Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sundown People

What kind of civilization would these people produce?
I've always enjoyed watching the people at the concerts I attend. I sometimes speculate about what kind of world would evolve it everyone disappeared except the people at that concert. Would the world be a better place or a worse place? Does it matter if the concert crowd is a Willie Nelson crowd, a Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Led Zepplin, Jay Z crowd? I suspect it does make a difference.

Happy, musical and responsible (notice the baby ear protection)
If I got to pick, I'd probably pick a Bob Dylan audience to start my new civilization, though that probably doesn't surprise anybody reading this blog. Unfortunately, they would be a bit old. Probably a Ben Harper crowd would be a good one. Of the crowds I've been in at concerts, I think the worst to start a new civilization would be a George Jones crowd or the Guns N Roses/Skid Row crowd. With which concert audience would you start your perfect world?

No music necessary, just dancing.
In the case of Umphrey's McGee they would be a college-aged, colorful group. This was one of the most fun concerts for crowd watching. I wish I could have focused on the people a bit more. I'm sure I could have had twice as many pictures, if not more.

The Dancer and the Rose Guy
I hope you enjoy the ones I did get. I have no idea the names of any of these interesting people. Maybe someone will see themselves. I do have a young demographic, don't I? :-)

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Sundown Jam, Coffee House Jazz and Downtown Reggae

This past episode of Sundown found me with conflicting desires. I love Sundown in the City and generally enjoy it no matter who the artist happens to be. As I'd noted before (and as a result was called "stupid" or some such thing), I've seen Umphrey's McGee and didn't feel I needed to see them again. Still, it's Sundown and I had friends attending, so that was tempting. Katy Free and Wendel Werner were playing at Remedy from 8:00 to 10:00 and I knew that would be great, plus that was Urban Woman's preference. And then there were the Natty Love Joys playing at the Downtown Grill, but that started at 11:00 according to Metropulse and that's pretty late for a work night. Still, the last time I saw them in the now defunct World Grotto they were a blast. What to do?
Zach Deputy, Market Square, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, May 2011
Long time readers of this blog will have a pretty good guess: I tried to do them all. Crazy. I know. But it's all so good and each act is so different from the others. So I started at Sundown for the Zach Deputy portion of the show. What a blast. I'd never heard of him, so I had no idea what to expect. It's hard to nail down his style because he does all sorts of music, but he plays a guitar and makes percussive noises with his mouth which he then loops with his computer set-up. He's a one-man party. He's also oddly charismatic. I'm not sure how it is possible to be charismatic while seated in a chair for an hour, but he is.
Katie Free on Vocals, Melanie Howe on Congas, Remeday Coffee

Wendel Werner on Keyboards, Remedy Coffee
After his portion of Sundown I rendezvoused with Urban Woman and headed for the Old City and Remedy Coffee. With Wendel Werner on the keyboards, Katy Free on Vocals, Melanie Howe on congas and a special appearance by Kolt Free, Katy's younger brother, the evening promised to be a delight and it delivered. Katy's usual mixture of jazz standards along with other great music performed in a jazz style, augmented by Wendel's exquisite playing is always good. Melanie Howe's percussion really pushed the music up a notch. All of them are excellent musicians and the playful musical reparte was great fun. Kolt's appearance added a bit of variety and the pending high school graduate (he graduated that weekend) is clearly talented. As is often the case with sibling voices, their harmony's really shined, particularly as I recall, on "All I Have to do is Dream," the Everly Brother's classic.

Umprhey's McGee, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, May 2011

Crowd at Umphrey's McGee show, Knoxville
After walking Urban Woman most of the way home, I cut back to Sundown and caught the last song by Umphrey's McGee. The crowd was going crazy and it made me wish I could have been there for the whole show. Hands in the air, the dancing crowd clearly had the groove going on.

