Lees (his wife plays bass) had a great deal to do with organizing this event. I came away convinced they are not only excellent musicians, they are great people. Blues based rock and roll with a southern twang enveloped in a controlled explosion, the music did not disappoint. When Kevin Abernathy joined Tim onstage, the performance was stunning. Raucous Americanus was the only CD I bought on the spot and it deserves to be listed among the best. I also love the production of the CD and the fact that in their live show the vocals are always out front. At the end of the day, I'm a lyric sort of guy.

RB Morris, Tim Lee 3 and Greg Horne, Waynestock

RB Morris, Waynestock, Relix Theater

RB and Hector Quirko, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
I've discussed RB Morris in this space recently, and I'm planning an upcoming post on his poetry, so I won't go into too much detail about his set. It was electric with excellent backing by the Tim Lee 3 with Greg Horne and a guest spot by Hector, which is always a pleasure. I have to say I think I prefer RB with just his guitar. It felt as if he was pushing just a little too much so that his beautiful melodies were flattened just a bit. He started the set with Empire which is one of the most perfect songs I've ever heard. If you don't have it on your ipod, hit that link and plop down your ninety-nine for an absolutely gorgeous classic. On the whole it was another wonderful set by RB. Somebody needs to cover this guys' songs and make him some serious money. He deserves it. His album "Spies, Lies and Burning Eyes," available on his web site and at the Disc Exchange was given the number one nod by Wayne in his end of the year ranking.
Senryu, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

Senryu, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
Senryu changed the vibe entirely after RB's set. Alternative/Indie? I'm not sure what the word is. I kept thinking of the Cure, but I think that was more because of the lead vocalist's haircut than the music, though it did sometimes meander in seductive sort of psychedelic swirl. The singer had a habit of singing partial lines into the microphone and then moving away for the remaining lyrics, which meant I couldn't catch them. The crowd loved them and knew the lyrics, so this was no loss for them as they belted them out. A minor mosh pit developed and I took my old bones to higher ground. I think I was squarely out of my demographic. See what I'm talking about Wayne's range?

Wayne Bledsoe at Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville
Wayne took the stage next to thank everyone and to talk about a few of his memories of the band Psychotic Behavior, which included Drew, playing in his basement, fighting in the yard and playing their first gig. The crowd was silent and the emotion was strong. As he left the stage he introduced Psychotic Behavior who played with an empty microphone at the front of the stage. Their set was very emotional. I was reminded of the first time I heard Lynyrd Skynyrd play "Freebird" after Ronnie died. A single lead guitar line played his vocal spot and I cried. Drew's presence was made powerful by his absence and for this night the music lifted in his honor.

Psychotic Behavior with empty mic for Drew at Waynestock
It was a great three days of music, respect and support among the family of Knoxville musicians. I've known that Knoxville has an amazing array of talented bands and singer/songwriters, but to see them all come together for something bigger than themselves and to lay their gifts on the table in honor a special man among us and one gone was something to experience, remember and cherish.

There is only one way to end this post. Below is a recording made not long before Drew's death, accompanied by photographs of him through the years.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Waynestock: For the Love of Drew, Night Two

Relix Theater in former White Store, N. Central, Knoxville
Fortunately for us working types, the second night of the festival was a Friday night, so sleeping in figured into the possibility of another late night. With a great line-up including several bands I've wanted to hear, I planned to stay to the conclusion.

Art in Action, Relix Theater, Waynestock, Knoxville, Tennessee
The people watching wasn't as good as the music turned out to be, but it was fun in its own right. The music legends of Knoxville, past and present, circulated through the crowd, including Opry member Con Hunley, Cruz Contreras fresh off the Black Lillies' fabulous concert at the Bijou, Hector Quirko and Scott Miller back in town for the event, members of the Lonetones and the bands from each of the nights. A local artist named Gillian (I believe) painted through the show. The painting was ultimately auctioned for the cause and brought $300. Madeline Rogero also hung out in the crowd seeming to really enjoy herself. I was impressed that she stayed until the end. That's a potential mayor with taste and stamina.

