Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jenna and Her Cool Friends: From KMA to Memphis

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville Museum of Arts, January 2012

You don't have to take my word for how good Jenna and Her Cool Friends are. Of course, if you've heard them, you know. If you haven't, consider this: the won the Smoky Mountain Blues Challenge and have the honor of representing Knoxville in Memphis starting today at the International Blues Challenge. It is set up like a battle of the bands and the winner gets a large boost towards a career on the national stage.

The pictures accompanying this post are from their most recent appearance at KMA's excellent Alive After Five series. On this particular night the group had added Ben Maney on keyboards and included a drummer new to the group. They sounded as if they had played together for years.

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville Museum of Arts, January 2012

Jenna Jefferson, KMA, January 2012

Both sets were excellent. In the first, the death of Etta James was noted with a fitting tribute version of "I'd Rather Go Blind," and Jenna never sounded better. The difference in her and other singers who may have sung a tribute to Etta that day is that Jenna has always incorporated her music. She also tipped the hat to various other female blues singers and continued her excellent tradition of teaching a little about the history of the singers and songs as the set moved along. Always interesting and never disruptive to the flow of the show, I look forward to what I might learn almost as much as I do to the music whenever I see them. Almost.

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville, 2012

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville, 2012

The music is just too good. Keith Ford keeps the rhythm steady along with an excellent bassist and drummer whose names have thus far evaded me. Ben Maney is, of course, one of the finest keyboard players in our city and is a much sought after side-man by musicians from all genres. He joins a band which already prominently features Michael Crawley who is, without question, one of the finest harmonica players in the city. Jenna is, obviously for anyone with ears, an amazing blues singer. So, how could you beat a band like that?

Ben Maney with Jenna and Her Cool Friends

Michael Crawley with Jenna and Her Cool Friends

Detroit Dave Meer with Jenna and Her Cool Friends

I'll tell you how: Add Detroit Dave Meer on guitar. I've always enjoyed his playing, but for some reason it seemed to me he launched into a whole different level that night. He may not be the fastest or the loudest guitar player. He doesn't strut about on the stage and sneer like a rock star. All he does is lay down one tasty lick after another. Tasty and tasteful, with just enough nastiness to hit you below the belt, but enough style to be served in the finest venues. The guy is just crazy good.

While both sets were excellent, Jenna told me later she felt the second set really stood out and I agree, though admittedly, who am I to disagree? Sometimes in a concert something takes over that is just bigger than the music and the band. It's similar to a basketball player who has a night when they can't miss or a writer who simply serves as a conduit for some other force. It was that kind of night.

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville Museum of Art, January 2012

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville Museum of Art, January 2012

I've listened to them practice in the days since the show and they simply get tighter and tighter, working on every small component of what makes for great blues songs. It is some of the most soulful music you'll ever hear, but each song has also been worked hard to find the jewel beneath its surface. So you have great art, stunning talent and hard, hard work. They practiced so long last weekend I just knew Dave's fingers must be bleeding.

Detroit Dave Meer with Jenna and Her Cool Friends

So now they are on the road and I'm hoping they win the competition in Memphis. I told Jenna they would win unless the judges simply got it wrong. I also told her I felt they really need to record this band right now and she assured me they are heading into the studio in February. My Ipod can't wait. Welcome them home like the great band that they are whether they win, lose or draw in Memphis. Find them when they play at a venue near you and look out for that CD. You'll be very glad you did.

For now, I'll leave you with a video from last year of Jenna performing "I'd Rather Go Blind," which I mentioned above. The first time I heard this song was in the Bijou sometime back in the 1980's performed by the great KoKo Taylor. Here Jenna shows why it's one of her signature songs.


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Monday, January 30, 2012

Market Square Still Evolving: Is it getting better?

Preservation Pub: New Solar Panels and Roof Garden

It seemed the news from Market Square had run its course for the month, from the footnote to the splashy: Bernadette West got approval for some of the solar panels she wants on top of Preservation Pub and Tupelo Honey is coming to 1 Market Square.

