Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kung Fu Dragons and Lions: Wah Lum Kung Fu

Wah Lum Kung Fu Dragon, Knoxville
I've previously posted photographs of dragons in the Dogwood Arts Parade. I didn't know where the dragons came from and simply became intrigued.

Drums for Wah Lum Kung Fu

Happy Buddha tames the Lions - Wah Lum Kung Fu
I ran into them again at the Children's Festival of Reading on the World's Fair Park, which is where these photographs were taken, and learned that they come from the Wah Lum Kung Fu group in Knoxville and that probably some of the characters I'm calling dragons may be lions. There are different performances for each and each feature rhythmic drumming, gongs and cymbals and a Happy Buddha. They are to bring good luck.

Wah Lum Kung Fu lion mounts a stand

Wah Lum Kung Fu dragon, World's Fair Park, Knoxville
The center also features Kung Fu classes under the direction of "Sifu Leroy Kautz (who) is a 7th generation successor of the Wah Lum Tam Tui Northern Praying Mantis Kung Fu System." He has won numerous awards for his dragon dancing and has studied under the world's greatest Kung Fu masters. If the dance performance is any indication, his Kung Fu must be amazing.

I'd encourage you to look for an opportunity to catch one of their performances. It's very impressive

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Jill Andrews Plays at a South Knoxville Treasure

Jill Andrews at the Disc Exchange
Do you realize there are people in this world who have never had the sublime experience of walking from the heat of the day into the cool, maybe just a little shadowy, sweet air of a local record store? Of course, at one time there were only records, then came cassettes, 8 tracks and finally CDs. At least that we thought that was final. Next came MP3s and everything went really wacko for us old guys.
Maybe we had grudgingly accepted the fact that we would no longer flip through those cool stacks of vinyl looking at album covers we could really enjoy both because they were large enough to see and because someone actually cared about the art on the outside as well as the inside of the jacket. So, we got CDs, but then came the music files that threatened a whole culture. It wasn't just about the message, it was about the medium.
Jill Andrews and band, Disc Exchange, Knoxville
I remember being a very angry teenager once when I applied for a job at one of the emerging chain record stores and didn't get it. What made me angry? The fact that I knew more about the music being sold in that store than virtually any of the much cooler, much cuter people they were hiring. I knew then the culture had shifted. See, when independent record stores ruled the day, people who actually loved music worked in them. They wanted to talk to you about music. They knew a band you would love or really dig, man.

So, I'm nostalgic. But I also bring it up because we have more of that culture than the average city our size. You can still find it at Lost and Found Records or the newly re-emerged Raven Records. It's not quite the same vibe that permeated the air when new vinyl was the only game in town, but these are people who know their music.
Jill Andrews, Disc Exchange, Knoxville
You can also get a bit of the old vibe at our local treasure, the Disc Exchange. This is where I found Jill Andrews recently, playing songs from her new album The Mirror, which you can buy at the store or, if you only do downloads, you can get it by clicking that link. The Disc Exchange is a rare independent CD store in an age of disappearing chain stores, let alone these little independent jewels. They know music. They care about what you listen to. They love local music. What better place to spend a lazy afternoon?
Jill Andrews has worked her dreamy magic onto my usually edgier playlist. It's mellow, it has some elements of folk music, but it also is informed with the sometime edge and quirky melodies of alternative music. Indie music at its very finest, the music draws you in and moves under your skin. I liked it when I heard it live, but each subsequent play has revealed just a little something more that keeps me coming back to what is a deceptively simple album.
Jill Andrews
Then there is this: As an Urban Guy with a close relationship to a certain Urban Woman, I am not taken to commenting on the appearance or attractiveness of persons of the other gender. That said, I will say this: I think Linda Ronstadt in the 1970's was about as pretty a woman belting out music as I've ever seen. And Jill Andrews looks hauntingly like her. Don't believe me? Check out the videos below. The first is Jill performing Blue Sky, which is on the new disc. The second is that other girl. Also check out Jill's new disc and visit the Disc Exchange. Love local music and local music shops or they will disappear forever.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Get Rowdy!