Quartjar, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
But people watching wasn't what the night was about. Quartjar got everything moving with their hard-driving rock and roll. Built around simple riffs, smashing drums and heavy bass, the trio sounded different to me than their recorded output. I heard a sort of melodic metal, while the music on their site sounds more like late sixties rock ala Deep Purple. I guess there isn't that much difference between the two, but it seemed like it at the time.
Todd Steed and the Sons of Phere, Waynestock, Knoxville, January 2011
Todd Steed and the Sons of Phere stepped in next and provided their usual quirky brand of eccentric pop and rock. Todd is a talented veteran of the local music scene and a very witty person who does a great service to Knoxville in a number of ways. The music of the band, however, often wears thin for me. Many of the songs are built around a single clever conceit and once exploited, they lose their capacity to surprise. The melodies also seem to fall into a limited, repetitive range, but the fun lies in Todd's somewhat unpredictable personality. Other musicians seem to really love him, so I'm probably missing something. The inclusion of local favorite Dave Nichols on guitar is always a pleasure.
Kevin Abernathy Band, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
Around 9:00 the Kevin Abernathy Band started their set and the night really began to sparkle. The spectacular guitar work, crisp sound and excellent vocals by Abernathy, put to good use on well-crafted pop/rock songs made this a set to remember. The sound of this trio wasn't as over-powering as the first of the night, but the result was a much more focused sound that emphasized the songs. The backing vocals from the bass player and drummer were also pitch perfect for the music. Kevin has an excellent grasp of economic guitar playing, providing just enough fireworks in a solo to make the listener wish it could continue just a bit longer. The first complete high light of the evening for me came when Tim Lee joined the group on stage for a power guitar avalanche. His most recent recording is A Beautiful Thing and this is one of the two artists from the night most likely to wind up on my ipod.
Mic Harrison, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

Scott Miller joins Mic Harrison, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
Mic Harrison and the High Score followed Kevin Abernathywith their brand of straight-ahead rock and roll and Americana tinged songs. Wayne had their most recent release, Great Commotion, pegged as number eight of his top ten local releases last year. Mic has been a part of the Knoxville music scene for many years and was a founding member of the storied Viceroys along with Scott Miller. Mic made rock and roll look easy and the band provided a spirited set which culminated in the arrival of Scott Miller on the stage. This provided the second highlight of the evening, as the band and the house went through the roof. Wearing a "Bruce, WTF?" UT shirt, playing harmonica and singing, Scott accompanied the band on the final two songs of their set.

The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011

Rus Harper of the Melungeons

Rus Harper, The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville

The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville
Next came the band, the Melungeons. This was the group I was most interested in hearing. Wayne placed their most recent album, Blackwater Swamp, as the third best local album of the past year.His description of their music as "gritty, nasty, and totally arresting," about sums it up. Lead vocalist Rus Harper struts and stumbles all over the stage, sometimes falling. He growls, howls, screams and occasionally sings between expletives hurled lovingly at the crowd that he deemed, "weirdos." Profane, sacrilegious on occasion and often monotonous musically, this strange amalgamation of musicians provided easily the most compelling spectacle of the event. The music sometimes elevated itself and often seemed on the verge of falling apart, only to fall together again in the hands of a front man who seems crazy and may be crazy, but despite his missing tooth and pot belly or maybe because of them, his stringy waist-length hair, black trench coat and black-painted nails he was completely captivating. Really, how could you not watch - you would be afraid to turn your back to the man.

The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville

The Melungeons, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville

Rus Harper, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville

Rus Harper: is this the face of a normal person?
The Drunk Uncles ended the show and provided a complete 180 degree shift from the dark nastiness that preceded it. Their country songs and upbeat vibe eased the crowd away from the precipice and out onto the dance floor. With the excellent song-writing of Jeff Barbra, perfect musicianship and excellent vocals - particularly from Mike McGill, who has a great country voice - this batch of fun will remind you of what real country music used to sound. I wondered as I listened if there couldn't be some small space for them on country music radio, but probably not unless they were overproduced beyond recognition. If you like country music, you can't go wrong with the Uncles. This is the other act from the evening most likely to wind up on my ipod.