Just when it seemed the month would end without more changes, the latest change was announced just before the weekend: Scott and Bernadette West have purchased 32 Market Square. What does this mean? Well, if you believe the comments on Knoxnews, it means either the War on Drugs has been lost or the War on Drugs was a dumb idea in the first place. I'd just as soon look at it through another lens.

There are two businesses on the first floor of that building. I'm not sure if there is currently anything above them. One is Swagger, which is a high-end athletic shoe store originally located in Bearden and on Market Square for just under two years. It wasn't my kind of place, but I enjoyed talking to Ricky. I'm told he hasn't worked there since before Christmas. The other business is Harb's Tailoring. I'm not sure how long this business has been on the square, but it has the look of something from an earlier era.

32 Market Square: Harb's Taylor and Swagger

The plan is for the West's to replace both businesses with an entertainment venue called Scruffy City Hall. The idea appears to be that some artists want to charge more to play than Preservation Pub thinks their patrons would like to pay. This will provide another option for bands who might like to charge $10 for a ticket. I suspect the Wests will do a first class job of this re-purposing of 32 Market Square and you'll probably find me in the new establishment enjoying some great entertainment.

So, it's all good, right? Well, not completely in my mind. It has not been a week since, walking through Market Square, I thought, "People seem to think we only have restaurants and bars in Market Square, but we have so much more." And it's true. Even though the most recent announcement prior to that had been of the advent of Tupelo Honey, there is so much more. We have gift shops in the form of Earth to Old City and Bliss. We have home goods at Bliss Home and clothing and accessories at Fizz and Crass Couture. We have Knox Ivi and an outpost of WBIR along with the Chamber of Commerce and a beauty salon.

But until now we also had a shoe store and a tailor. Two pretty old-school merchants to mix and match with all the new shiny concept stores. Who cares, right? Well, I've got a little concern. We have many, many bars and restaurants downtown and not so many shoe shops and tailors. Are we a place to dine and party or are we a place to live where the residents can also dine and party?

This is nothing against the Wests and nothing against the new business. I have no problem with either and fall into the camp of gratitude for what they have accomplished downtown. I'd like to think they might understand my thoughts regarding building a city. Maybe both these businesses were heading out in any case. I'm not sure what kind of volume Swagger did and Harb's did seem anachronistic in the face of everything happening downtown.

Ugly Storefront at 30 Market Square: Architects with no civic pride? Really?

So, what now? What needs to happen next for Market Square? We are getting Scruffy City Hall and we are getting Tupelo Honey at 1 Market Square. We have two great openings and one ugly, ugly storefront at 30 Market Square. Of course I'd like to see the owners at 30 Market Square finally become good citizens and make their storefront less of an embarrassment. Did you know they are architects? Can you say, "irony?"

2 Market Square: Imagine a Parisian-styled Pharmacy

I'd like to see something different at each of the corners - 2 Market Square and 36 Market Square. It would be great if it could be something that would draw people downtown. Sure, we all want more of that. But I'd love it if either or both could be solid retail establishments that people living in a city actually need. 36 could make a great clothing or small department store.

As for 2 Market Square, a rumor circulated recently on Facebook that it would be a mattress store. That didn't sound so good to the people who discussed it there. Not that people downtown don't like mattresses, but such an exquisite address seems to beg for more. The "For Lease" sign still hanging in the window suggests the mattress idea hasn't been put to bed.

Pharmacy in Paris from http://www.frenchgardening.com/index.html  

Here's another idea: What about a pharmacy? In Paris there is a very small (by our standards) pharmacy every few feet - which has to do with how much better the French health care system is - and they are very cool. You can't necessarily find a two liter drink, a hair dryer, a photo developer and a full selection of greeting cards, but you'll find the most essential over-the-counter medications and most of the common prescription medications all available from a very friendly and helpful pharmacist. That's what I found and I've learned it is not at all uncommon.

If we can't have a pharmacy and a clothing or department store, here's hoping for something at least a bit different that adds to the life of the city. And here's to the West's new venture. I wish it nothing but success and I'll probably see you there. It's just that at some point, somewhere down the road, we will become a real, vibrant place to actually live a life or we will become an Epcot-like entertainment venue. I'm hoping for a genuine place to go about a daily life. What do you think?