Natty Love Joys, Downtown Grill, Knoxville, May 2011
I couldn't help but walk over to the Downtown Grill. I'd been told by someone on the street that the band would start at 10:00 instead of 11:00 like I'd thought. They did get going around 10:30 and I listened to their first set before calling it a night. Their great reggae groove is great fun for the dancers and their positive vibration (Ye-ah) is a reminder of all things good. The only downside was the vocals were mixed too low and the Downtown Grill isn't the easiest place to listen to a band. There isn't much room for standing near the music and there are only a few tables in the area. I suppose if you want the music to be background noise to your conversation, which seemed to be the case for many of the patrons, then seeing the band doesn't matter. Of course, I'm not a background noise kind of guy.

Natty Love Joy's, Downtown Grill, Knoxville, May 2011
And so ended a great night of music in the city. It was a perfect night for walking around the city and adjusting your groove as you moved from one genre to another. Every night should be that way. All of us need to adjust our groove now and again, don't we? In another post I'll show you some of the Sundown people doing just that.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Metropulse Reader Appreciation Party

Metropulse Reader Appreciation Party, Latitude 35, Market Square, Knoxville
The Metropulse Reader Appreciation Party was held the same day the "Best of Knoxville" poll results were issued. Held at Latitude 35, from 5:00 - 7:00 Metropulse employees, winners of the various categories and Chamber representatives enjoyed food from the winning restaurants in a private VIP party.
Business After Hours? Chamber-speak, I suppose
At 7:00 the doors opened for the general public. This was the fourth or fifth time I've attended the party which is usually great fun and the food and music are free, so you know I'm liking that. I walked past and took a couple of photographs during the VIP part. I'm not sure if I looked like a stalker, but I was curious. A sweet young woman at the door actually told me to come on in, but I demurred. Maybe another time.
Best food of the Night and Best Service with a Smile: Holy Land Market
My friend Shaft and I arrived at 7:00 and ate some tasty chicken wings from an unidentified restaurant and some falafel from the Holy Land Market. They were some of the last ones actually present and serving their food with a smile. That was my favorite food. Tomato Head was still serving and, of course, it's always good. But something was missing. The crowd was thinner than it had been before. The music had not started.

Upstairs at Latitude, Award Plaques and crowd

Downstairs Tomato Head Table
After eating some of the free food and hitting the falafels several times, we decided to walk to Preservation Pub and have a cold beverage at the outside tables. Good call. A certain Metropulse employee was hanging there, taking a break from his own party, and we had a great time talking about various things Knoxville. The night was pleasant, the company was good. Quite the successful evening.
Texas Tony and the Tornado Ramblers
The party? I stopped back by Latitude and took a couple of photos of the first band scheduled to play. I couldn't tell if they were serious or just goofing. It was a work night and I decided not to wait around for the second band, though I would have liked to have heard Coolrunnings. As I was walking home I was thankful to Metropulse for throwing the party, but mostly I was thinking that sometimes the party isn't in the party at all. Sometimes the good time waiting is with your old friends or maybe some new friends wherever you find them in the city.

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Urban Mystery Picture # 8

It seems it's either feast or famine. I haven't found that sweet spot, yet, where multiple people guess for days before someone finally unlocks the mystery of the urban picture of the week. Last week no one guessed and every other week someone guessed correctly with extreme speed leaving all other contestants with their mouths agape. This week was one of those.

Here was the Urban Mystery Picture:
Urban Mystery Picture #7
Our winner is our first (official) second time winner and the specter of a Holston Building domination of the contest rears its ugly head, once more. Come on people! Hit the streets and beat these guys! Can they be that much smarter than the rest of us? Oh. Right. Well, congratulations go out to Chad Boetger, who is going to have to get a different picture if he keeps winning this thing. He correctly identified the building in question as the building housing WDVX and the Knoxville Tourism Center at the corner of Gay and Summit Hill.
Chad Boetger, Serial Winner
So, still in search of that sweet spot, I've decided to post a picture that I took, so it won't be as arty/cool as Shaft's pictures (which we'll get back to next week), but we'll give it a spin and see what happens. Remember to win you have to be the first to post the correct answer in the comment section below and then you need to e-mail me at knoxvilleurbanguy@gmail.com. Good luck, everybody.