7 AM, Parking Lot outside Pete's Knoxville, Two Crazy Girls
Once again, the city offers surprises if you are willing to look. This one, like this one before came virtually begging on my doorstep to be blogged. A certain Urban Woman noticed them first, as her morning schedule more closely matched theirs than my own. She told me they were very consistent - right about 7:00 AM in the corner parking lot at Union and Locust, beside the Daylight Building. She demanded to know what was going on and mentioned more than once that any self-respecting Urban Guy would be all over it.
Two guys join two girls for cheers and Dancing, Knoxville, June 2011
Is there anything more creepy than an old man with a camera waiting on a street corner at 7:00 AM with no apparent purpose at hand? Probably not. People passed, nodded, spoke briefly. Time passed as I sipped my coffee and wondered if that Urban Woman had set me up. I noticed a couple of girls exiting Pete's Coffee shop and entering the parking lot walking, I presumed, to their car where indeed they paused.
And then there were five . . .
Then they stepped into the open area of the parking lot and began clapping. Next they circled one another and cheered. I caught the single phrase, "Get Rowdy." I'm taking their picture and thinking, "Well, this is it," when they are joined by two young men, then three more girls. Eventually all seven are a blur of motion, waving their hands to the sky, getting low to the ground and bursting upward into the air, then dancing around their circle once more.
Do the Funky Chicken, Downtown Knoxville, June 2011
By this time, I'm feeling the spirit and I'm certain others must be, as well, but then I notice they have not attracted a similarly rowdy crowd. No one is gathered to find out what's happening. People, in fact, are passing by as they walk their dogs or leave for work and acting as if they don't see these maniacal young people leaping, laughing and frolicking about in the parking lot! I guess we are trying very hard to be a big city and act as if nothing phases our big city selves.

Kickin' High, Reachin' Up, Gettin' Rowdy
They finally spent their spirit and gave each other a big group hug before breaking up. I walked over to offer a bit of an explanation regarding the photography and the blog, hoping they wouldn't be upset or bothered by the fact that they were about to become semi-famous at my hands. Quite the contrary, they offered to join for one final photograph as a group, which I happily took.

People pass like this is normal parking lot behavior.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm excited for downtown Knoxville to turn in to a real city. Still, the part of a big city that looks straight ahead and doesn't make eye contact or ask any questions betraying the least bit of curiosity doesn't really appeal to me. I love that the city can surprise me and I greatly enjoy when it does. It's also thanks to this blog that I would approach them and ask questions since my natural inclination is to be somewhat reserved. For that I thank you, my readers, for giving me the excuse to stick my nose about!

Jumpin' in for the final hug.
Oh, what were they doing? Getting fired up for their long day going door-to-door selling books for Southwestern Books. I've always thought that has to be one of the worst summer jobs ever. Maybe it just seemed that way to me because I tend to be a bit more introverted. In any case, here they are on the city street many miles from their respective homes, with a job I would hate, getting rowdy. I could use a little of that. Couldn't we all?
The Original Cast from Get Rowdy! Knoxville, June 2011

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Final Sundown: Black Cadillacs and Warren Haynes

Black Cadillacs, Sundown in the City, Market Square, Knoxville
I had mixed feelings about the last Sundown in the City. I'm always sad to see it end, knowing I'll miss it and wondering if this will be the last of a great series. I also had a dinner planned at Tomato Head with friends and all the restaurants are more crowded on Sundown days, though that turned out to be fine. I most looked forward to the Black Cadillacs with their raw rock and roll sound. I'd missed their set at the Dylan Bash and it had been a while since I'd heard a full show by them. As for Warren Haynes, I wasn't really that excited, but figured I'd give him a chance.