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Organized Play: Has Gaming Come to Knoxville?

Organized Play 131 S. Central, Old City, Knoxville, 2012
I've not been big on games since the days of the distant past when I would convince my younger brother he should sell me all his property when we played Monopoly. In the years since I've mostly played the occasional late-night domino game with my father and a pretty steady stream of chess online and, in recent years, with Urban Son-in-Law. I predate most of the computer game era, so that doesn't hold a great attraction for me.

Attractive displays in Organized Play, Knoxville

I first noticed and took a quick walk through Organized Play when it was located at 221Cumberland Avenue just east of Gay Street in, what I'm told, was previously the space inhabited by Deka Bakari Gallery. It wasn't so much my sort of thing. I haven't collected comics in many years and computer games and Dungeons and Dragons never caught my interest.

Once I began writing this blog I've tried to think in larger terms than my own narrow interests and I've taken a second look at things that didn't so much interest me before. Organized Play took its comic books, graphic novels, computer and board games and moved to the Old City where you will find them at 131 S. Central Street with expanded hours from their previous incarnation.

Morgan Hardy, Organized Play, Old City, Knoxville

Owner Morgan Hardy will likely greet you at the door and offer to help you find what you are looking for. He tells me the the Old City is a good fit for his business which seems to attract a younger audience. It includes the aforementioned items and games such as Warhammer, which seems to be quite the thing and many other games both new and traditional. Wednesday appears to be release day for new comics, so you can get them while they are hot.

Games new and traditional

It's not unusual to walk by late in an evening and see a group gathered around a table playing an elaborate board game, faces intense and concentration obvious. There are worse things we could all do than play games with friends new and old around a table. Of course, Preservation Pub also hosts trivia games and Rita's on the square has board games often in use. Maybe we've become a gaming town. Go by and meet Morgan and buy yourself a game for these long winter nights.

This weekend there are four events built around the pre-release of Dark Ascension. I do not have any idea what that means, but if you do, there is probably an event for you this weekend. I'll just take a little pleasure in knowing that on a cold snowy night if I get the jones for a good game of monopoly, I know where I can buy the game right here in our little city.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Memorial Walk, a Candlelight Gathering and Labor Unions

Knoxville, January 2012

A march was held Tuesday night beginning at Church Street United Methodist Church. Two groups walked throughout downtown holding banners and signs remembering John Womac who died while working on the Henley Street Bridge one year ago and Solin Estrada-Jimenez who died in May of last year on the same site. Worker safety and the value of human life held in contrast to profits was the primary focus of the signs and speeches which were given as the group reached Volunteer landing where a candlelight vigil was held in honor of the two men.

Upon the death of John Womac, TOSHA investigated and reported serious flaws in safety training, including errors which led to his death. Britton Bridge, LLC was fined just under $17,000, $5400 of which was for the negligence which led to the death. Four months later TOSHA found additional violations, two of which directly related to the death of Solin Estrada-Jimenez. TOSHA proposed penalties totaling $7150. Construction briefly halted, but was later reported to be on schedule. The company is free to bid on other state projects and stands to collect a $1,000,000 bonus if the construction is completed by the end of this year.

Memorial Walk crosses Market Square

The march and vigil, attended by just under one hundred people and sponsored by a number of local organizations including churches and unions was intended as a memorial and also as an opportunity to raise important questions. For example, if a company will make a million dollars by rushing so fast to a deadline that a couple of people die in the process, will they do it? What if they know they will lose less than $25,000 in order to make $1,000,000?

I realize this is not generally a union-friendly state and our end of the state is particularly inhospitable toward unions. If you think I'm wrong, take a look at some of the comments made on the story of this march on the Knoxville News Sentinel's website.

I have some personal experience with unions. As a teenager I worked summers at Scott Paper Company in Mobile, Alabama. College students such as myself were the lowest of maintenance workers and we often got difficult or unappealing jobs. One such job was shoveling lime out of massive kilns. Temperatures were often over 120 degrees and we had to be thoroughly covered with long sleeves, gloves, masks and scarves to keep our lungs and skin from being severely burned by the lime dust. This was with the presence of a strong union.