Urban Mystery Picture #8

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Bill Lyons Gets His Due - on his Birthday

Bill Lyons notices a few friends on Market Square.
Bill says, "Wait a minute . . . I'm not stupid!"
Last December, then Mayor Haslam designated the pavilion on Market Square as the Bill Lyons Pavilion on Market Square, but it was left until today, Bill's birthday, for the unveiling of the plaque that will permanently note the fact. Bill was not in the loop, but friends, family, neighbors and co-workers (many of whom fall into more than one of those categories) gathered in a light rain to surprise him. The crowd included his wife Gaye, daughter Laura and son-in-law Jamie, neighbors Harvey Smith and Karen Kluge, friends Andie Ray, Noel Hudson, Finbarr Saunders, Cynthia Moxley (who tweeted frp, this event, but blogs at Blue Streak) and Allen Carmichael among others.
Bill with friends and family.
Following office tradition in the Mayor's office, the person having a birthday is taken out for ice cream. Today, on the way to ice cream something else happened. At first Bill, who is always friendly noticed some of the crowd and began speaking to them, only to realize that this seemed a bit too many of them gathered at one spot for it to be a co-incidence.
Larry Martin says a few words.
The plaque is unveiled to an appreciative Bill and friends.

In front of an appreciative crowd of well-wishers, Larry Martin (Senior Director of Finance and Deputy to the Mayor) said a few words and the bronze marker was revealed. After a number of photographs were taken the crowd joined in a rousing version of "Happy Birthday." Amidst the congratulations, as the crowd began to disperse, I think I heard Bill say, "Now about that ice cream . . ."
A Birthday Serenade for Bill Lyons on Market Square.
For those of you who may not know, Bill is the Senior Director of Policy and Communications for the City of Knoxville. He has a PhD from the University of Oklahoma in Political Science and has held a number of positions at UT since the mid-seventies, including Head of the Department and Professor of Political Science. He has won numerous awards from UT and his peers and has often been recognized for his community service. Bill is also a downtown resident and, if you are still not impressed, I'll seal the deal: he can quote the entire last verse of "Mr. Tambourine Man!"

Congratulations Bill. Sometimes nice guys do win. Your service to Knoxville is very much appreciated.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Breaking News, Bad News and Old City Business Bits

Breaking News: The Oliver Hotel (they are no longer Saints) is open for business. The first customers checked in yesterday. Dann Black, the assistant general manager was kind enough to show me around. He asked that I not take pictures until they have photographs on the website, but he was very gracious as he showed me the rooms and talked about the renovation and decoration of the rooms and lobby. The entrance is beautiful, with a gorgeous chandelier and beautiful chairs framed by the new doors. Art is on the way. The rooms range widely in size and shape, but all have been completely re-done with larger bathrooms complete with hand-laid tile floors inlaid with the new emblem. The restaurant is still six months away from opening, but nine rooms are ready and all twenty-eight should be set to go soon and many are already booked. Prices range from $109 to $319, though they may change a bit, yet. Go by and check it out.
Pieces being broken from the bridge.
Bad News: Another worker was killed on the Henley Street Bridge project. Work has been halted and the green-way is closed in that area. April 13 I wrote "The work must be very dangerous. The side railing is being removed first and each piece is knocked off onto a barge below. There are people working the machinery, people guiding the machine operators from the bridge and people on the barge below where the pieces fall. The large pieces must weigh hundreds of pounds. Of course, one person has died already and it is easy to see how a moment of inattentiveness on any one's part could result in a disaster."
Barge where the pieces fall (notice the person standing beside the crane).
It apparently happened very much like that. I have no way of knowing if the construction company is attending to safety as ardently as they should, but hopefully changes will be forthcoming, if not.

Old City Business Bits:
Jig and Reel, Old City
There are a few more business developments in the Old City worth noting. Manhattan's went out of business a few months ago, leaving a prime location available and it will be filled by a Scottish pub called Jig and Reel. Progress toward an opening appears to be slow moving. This will give us a British pub, Irish pub and Scottish pub in the Old City. I'm not sure what that means, but it's interesting.