Will Horton and Philip Anderson of the Black Cadillacs

Black Cadillacs, Sundown in the City, Knoxville, June 2011
As fate would have it, I missed most of the Black Cadillacs' show, seeing only the last two or three songs. The boys really have grown musically. They still don't look like rock stars - just a little too squeaky clean - and they don't quite have the rock star nonchalance down, but they know how to rock, and I think that's a little more important than the other stuff. If these guys can hang together and make it through all the inevitable ups and downs inherent in the business, they could wind up doing themselves and Knoxville proud.
Warren Haynes and Band, Knoxville, June 2011

Warren Haynes, Sundown in the City, Knoxville
The crowd was obviously buzzed for Warren Haynes. As I said earlier, I wasn't that thrilled. I believe I've seen him twice before, which I realize is an odd statement: Have I or haven't I? Well, I saw the Other Ones on their first tour after Jerry (that's Garcia, as in the Grateful Dead for those of you not into that scene) died and I think he was one of two guitarists doing Jerry's parts. I thought at the time if I closed my eyes and listened, I could imagine it was Jerry playing both parts. I also believe I saw him with Phil Lesh and Friends (bass player for the Grateful Dead) when they toured with Bob Dylan.

Warren Haynes, Knoxville, June 2011
I'd never heard Gov't Mule or a Warren Haynes solo show. I had formed an, as it turned out, unfair stereotype of Warren Haynes as a mindless jammer. I know he's popular on the Jam Band circuit, so that's what I expected: a bit of song followed by ten minutes of aimless noodling on the instruments.

Warren Haynes
I should know better. Not all jam bands are created equally. I really enjoyed the Grateful Dead and they could stretch it out interminably for some people's taste. I enjoy a good jazz jam, though not so much a Phish extravaganza. The jam model that applied the most was the one that was most logical: The Allman Brothers. Logical because he has a long history of work with them. He even sounded like Greg Allman lite at times - and that's a compliment because I think Greg has one of the all-time best rock and roll voices.
Warren Haynes, Knoxville, June 2011
I enjoyed the night enough that I stayed all the way through and I hadn't necessarily planned to do that. He is touring in support of his new solo album Man in Motion which was recorded for the Stax label - that bastion of soul that I didn't know still existed. This fact has shifted his music more in the direction of traditional soul, which probably explains why I enjoyed it so much.
The jams didn't seem to bend the songs beyond recognition and his playing was tasteful and soulful. I know, I should have know. I'm not sure where all the negativity came from. Along the way the keyboard player did some great work both on the keyboards and vocals. He seemed to have the most charisma of anyone on the stage, which made it a bit unfortunate that he was so anchored behind the organ.

I did not catch the name of the woman singing backing vocals, but I thought she was a nice addition. I felt she could have been used more for harmony vocals to soften his ragged cords. She wasn't on stage for about half the songs. I believe I caught she is new with the band, so maybe they are working her in slowly. She did sing a portion of Living For The City, the Stevie Wonder classic which, interestingly was also performed by Jonny Lang at the last Sundown.
The crowd was very large, but sort of polite. I stood one person from the front by the end of the show and I didn't have to be rude to get there - there seemed to be a larger need for personal space among this crowd and a number of them listened for a while then drifted away.
Warren Haynes concludes Sundown in the City
Sometimes I felt that the band had the Allman Brothers' feel, but without the great songs. Or maybe I just am less familiar with them. The concert ended with the song Soulshine, which was recorded by the Allman Brothers and got some airplay, but which was written by Warren Haynes. It's an excellent song and served as a great closer.
I've enjoyed the shows this season and, though I wasn't thrilled with the line-up initially, maybe the promoters have found the right level of famous for the space. I hope they feel good about it because I certainly want it to return. Here's hoping.

In the meantime, here's a video of Warren performing "River's Gonna Rise," so you can see what you think. I think you'll like it.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Official Grand Opening of Union Avenue Books

Melinda Meador and Flossie McNabb, Co-Owners of Union Ave. Books
It's been open for a few weeks - but now it has opened in grand style. A glance through the windows at Union Avenue Books for much of the the last few weeks reveals a brisk business. A gander through those same windows this week would have revealed large masses of book lovers reveling in the long awaited official grand opening of same.

Crowds often swelled outside onto the sidewalk.