On one occasion the students were ordered to shovel out a lime pit while coals were carried over our heads on a conveyor belt. The spot where we had to stand was so hot our boot bottoms would melt, so we stood on a piece of plywood. I don't know how hot it was in the pit, but we could only shovel for minutes at a time before switching out. After some time we decided it just wasn't worth it. As we stood at the top of our ladder considering what to do about it, the conveyor showered hot coals onto our board which immediately burst into flames. We reported it to the union. In their absence we would have had no where else to turn.

The two groups joined to walk down Locust to Volunteer Landing

The history of industry in our country is replete with abuses of workers in order to make larger profit margins for companies and investors. I recently read a book entitled Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon in which he details the use of re-enslaved black workers throughout the south, a practice which continued until World War II, and which helped build such industrial giants as US Steel. Of course, child labor was common one hundred years ago and the abuses of immigrant workers are well documented.

How did the worst of these abuses stop? Labor unions were formed to give the workers a voice. Without a a unified voice workers are simply not heard. It's not about strikes or wage demands. It's about the value of human life. It's about respect for people who are not powerful and wealthy, but who built this country and make it work. In the south we tend to elevate industry and the wealthy to sainthood, as if their very wealth and power makes them better than you or me. Workers who struggle for a living wage and safe conditions are, as often as not, seen as somehow unpatriotic and unappreciative of what the companies will do for them.

This is one example of the kind of thinking which allows the richest among us to grow much more wealthy while large numbers of workers struggle to feed their families. We've become convinced that the wealthy deserve their riches while the rest of us must deserve dirty water, open pit mines, underfunded schools and the worst health, by many measures, in the country. The wealthy pay their fifteen percent tax rates on capital gains while the rest of us pay twenty or twenty-five percent and Republican presidential candidates talk about how unfair capital gains taxes are on the rich because they are "job makers."

I've been a member of the Tennessee Education Association for nearly thirty years. It is often characterized as a union and as the primary impediment to providing a quality education. Last legislative session the party in power virtually eliminated tenure and protections to retirement were reduced. This session Governor Haslam has introduced changes which will lead to lower teacher pay and larger classes. Hardly a formula for improving education. At the same time, your tax dollars are going to private companies starting charter schools and providing distance education. They do not have to demonstrate their effectiveness via standardized testing as the public schools are required to do.

So, what is the point? The point is that unions provide some measure of equalization of power between the wealthy and powerful and the ordinary workers on whose backs they became wealthy. Workers should be valued, safe and compensated justly. And they deserve our respect and support. They should not pay more in taxes than the wealthy. American workers made this country great. It was not the rich and powerful.

I don't usually use this space for posts like this one, but this march and vigil touches on some of my most strongly held values and I'd be less than honest if I didn't say it like I see it. I'm sure some of you disagree and I'm happy for you to comment and explain your alternative view of these issues. The only thing I ask is that you maintain as respectful a tone with me as I do with you.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tupelo Honey Commits to Knoxville (And More Coming Attractions)

CBID Board: Rich Ray, Alan Carmichael, Rick Emmet,
Robyn Askew, Melissa Everett and Patrick Hunt
I wrote a post two days ago encouraging everyone to come to the evening meeting of CBID. I knew in advance it would be very lightly read. I guess organizations that do detailed work aren't that sexy. The meeting was very interesting, as my nerdy self would have expected - and you can ask Andrea, the single Stuck Inside of Knoxville reader who attended as far as I could tell.

It was afterward that everyone got interested. This would be the point at which the Metropulse reported that Tupelo Honey will, in fact, open a third location in addition to the two locations in Asheville. By this morning the Metropulse report was linked to Josh Flory's Property Scope Blog and Tupelo Honey themselves confirmed it on a blog post on their website. In case anyone has been hiding under a rock and hasn't heard, it will be at 1 Market Square on the southwest corner in the Kern's Building which is home to the Hotel Oliver. They will also have a bakery, of sorts, in the basement where they will make their famous pies. And it all started with the CBID meeting.