Bliss, Old City

Interior of Bliss, Old City
Not so with Bliss, Old City or Old City Entertainment Venue (It seems to want to be both.) at 118 S. Central. The bar seems to be operational and quite attractive, describing itself as an event location and a wine bar. The confounding thing to me is that anyone would name a downtown business "Bliss," given the success and long-time standing of Bliss and Bliss Home on Market Square. It seems the predictable confusion would not be beneficial. I wonder what the owner of the Bliss stores on Market Square think about it. All that said, it looks like a very nice place and locations for events are surprisingly limited downtown.

Organized Play, 131 S. Central
Finally, Organized Play is open on the same stretch of Central. I believe it moved from Cumberland on the other end of downtown. It appears to be a gathering spot for the Dungeons and Dragons crowd and features comics (this is a big week for Green Lantern according to their website). It seems to fit the personality of the Old City - and I mean that in a good way. It's just a little edgier, a little more eccentric than uptown.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Old City and Beyond: Unfinished Business Business

Now, back to your regular programing. When last we left Knoxville for our little Dylan interlude, we were working our way down Jackson Avenue looking into some of the businesses there. Let's finish that thought before we move on to others.
Interior of Blue Slip Winery, 105B West Jackson, Knoxville
Blue Slip Winery is nestled almost at the intersection of Jackson and Central at 105B West Jackson in the basement of the Hewgley Building. Whether wine is your thing or not, it's a beautiful little cellar-level business with gifts of various sorts for the wine-lover in your life. The young man who told me about the business is the brother of the owner who's helping out because his sister and her co-owner also work full-time jobs elsewhere while they work to build the business. It sounds like the next move will be to solicit restaurants to include the wine on their lists. The grapes are grown in Grainger County and the wine produced on site, so it is a very local business that could use your support.

111 E. Jackson, Old City, Knoxville, May 2011
Just down the street past the intersection that defines the Old City, a row of newly re-furbished office or retail spaces sit at 111 E. Jackson. Josh Flory gives more details here. Formerly the site of an antique market, the retail space on the street and the facade are very nice. It's a real upgrade in appearance for that strip of Jackson and here's hoping they have tenants, soon.

Knox Rail Salvage, Jackson Avenue, Knoxville
Once you pass Barley's Taproom going east on Jackson, the area begins to feel a bit more dicey. Pedestrian traffic thins or disappears completely and a quiet, on the weekend at least, settles over the area under and just past James White Parkway that is unnerving. I find myself glancing over my shoulder and becoming keenly aware of any straggling passersby.

Graffiti on Fireproof Storage Building, Knoxville

Walking east on Jackson, Knox Rail Salvage, which I've always heard mentioned but never understood just where it might be, sits on the right. To the left is the Fireproof Storage Building with it's noted graffiti project which I discussed here and later, with the help of photographer Caroline Carter, here. I honestly couldn't tell any difference from months ago when I checked it out. If anything, it seemed like there was less to look at. I'm sure what's there is more visible from the parkway. Maybe Caroline or another helpful reader can give us a better view or an update.

Lay's Market, 622 East Jackson, Knoxville
Just beyond all this was the actual reason I began my Jackson Avenue hike: Lay's Market at 622 East Jackson Avenue. I'd heard about it through an e-mail from Joey, a reader who invited me to drop by for a visit with friendly folks who have been in business for a hundred years. Unfortunately, it turns out I'm not downtown during their hours which don't include evenings or weekends, so I missed the visit opportunity.
Interior of Lay's Market, Jackson Avenue, Knoxville
I did, however, see enough through the window to realize that if you want your meat the old-fashioned way, it's right there on Jackson Avenue. I suspect if you visit during the week you'll find a lot more foot-traffic and a different feel.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Bob Dylan's 70th Birthday or My Life with Bob Dylan

My autographed copy of The Times They Are a-Changin'
Initially, I was too young to be a Bob Dylan fan. I was four-years-old when "Blowin' In The Wind" was recorded. Bob protested, went electric, crashed his motorcycle and went country before I was twelve years old. I missed it. My mother used to say I was born a decade too late and it's probably true.