The Drunk Uncles, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
I headed home exhausted from standing, dancing, sitting on church pews and a long week in general. Not that I would consider missing Saturday night's show for anything. I'll post on it, next.
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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Waynestock: For the Love of Drew, Night One

The Relix (pronounced like the word "relics") Theater is an unassuming storefront in Happy Holler - which is an area about  a mile and half out Central Avenue from downtown proper. It's across the street from the Time Warp Tea Room and next to Vega-rama. Inside it looks like an old warehouse with heavy curtains dividing it in half, front and back, and a stage set just to the front side of the curtains. I could not have imagined that the sound would be as good as it turned out to be. Wayne Bledsoe was seen moving about, receiving well wishes from a pretty steady stream of those present. I would guess the attendance for this night was around fifty to seventy five, which disappointed me a bit, though the best known acts were scheduled for the next two nights. Admission was free, which is my favorite price.

Jake Winstrom, Sean McColough, Steph Gunnoe, Karen Reynolds and Greg Horne
I heard someone say this was the mellow night and I understand the sentiment, but I don't entirely agree. It started out that way, if by mellow you mean musically and not lyrically. Assembled on the stage to start the three day Waynestock festival were some of Knoxville's finest songwriters. Often their songs are sandpaper tough and tackle the toughest of life's subjects. That's not so much mellow, but I'll agree the sound fit the description. Each member of the lineup played an acoustic instrument, either guitar, fiddle or mandolin and, as was the case with the songwriter's showcase that I spotlighted last month, they took turns performing mostly original songs.

Songwriter Showcase kicks off Waynestock and the Relix Theater
The line-up included (from the left) Jake Winstrom, Sean McCollough, Steph Gunnoe, Karen Reynolds and Greg Horne. Greg served as the host and kept things moving nicely. I've always enjoyed his work and I've written about Karen before. She is an excellent songwriter and was a host of the Indie Grrls event last summer and she hosts Writer's Block each week on WDVX. Sean and Steph are members of the Lonetones whose melodic, hypnotic sounds are very much worth seeking out. One of my most played songs on my ipod is Little Thing. I can't hear it enough. Rounding out the artists was a young singer, Jake Winstrom, whose vocal delivery is a very different style. At first I wasn't certain, but in the end I decided I liked it quite a bit. While his music didn't resemble theirs, his high vocals reminded me a bit of the Band, for example in the song Tears Of Rage.

The Beaded, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
The well-known local band, The Bearded took the stage in the second slot and were fun, as always. The antics of Matt Morelock were in full bloom. He appeared to destroy a mouth harp and damage enough banjo strings he had to move to a smaller version of the instrument, which he had nearby. The damaged harp was later auctioned for $100. I continue to be impressed with the vocals by KyleCampbell. At their goofiest jug-band best, The Bearded comes across as a good novelty act. At their straight-forward best with Kyle singing real country music, they become more credible as serious artists. With the right material I can imagine the band and/or Kyle having quite a future. If the novelty component continues to be emphasized, I can see lots of fun ahead for local audiences. I'm not sure which the band prefers.

The Bearded, Waynestock, Relix Theater, Knoxville, January 2011
Hudson K closed the night and they were the act I most anticipated. I'm not clear if Hudson K is simply another name for Christina Horn or if it is also the name for the band she fronts. Her first album featured Jeff Christmas on guitar and Nate Barrett on drums. I had seen she and Nate together at the Indie Grrls shows and I think there is a picture of Christina at the above link for those shows. At the Waynestock show she had Nate on drums, but Tim Lee on guitar. I loved the portions I heard. I had to leave early because my alarm was set to go off in about six hours for work, but I probably heard half the set and found it intriguing. Reading the blog on her site, she felt the piano was mixed too far down and I would agree that the guitar was prominent, but it was Tim Lee, so how bad can that be? (In the last couple of nights I've learned how amazing he is, but more on him later.) The influence of Tori Amos is unmistakable, but her sound has more of a punk element to mix with the intense confessional and classical elements. It's almost as if Patty Smith tutored Tori Amos and we got Hudson K. I could not hear the lyrics as well as I could have wished and my pictures were all duds, so I don't have anything to offer on that front. I will encourage you to go to her web site and read up on a coming concert and video filming February 17.

And so, night one ended around 11:00 for me. It was a great start for what promised to be a fun three nights.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For the Next Few Days, It's Waynestock!