Phillip Welker, one of the owners of the Oliver Hotel had requested on their behalf a grant of $275,000 for improvements to the first floor facade of the building both on the side that faces Market Square and the side that fronts Union. If you've walked past there in recent months you may have noticed how deteriorated it has become. Their interest is in finishing the facade as nicely as they have the interior of the hotel, which is very well done, indeed.

There was turbulence along the way. The development committee apparently debated for an hour about the size of the grant. The Arnstein Building across the street only received a $300,000 grant for the entire building. Concerns were also expressed that the proposal had mentioned a specific tenant for the space and that CBID might appear to be funding a specific business rather than a project. The committee recommended appropriation of $125,000 which is quite a bit less than the request. The board finally agreed after much discussion and with a bare minimum 3-2 vote.

What wasn't clear in the meeting was what this would mean. Would Mr. Welker and his partner Mr. Orly go forward with the project without the additional $150,000? Would they go forward with a scaled down version which might not appeal to Tupelo Honey specifically? Most people left the meeting not knowing the answers. Business moved forward.

Out in the lobby, however, Cari Wade Gervin asked Mr. Welker the question I had followed him out into the lobby to ask: "Do we get Tupelo Honey or not?" For his part, he said they would make up the difference in cost in some manner and go forward with the project. A gentleman representing Tupelo Honey added that there should be no obstacle to their move into the space now that this was resolved.

So, it appears, that very soon improvements should begin to the facade and that by some time this summer Tupelo Honey should be a reality. I'll admit it feels pretty good that they feel Knoxville is a good fit for them. Asheville has a very large "cool" factor and this kind of establishment is part of the vibe there. I'm not ready to do a Knoxville/Asheville smackdown, but I'm happy to be their increasingly hip cousin for now.

There was other business at the meeting. The coolest news is that an as yet unnamed music series will be starting in the Square Room in a couple of months. It will be a monthly two hour show including music and other entertainment, which will be broadcast over a local radio station and filmed for television broadcast. Sounds a lot like a smaller version of Tennessee Shines, but it is actually patterned after a Nashville show called Music City Roots which broadcasts from the Loveless Cafe.

Those of you who read this blog regularly would surely be able guess how I would end it. I fell in love with Tupelo Honey when it first came out in 1971. So, here you go . . .

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tim Lee with Surprise Guests Kevin Abernathy and Greg Horne at the Pilot Light

Tim Lee 3 at Pilot Light, Knoxville, January 2012
This post has been slow in coming, but the night was so good, I can't let it pass without a post and a glimpse at some of the pictures. It goes all the way back to First Friday this month. Urban Woman and I had delicious appetizers and beverages at 31 Bistro for a nice low price and then walked to the 100 block where my friend Mustapha was holding his official Grand Opening. We had mini-cupcakes and two great cups of Americano.

Urban Woman decided beauty rest was in order for her, so I walked her home and then went to the KMA for Alive After Five for the Streamliners with RB Morris. It ends early, so around 8:30 I walked over to Morelock Music on Gay street and listened to a little Old Time music for about an hour before walking to the Pilot Light.

Tim Lee, Susan Lee, Greg Horne and Kevin Abernathy
 My plan was to see the Tim Lee Three at 9:00 and then make it to Preservation Pub to hear Hudson K around 10:30. I'd seen nothing to indicate that Tim had an opening act and I knew Hudson K did, and so would be later taking the stage. The first indication that my schedule might not work out was that at 9:00 no one was close to getting on stage. I learned the show would start at 9:30, which I still figured would work out OK. I'd noticed Kevin Abernathy and Greg Horne were hanging out with Tim and Susan Lee, so I figured they would sit in for part of the show.

I talked with Kevin for a bit and learned, among other things, that he and his wife operate a kennel in south Knox County. He and everyone else were kind enough to put up with me while we waited for the show to begin. Of course, they were the show, and I realized Kevin was opening, which was cool, but I sensed Hudson K slipping off my list of possibilities for the evening. Still, it was pleasant watching the crowd slowly build. Most people seemed to have gotten the memo I missed about a later starting time, but the seats are comfortable and the waiting wasn't unpleasant.