Urban Girl takes in the sales racks next door at Reruns.
The events followed one after the other all weekend, with many of the same face showing up for more than one, but with slightly different crowds attracted to the various events. More special events and regularly scheduled happenings are promised for the coming months and, if this weekend is any indication, you might want to come early to get the best seats in the house.
Jake and Bunny man the registers.
Due to a previously scheduled (wonderful and appreciated) dinner with friends, I missed the Thursday night reading by British author and psychologist Ros Taylor, though I subsequently picked up a copy of her book Confidence at Work: Get It, Feel It, Keep It. They have more copies or you can explore it on Amazon at the link provided.

Author Andrew Goldsmith between customers outside Union Avenue Books

Nancy Brennon Strange and Band at Union Avenue Books
I did make it for part of the event on Friday night. UT Press sponsored a "Meet the Authors" night and wine and cheese were provided for all present. The authors included Michael Knight whose book The Typist I've touted before. It is a tale of a soldier who was the typist for General Douglas MacArthur in Japan during the occupation following World War II. I bought a second copy for a gift. Additionally, Andrew Goldsmith, an Iraq War veteran sat at an outside table signing copies of his book Zarqawi's Ice Cream: Tales of Mediocre Infantrymen, which is an accounting of him time in that war. Nancy Brennon Strange offered the delightful musical entertainment and her version of Patsy Cline is not to be missed. I think it takes a lot of nerve to attempt her songs and she did a fine job.
Tom Post of UT Press introduces Jack Neely

Jack Neely gives a nice intro to Union Avenue Books

The crowd listens to Jack Neely
Tom Post, the publicist for UT Press introduced Jack Neely who said a few words. He told the story of a French couple he met on the streets in downtown Knoxville who stopped him and asked him where the "book shop" was located. Not if we had one, rather where it might be found, because any legitimate city would have one. He sent them to the UT campus, but was embarrassed to have to confess there was no downtown bookstore. He also lauded the choice of the name which, in itself, tells people where to find the store. Someone from the back pointed out that the name was his suggestion in the first place and he said he had hoped no one would mention that.
Linda Carlini from Knox Co. Public Library leads a children's event
Saturday morning brought a children's program presented by Linda Carlini who read several books to the children, including that all-time favorite that parents grow to dread, Goodnight Moon. Of course, it is a lovely book, but children never seem to tire of it and by the thousandth reading, it runs a bit thin for most adults. The children were spellbound. She also brought out peek-a-boo bunny and the counting puppet. Great fun. Probably a half-dozen children enjoyed the entertainment while their parents and other customers browsed.
Urban Toddler reads Goodnight Moon to a stuffed cow at Union Ave. Books
This also points out something that surprised me about the space: as small as it appears to be, there are several discrete places for various events. The children's program was behind the counter on the backside of the store, music and readings are easily accommodated on the front end of the store and the children's book section is neatly enclosed from the rest of the store for easy management and free-roaming for the younger clientele.
Y'uns perform at the Union Ave. Books Grand Opening

Crowds browse, eat, purchase, greet and listen to Y'uns at Union Ave. Books

Y'uns perform at Union Avenue Books
Saturday night the house was packed for Y'uns featuring Steve Horton, Danny Gammon and sometimes harmonica player extraordinaire Michael Crawley. Food, drink, excellent music and books: not much missing from that equation.
Flossie introduces Linda Parsons Marion, the first of the monthly poets

Linda Parsons Marion reads from her book Bound
Sunday featured a poetry reading by Linda Parsons Marion reading from her new book, Bound. This volume of her poetry deals with family from her grandparents to her grandchildren, but since the reading was held on Father's Day, she read poems mostly about fathers and grandfathers. The crowd of around twenty-five enjoyed the emotionally packed reading. I'm helpless: I bought that one, too. If I understood correctly, the third Sunday afternoon of each month will feature just such a poetry reading at Union Avenue Books.
A crowd of about twenty-five listen as Linda Parsons Marion reads poetry.
So, it was a great weekend full of wonderful events, great friends, books and food. Now comes the important part: Knoxville decides if we love books enough to have a downtown bookstore. You vote with your money. Come spend it. I can't do it by myself (though I appear to be trying). It will take all of us backing up our words with purchases to show that Knoxville truly does value books, writers and the written word. We're about to make a statement about who we are. I hope it's a good one.

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