If you are like me, you hear about great local bands, but you never seem to be able to catch some of them with the greatest buzz. I probably do catch more than my share, but I'm still missing some. Hudson K, The Malungeons, Tim Lee 3 - I haven't seen any of them. Wouldn't it be nice to have an opportunity to see them all together? Well, the time has come.

It's called "Waynestock: For the Love of Drew" in honor of Wayne Bledsoe whose son Drew died at twenty-three years of age last month. If you don't know Wayne Bledsoe, you must not care much about music or you must be new to Knoxville. Wayne has written about music in the Knoxville News Sentinel since 1984. I moved to Knoxville in 1982 and I can't remember a time when I haven't enjoyed reading Wayne's columns. I always found his critiques to be spot on and he always pushed me to explore music I would not have noticed otherwise. Even when I didn't like some of what he said about my various musical heroes, in the end, I would recognize the validity of his comments. He's also always been open to being contacted when I've had questions or comments and is quick to respond to a humble reader when contacted.

So, the shows are to raise money to help with his expenses, but I think they are more to celebrate the life of Drew, who made his own contributions to the local music scene, to express appreciation for Wayne and to raise a glass in a pretty spectacular way to local music. The shows will be held in what I'll call the downtown extension of Happy Holler at the Relix Theater (1208 N. Central Avenue). Thursday night is free and the next two nights are $5 each. How can you go wrong?

Here's the schedule:
Thursday, January 27 - FREE
7pm - Singer/Songwriters-in-the-Round: Greg Horne, Jake Winstrom, Sean McCollough, Steph Gunnoe and more!
9pm - The Bearded
10pm - Hudson K

Friday, January 28
7 pm - Quartjar
8 pm - Todd Steed & the Suns of Phere
9 pm - Kevin Abernathy Band
10 pm - Mic Harrison & the High Score
11 pm - The Melungeons
12 mid - The Drunk Uncles

Saturday, January 29
7 pm - Katie & the Bass Drums
8 pm - Westside Daredevils
9 pm - Tim Lee 3
10 pm - RB Morris
11 pm - Senryu
12 mid - Psychotic Behavior (w/Ben Savage of Whitechapel)

I'm hoping to catch every night, but we'll see how that goes. Occasionally real life gets in the way of what I would like to do. Of course, I'll let you know what I see and hear. I hope to see you there.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Anarchists Among Us? What happens when a liberal comes to Knoxville?

What if that liberal prefers to refer to himself as a socialist? What if he is comfortable with the label "anarchist" and questions the legitimacy of the power of any government, including our own? How would such a person be received in Knoxville?

Noam Chomsky

The answer might surprise you. It certainly surprised me. I intended this blog to be about the speech Noam Chomsky gave at UT tonight. I hoped to have a picture or two to post. I didn't get in. I arrived about twenty minutes before the scheduled start and was immediately confronted with hundreds of people in a line that flowed from the entrance to the Cox Auditorium in the Alumni Gym, down the hill and around the side of Neyland Stadium. The speech had been moved there because of the anticipated size of the crowd and it proved to be far too small. I'm told the doors were closed at 5:30, a full hour and half before the speech was to begin.

As I was walking toward the front of the line to see if perhaps the doors had not been opened for some reason, the people near the doors began walking down the hill. Further entry was denied due to the building reaching capacity. Hundreds of people left disappointed. Once I re-entered the parking garage to leave, people were still arriving hoping to see the speech. It was stunning.

I'm not sure if he spoke about linguistics - he is considered one of the fathers of modern linguistics - or behavioral psychology, philosophy or politics, each subjects about which he has written numerous books, but it was obvious that this man who does not run from left-leaning political labels that are used as political curse words in today's discourse, was given a very warm reception.

Richard Milhous Nixon, 37th President of the U...