Kevin Abernathy, Pilot Light, Knoxville
Kevin Abernathy, Pilot Light, Knoxville, January 2012

Sometime after 9:30 Kevin took the stage and, as anyone who has heard him would expect, he was as good as ever - and this time with a twist, for me - he played solo acoustic. I'd heard him once before, at the Relix Theater last year, and he played with his band. As you might expect, his acoustic slot really highlighted the songs and the songwriting and I realized both were excellent. His guitar work is always going to be good, but maybe some of these songs get buried behind the band and might benefit from this sort of treatment more often.

Kevin Abernathy with Tim Lee at the Pilot Light

Tim Lee, Kevin Abernathy and Greg Horne, Pilot Light, Knoxville

As his set wound down he invited Greg Horne to sing harmony on a song and he added his great vocal touch. Greg seems to be the guy that all the guys want to sing with. He's also an excellent musician and songwriter, of course. Tim Lee joined in, also, and the three of them finished Kevin's set in great style.

Once Susan and Bill Van Vleet joined Tim on stage, the music turned to serious blues-based rock and roll - with a little punk element, I think, but they might disagree. The thing that rings true through every song is that this is a band with real soul. This is no manufactured, auto-tuned sterile money machine, this is a collection of people who want to play honest rock and roll and they know how to do it.

Tim Lee 3, Pilot Light, Knoxville, 2012

Time Lee 3, Pilot Light, Knoxville, January 2012

One of the highlights for me was a slow blues jam that I just could not get enough of. I kept thinking it sounded like some band, but the night was getting late and my poor memory mingled with fatigue and I couldn't put my finger on it. Until the next day. I had my ipod on shuffle and hit a Zepplin song from, I think, their second album and realized that was it: Tim was channeling Jimmy Page. That might not sound possible if you haven't heard Tim live. I'm telling you, I've heard Jimmy Page live and while I'm not saying Tim is as good as Jimmy Page - and I'm not sure anybody alive is - I'm saying Tim has the chops to bring Jimmy to mind.

Mobile Art Sales in the Old City after midnight

Around midnight I had absorbed all I could take in. I realized I had worked eight hours and then walked or stood for the next seven listening to music all around town. As I walked home I passed Preservation Pub and realized Hudson K was still playing. Maybe if I was sure they would have played a while longer I would have stopped in, but it was late, I was exhausted and I just didn't have any more fun in me for that night. But it was a great night of music in the city and I went to bed a very happy Urban Guy.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Central Business Improvement District: An Organization You Should Know

Michele Hummel leads CBID sponsored resident meeting November 2011
I've mentioned them before. It's the kind of name for an organization that makes people momentarily scratch their heads before moving onto the next channel. As a concept, the CBID is pretty simple: It's an organization funded by an extra tax on downtown residents and businesses whose purpose is to improve downtown. The devil is, as always, you know where. What gets funded, whose project gets funding and how much funding they get is where matters get sticky.

The board that makes the decisions is supposed to be representative of all the various groups who would have an interest in such matters. It's a pretty diverse group in some ways, not so much in others. Some of the same names pop up in all the lists of decision makers. Marshall Stair, for example, who I happen to like quite a bit, is on City Council and CBID. The other names on the board are generally familiar to people who follow downtown goings on. You can see a full list here if you scroll down the page.

One of my concerns as a downtown resident who isn't particularly connected, is that the board makes all the decisions and the board meets at 11:30 AM each month to make those decisions. My money is being spent at a time of day when I cannot be present. Businesses and developers can be present, but how many residents are able to be there at that time of day. I expressed my concerns to Michele Hummel the Director, who is also a downtown resident. She was very patient and seemed to understand my concern. I'm not sure that had anything to do with the fact that the August board meeting was subsequently scheduled at night, but it was and it was very well attended.

CBID Board members meet downtown residents, November 2011
In November they had the first of what they are billing as a series (though I can't find a schedule on the webpage) of Residential/Quality of Life Meetings. This was a meeting for residents to have input and it was also very well attended. First on the agenda was the announcement that four of the board meetings for 2012 would be held at night. The first of these will be January 23 at 5:30 at 17 Market Square. You can find the full schedule for the year here. I'm excited this is happening and hope those of you who are interested will attend. The meetings are open to everyone interested in downtown.