I discovered Bob Dylan sometime around 1971, just about the time he was written off as a faded meteor from the previous decade. While he fought with his record company and stayed mostly out of the studio for the next two years, his older music was changing my life as I entered adolescence.

My first, battered copy of Writings and Drawings
I'd grown up in George Wallace's Alabama, though I was too young to understand a Governor who stood in the door of the University of Alabama to bar the first black student or to fathom German Shepherds turned loose on black citizens in Birmingham. In my little Baptist Church we sang "Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world." Outside the church it wasn't true and many of those same people had no interest in seeing it change.

Vietnam was on the television. The prevailing view was fatalistic. No one felt there was a choice but to do what the government said, but somehow the adults were convinced we weren't really trying to win, else we would and in short order. There was little tolerance for dissenting voices. Hippies were drug-addled hedonists. We listened to country music: Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty and Buck Owens.

When I started listening to Bob Dylan I didn't understand some of what I heard. Like a prophetic voice speaking in the wilderness of my youth, it sounded to my ears like riddles, like some encrypted language. I remember when I realized what he was talking about in "Oxford Town" when he said he that with his face blackened he had to sit in the back. I learned about Emmett Till, Hattie Carrol and Hurricane Carter and the scales fell from my eyes about the culture in which I was so immersed that even now I struggle to come clean.

Front Cover of Blood on the Tracks

Rare, original back cover of Blood on the Tracks
Bob saved me from disco. Isn't that enough to inspire eternal gratitude? By 1974 I followed Bob in the newspaper and in Rolling Stone. I cut out every article about his tour with the Band. I longed to see him, but it seemed like an impossible dream. Disco took over my friends and with the demise of "underground radio," I felt like a musical outcast. When Blood on the Tracks became a huge hit, I thought there might be hope for the world. At fifteen years old, I didn't understand divorce or the pain of adult relationships, but I felt his pain and understood the difference between pop music and art born of agony. I listened to "Shelter from the Storm" a thousand times in the darkness of my room.

In 1976, with Desire high on the charts, with my seventeen-year-old self attempting to decipher "Isis" and longing for a "Sara" of my own, the Rolling Thunder review announced two shows in one night in Mobile, Alabama. I was stunned both at the opportunity to see him in person and at the ticket price, which at $8.75 was nearly three dollars more than I had paid to see anyone else. My only regret is that I chose one show instead of doing the rational thing and stealing money to go to both. It was transcendent. He was with Joan Baez and Roger McGuin and I could pretend I wasn't born a decade too late.
My favorite Bob Dylan album (most days)
I loved the "Hard Rain" television special and didn't understand why people made fun of his ragged voice and bedraggled looks. I guess they were enjoying the Bee Gees and Donna Summer. "Street-Legal" soon followed and it remains one of my favorite Dylan albums of all time. I saw him in 1978, again in Mobile, doing his "Vegas" show and I thought it was great. It was late in the tour, over six months after "Bob Dylan At Budokan" was recorded, and the music was much better than the album.

I got married in 1979, just a couple of weeks before "Slow Train Coming" came out. It baffled me. it was then that I realized his voice was changing into his old man blues weapon. Small wonder, given the shouting style vocals he used in the latter part of the Rolling Thunder Tour. I cringed to think how it would be received. I was stunned when it was a hit. My wife and I are still transported in time back to south Alabama and that small house trailer with holes in the floor whenever we hear a song from that album. It became the soundtrack to our young marriage.

We lived in Gainesville, Florida when Saved and Shot of Love came out. I saw Bob in Tampa in 1981 and stood at his feet during the most awesome acoustic version of "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" I'll ever hope to hear. We got literature that night from the Jews for Jesus. I enjoyed his religious music, but I was glad by then he had returned to performing the old songs. I was protesting the U.S. involvement in central America and I needed to hear the early songs filled with righteous anger.