In the shadow of the stadium that a few decades ago hosted Richard Nixon, along with tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters and a few dissenters, a liberal came and was welcomed. Could Knoxville possibly be entering a more politically tolerant phase? Are there that many anarchists among us? I don't know. I do know that many people supported an appearance by a liberal and many left disappointed at having missed him. Maybe there are simply that many fans of linguistics in our little town.
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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Black Lillies Cruz Through CD Release Concert

Black Lillies sold out Bijou debut of "100 Miles of Wreckage"
Excitement built for months among local music lovers for the sold out Black Lillies CD release concert at the Bijou. I first heard about it last fall when I saw the band open for the Steel Drivers at Cumberland Caverns. Each time I've heard them, they sound more polished than the time before. I'm tempted to say they are tighter - and they are in the sense of being more comfortable with each other - but it's almost as if knowing each other better has allowed them to play a bit looser, with a little more abandon. As much as they were very good last fall, they've taken a major step since that time and now seem very comfortable headlining at the Bijou.

The New Familiars with Ian Thomas sitting in
The show started with Charlotte based band, The New Familiars. There's is an interesting amalgamation of southern rock and roll with an Appalachian sensibility. Sometimes sounding like a jam band ala Phish and sometimes sounding like a British Invasion band (complete with puzzling British accents) they were at their best when rocking hard and wailing harmonies. The crowd seemed to give them a warm reception.

A snaggle-toothed Cash charms the crowd between sets
Between sets the best entertainment in the house was provided by Cash Contreras who called from the balcony to his "daddy" (Cruz Contreras) and his "mama" (Robinella) and to individual band members and various friends. Apparently the excitement of working the room from the balcony finally wore him down because by the time the show started and Cruz said something to him, he was passed out asleep in grandma's lap, only his little cowboy boots visible as they extended over the balcony railing.

Black Lillies, Bijou, Knoxville, January 22, 2011
The Black Lillies took the stage with a couple of extra members. A banjo player joined them for the beginning and other segments of the set and Billy Contreras sat in for much of the night on fiddle. The new and old songs flowed together beautifully and highlighted a band feeling comfortable in their own skin. The new album is "100 Miles of Wreckage" and rather than attempting to review the new music, I'll defer to our local review master, Wayne Bledsoe, who reviewed the album here. The songwriting is the star, shining a light once more on what contemporary country music could have become. Equal parts Americana/Folk flowing through the country sound gives the band a fresh approach to a worn and frayed genre.
Black Lillies, Bijou, Knoxville, January 22, 2011
Highlights for the night went to individual performances. Tom Pryor on electric and steel guitar gives the band its muscle and keeps the sound from becoming more pure folk. A phenomenal player on either instrument, for my money, his time is better spent playing electric guitar and I wish he would get out from behind the pedal steel. He seemed more on the verge of establishing his rightful place in the center of the mix than when last I saw the band. Trisha Gene Brady certainly isn't shy about claiming her piece of the action. Her backing and lead vocals are a real treat. She also seemed to be the crowd favorite, with many people calling out to her and bringing her roses. Again, my opinion, her voice is so amazing, I wouldn't mind hearing her share more lead vocals. Billy Contreras, Cruz' brother, is equally impressive on the fiddle. At one point after playing a solo, Cruz advised the audience not to "try this at home." Good advice, and here is my opinion, again: Get the boy in the band full time. He adds so much possibility to the sound with his versatile playing that it could only help.

Cruz Contreras of the Black Lillies
Finally, Cruz, of course, is the centerpiece to the entire operation. It's almost hard to believe this is the same quiet, behind the scenes guy who backed Robinella. He's still certainly not a domineering personality, always seeming to happily share the attention, but he's found his own way to front a band, with his self-deprecating humor and soft southern charm. He also provided another highlight by playing the beautiful grand piano for a couple of songs.

Black Lillies without amplification, Bijou, Knoxville, January 22, 2011
As the show wound down, the band took their turn at standing front stage, singing and playing without amplification, in the acoustically stunning Bijou. I've seen two other artists attempt to do this. Robert Earl Keen failed miserably to quieten his drunken rowdy fans. The Dirty Guv'nahs did much better at their New Year's Eve show. This, however, was as good as it gets. The band played "Go to Sleep Now" lightly and the vocals rang out and the crowd actually listened. It truly was a great moment, but don't take my word for it, check out the video below. It includes the "don't try this at home moment."

Afterward, encores were played and everyone was invited back onto the stage for a rousing finish to a warm evening so intimate it felt like a thousand of your closest friends gathered in the living room for a little sensational music. Pick up their first album, Whiskey Angel and get the new one as soon as possilbe. Here's to much, much more from this exceptional band.

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