Other topics on the agenda included Downtown Knoxville Gift Cards (which were a subsequent success), parking, a downtown map and guide (still coming) and a stakeholder survey which they encouraged people to complete online. The more interesting portion of the evening came when discussion was opened to the residents. Here are some of the topics and opinions expressed:

  • Dog bags and posts are important.
  • There need to be more KPD patrols, particularly in the Old City.
  • A listserv/message board for downtown residents would be nice.
  • Panhandling continues to be a problem. Persons can be told to call 211 24 hours a day for needs.
  • Concern was expressed over bicycle and pedestrian safety. Bicycles on sidewalks are an issue for some people.
  • Events were discussed. Most people supported continuing major events but some people question whether we may be reaching a saturation point and the suggestion was made that events be scattered around downtown.
  • A young man presented a call for more park space claiming that our downtown falls far behind other cities in a per capita comparison. Possible spaces were discussed for green space. Some of the parents of young children noted that it would be nice to have green space that is pet-free.
So, it was a good meeting and more like it are promised. In the meantime, why not try to make the board meeting tonight? If you are a downtown resident, you are a member of CBID. If you are reading this blog post you are an interested party and you are welcome.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Streamliners, RB Morris, Jenna and her Cool Friends, Blue Mother Tupelo and Fred Eaglesmith

Jazzman RB Morris with the Streamliners, Knoxville Museum of Art
KMA swinging to the Streamliners
I'll start with a few pictures of the KMA from a couple of weeks ago and then I'll launch into what promises to be an amazing weekend for music in the city. Today's post begins with Alive After Five two weeks ago. The show is hosted at KMA by Michael Gill and features superb music, beverages for purchase and a reasonably priced catered meal, admission to the museum and free popcorn for a very modest price. It's a very cheap, but classy date. What could be better than that?

Streamliners at Alive After Five, Knoxville 2012
The music generally veers toward jazz and blues with a healthy sprinkling of other genres. Two weeks ago the featured artists were the Streamliners who play big band style jazz music. Most, if not all, of the members also play in the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra which, if you haven't figured it out from this blog, provide our city with all sorts of excellent musicians playing every shade of jazz in the known world.

Streamliners at KMA, January 2012

RB swings with the Streamliners at the KMA
The kicker this particular night was a promised guest slot for R.B. Morris which, on the face of it, seems like an odd mix, but for the two songs they performed, it was really excellent. One was a standard and the other was "Copper Penny," the classic, clever RB song. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to hear RB sing Marty Robbins songs know what RB can do with his voice when he's of a mind to. And he was definitely of a mind to that night.

RB Morris with the Streamliners

RB Morris sings at the KMA
He rocked, moved about the stage like a slick jazz man, bopping to the rhythms of the band and simply looked like this was his main gig. It was as if this swing man had simply idled away the years as this singer-songwriter while holding this secret passion for the big band world. In any case, he seemed to have a blast and so did, always present, crowd of dancers and diners.

It was a stop on our First Friday tour, but it happens most Friday nights and this one is no exception. Jenna and  Her Cool Friends will rock the house with their mix of blues and more blues. I've written about Jenna playing Alive After Five before. This is a band to see if you have any interest at all in that genre. Jenna Jefferson can belt and croon, make you dance and make you swoon. Watch out - her husband is in the band!

Seriously, Jenna has an encyclopedic memory for the details that make the music come alive. She can spin stories about the artists and the songs all night long. And they can play. Seriously play. They are headed for Memphis soon for a blues version of the Battle of the Bands where they have done very well in the past. The band is popping and I would not lead you wrong on that front. They practice just outside my home, so I can testify. You can't hear them on Sunday afternoons like I can, so Friday night is your chance: 6:00 - 8:30 at the KMA.

She's got some great competition across town. The lovely Bijou Theater will be the site of an outbreak of all things Donna the Buffalo. This excellent touring band from parts to the north is always great fun and the uplifting lyrics, groovy organ and general hipness will not leave you frowning.