Infidels came out within days of the birth of our daughter. We were living in a tiny, ramshackle house in Knoxville, Tennessee and though we didn't have heat when she was born, we had a stereo and that was the first music she heard. I'd read T.H. Lawrence beside her crib then play "Jokerman." I never hoped she would become a fan. I was ten years too young and she missed it by a generation.

As the eighties passed and Bob struggled, so did we. I wondered if any of us would break through to the other side. Then came "Oh Mercy." I finally started making a little money. I saw Bob three times in 1988, in Nashville, Atlanta and Knoxville. He was doing better and so were we. I caught him in 1991 in Virginia and took my eight year old daughter. She enjoyed dancing, but was otherwise not impressed. Seeing Bob take the stage with nothing but a harmonica is an image I'll always cherish. I know he does it, now, but it was stunning that first time. When he played "Everything Is Broken" fireworks exploded in the distance and he laughed.

I continued to catch him when I could, wherever I could. In one memorable concert for me, at the Tennessee Theater when Bob sang the bridge to "Just Like A Woman," I understood I had to leave my profession. It was as if everyone left the room but Mr. Dylan and myself and he called me over to the stage and said, "Hey man, this is what you need to say to those people at work: 'It was raining from the first and I was dying there of thirst, so I came in here. And your long time curse hurts, but what's worse is this pain in here. I can't stay in here. Ain't it clear that I don't fit? I believe it's time for us to quit and when we meet again, introduced as friends, please don't let on that you knew me when I was hungry and it was your world.'" I cried and started the slow march toward a different career.

In 1996, my daughter gave me an amazing and completely unexpected present for her thirteenth birthday: She said all she wanted was to go wherever Bob was and see him, again, with me. We saw him in Chattanooga and swayed to the left of the stage having taken our often uncanny connection to a place where the only words that resonate are Bob's. We saw him at least once, often two or three times each year for the next ten years. We've seen him with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, stood for hours in the freezing cold and stood through torrential rains. We've planned concerts for months in advance and taken to the road spontaneously. These are among the best times of my life.

As the years have passed, I've come to think of my life as a sometimes difficult, often amazingly swift journey in which Bob leads me, just a little farther down the path, shining a light for me to find my footing. "Time Out Of Mind" came out as I entered my fortieth year. "Trying To Get To Heaven" and "Not Dark Yet" gave me the words to the emotions I had begun to feel about the passing of time and my own mortality. My daughter and I bought "Love And Theft" just after midnight on September 11, 2001, just hours before the twin towers were hit. Like many people, I couldn't listen to music for days or weeks. I could only read and listen to the news as we learned about a man named Osama Bin Laden. When I returned to the CD, I was stunned to hear how much of the album could be seen as commentary on something that had not happened when the songs were written.

In 2007 my daughter was married and Bob helpfully included "When The Deal Goes Down" on Modern Times so we could have a waltz for the father/daughter dance. Thank you, Bob. 2009 brought "Together Through Life." Could there be a better title for my story? My granddaughter was born a few weeks later. It's her story, too. We're bringing her along slowly.

Now Mr. Dylan is seventy and the rest of us aren't as young as we once were, despite what the song might say. I feel so fortunate to have had his help to understand my world, learning to both challenge its injustice cling to its beauty. I'm forever grateful to have his light guiding my paths through the tempestuous early years, through the dark times and into my own old age. His music helped make me who I am and it still startles me with its insight when I least suspect it. Someone said living in the same era with Bob Dylan is like living at the same time as Shakespeare. I believe this to be true.

So, happy birthday, Bob. And many more. Please. We need you now, more than ever.

Knoxville Urban Guy
May 24, 2011

*Knoxville and WDVX will host its seventh annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash on first Friday at the Market Square Stage, June 3. Local bands will perform Dylan songs in their own style ranging from bluegrass to jazz and hard rock. The evening will culminate with Tim O'Brien doing songs from his album of Bob Dylan bluegrass styled covers, "Red On Blonde." The entire event is free.

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