But wait, there's more! This weekend, if you aren't in bed dying from an exotic disease, you have no excuse for not hearing great music. Saturday at noon WDVX hosts Fred Eaglesmith for the Blue Plate Special. I wrote about it the last time he appeared. It was amazingly good. I immediately bought his album "Cha Cha Cha" and have enjoyed it every since. He's back and he'll also perform at the Shed this weekend, touring in support of his latest album, "Six Volts," to be released in download form next week and physically in about three weeks. Be there early if you want to see the stage.

Saturday night Boyd's Jig and Reel has outdone themselves by booking Blue Mother Tupelo. This power duo with their intricate harmonies and country-rock, southern twang are just the ticket for a great evening of music. Pick up dinner at the Jig and Reel and have music for desert. It's an amazing deal. These people should be playing to thousands of people at a time and you get them in an intimate setting for this free show. What's not to love?

So, there you go: a great weekend of music and much of it free. It's about as good as a musical weekend in the city could be for my tastes. I hope to see you at the shows!

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Alleys, Courtyards and . . . Mews?

The Elliot, Church and State, Knoxville 2011
I came into this post in a very round about way. A reader asked if I knew anything about the beautiful building at the corner of Church and State Street. He further wondered how many jokes there were around town about the intersection of Church and State. I don't remember hearing anybody say a word about it, do you? I took a walk toward said intersection to have a look around.

The Elliot, Church and State, Knoxville, 2011
The building in question is the Elliot and it's for sale. I agree that it is a beautiful old building and I realized I'd been inside. Probably in the late 1980s or very early 1990s I delivered food there. At the time it had fallen into serious decay and the people who lived inside lived in squalid conditions. I was a volunteer for FISH, which is a fantastic local organization that claims to feed more hungry Knoxvillians than all other pantries combined. Residents of the building had called and requested a food delivery and I was the volunteer sent with the food.

It would have been extremely difficult to imagine, then, what would become of downtown Knoxville. My prediction would probably have been pretty grim. Still, I couldn't help but notice what a beautiful building was slowly falling apart and being abused in a pretty serious fashion. Now Knoxville is a completely different place and it's for sale. Someone will do wonderful things with this building. I can feel it.

Courtyard behind the Elliot, Knoxville, 2011

Around back I found a pretty wrought iron gate with an enclosed courtyard. There was little evidence it is often used in more than a utilitarian manner but, to me, it seemed alive with potential to be a vibrant, green and welcoming spot. There are others, public and private scattered about our city. Some public, some private, some utilized more than others and some bubbling with potential.

Firestreet Alley, Knoxville, 2011
A stroll just to the east of the 100 block of Gay Street reveals a great alleyway. Michael Haynes wrote an article about the Fire Street Alley that highlighted some of its potential. It's quite lovely as it cascades downhill from the south end of the 100 block down to the underside of Jackson Street which I've written, of late. He mentioned that it had recently been used for filming a scene from a movie. I could imagine the alley teeming with life as a pedestrian thoroughfare.

Courtyard between Gay and Fire Street Alley, Knoxville 2011

Courtyard between Gay Street and Fire Street Alley
Viewed from Gay Street
Off the Alley and between buildings on the Gay Street side is an evergreen courtyard. The grass is astro-turf, which seems a little jarringly green in the winter city-scape. Viewed from the current Gay Street level it is very pretty. It sits at the original elevation of the street and gives a good illustration of how far that street was raised a hundred years ago.

Kendrick Muse, Union Avenue, Knoxville 2011
Another alleyway some of you might not have seen is located just off Locust Street. It is technically an extension of Union Avenue with the homes on either side of the alleyway having a Union Avenue address. It is private and is referred to by the residents as a "mews." A mews is a small courtyard formed by two parallel buildings. Kendrick Place is comprised of two parallel buildings and are examples of housing that was very common in Knoxville at the turn of the century but which has almost disappeared since.

Technically a mews should be formed by parallel buildings which once held stables. This type of mews is very common in London. I've included some pictures I took of mews in London last summer. Some of them even retain their stable doors and all of them are named and inhabited. We might take a cue from Londoners and take a second or third look at the many alleyways lying dormant in our little city.

Dove Mews, Kensington, London 2011

Astwood Mews, Kensington, London, 2011

Mews, Kensington, London, 2011
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