by Celebrate Knoxville Music Writer Adam Whipple.—It is evening underneath the tall green girders of James White Parkway, and Cozmo Holloway is playing slide guitar. A double-header train rolls by, blaring its horn down the Norfolk Southern lines, and James Trimble steps to the microphone. After a few songs, people begin to throw money on the stage. A schoolboy smirk crosses Trimble’s face as the band watches dollar bills fly out of the crowd, but such is the audience’s reaction. After all, it’s hard to get more Knoxvillian than the Guvs playing under a bridge in the Old City.
Apache Relay perform for the 2015 Rhythm & Blooms Festival in the Old City section of downtown Knoxville. Photo by Adam Whipple.
You can trust festival organizer Chyna Brackeen to have the pulse of our town, though. To the crowds’ apparent delight, the lineup of this year’s Rhythm ‘N’ Blooms was chockfull of homegrown favorites. Beginning at the Cripple Creek Stage on Friday evening, local outfit Guy Marshall performed, along with Joey English. Guy Marshall won the performance slot in a contest put on in conjunction with The Casual Pint. Joey English’s band so wowed the judges and audiences, however, that they were offered a chance to open the festival alongside the winners.
Knoxville bands continued from there. Young trio Subtle Clutch, fronted by songwriter Briston Maroney, helped open the festival schedule at Boyd’s Jig & Reel on Friday. The weekend included more well-attended sets by locals Jill Andrews (yes, we still consider her local), Cereus Bright, Hudson K, William Wild, and an over-capacity crowd at The Pilot Light for LiL iFFY’s release of his last album, Final Spell. That particular show boasted a number of delightful anomalies, including an appearance by Marble City Opera’s Brandon Gibson and a group-sing of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
Capacity crowds became something of a theme at the smaller venues. With a line of thirty or so on the sidewalk for LiL iFFY, the volunteers at the door restricted attendees to a one-in-one-out policy, a (good) problem which was repeated during Alanna Royale’s Pilot Light set. During Cereus Bright’s turn around the mic at Lox Salon, the audience simply overflowed into the adjoining room. The Jig & Reel was full on a consistent basis as well. Of course, it was not only the local sons and daughters who garnered attention. Though Cereus Bright’s sets at Lox and The Standard were some of the more well-attended events, both Apache Relay and 10-piece Houston-based soul band The Suffers garnered huge and appreciative audiences. Naturally, Cripple Creek Stage headliners the Drive-By Truckers, JD McPherson, and The Decembrists drew great throngs of listeners.
For this writer, the Suffers were one of the gems of the weekend. Powerhouse vocalist Kam Franklin filled The Standard with her voice and vitality. Flanked by a horn section, she had the entire venue on its feet multiple times and brought people dancing into the aisles. The other great delight was Lox Salon being used as a venue. Bands stuffed themselves into a cozy space in the middle of the room to play for people sitting on dryer chairs and at washing stations. It could have been a scene out of Steel Magnolias.
Some venues’ aesthetics provided various challenges to the production staff, however. The exposed-roof and concrete floor design of The Standard cried out for acoustic treatments. With all chairs occupied and the back walls and balcony lined with people, there were enough soft surfaces to soak up all the mid-level frequencies. Anything less than a packed house, though—such as the respectable yet sparer crowd for David Wax Museum—left sound engineers fighting to keep the lyrics heard above the mid-range swell. Cripple Creek Stage experienced similar small woes with number of sonic microenvironments under James White Parkway and the throw-and-go style of sound check common to festivals.
Once again, Rhythm ‘N’ Blooms included a studious element. This time, Chyna Brackeen sought out the perspectives of industry professionals to provide burgeoning musical artists an inside track on how to navigate the often dark waters of their profession. A panel of reps from Rolling Stone, Paste Magazine, and CMT sat with local music writer Steve Wildsmith for a panel called “Publicity 101,” and Brackeen included her own experience with that of other agents in a panel optimistically titled “Making a Middle Class Income with Music.” The panel discussions ran all Saturday afternoon at the Emporium, covering the how-to on everything from social media to booking shows.
Interestingly, the festival revealed something of the Old City’s established character, with bartenders measuring success against the metric of regular weekends and Taylor the Rose Guy finding frustration at being denied entry to the Pilot Light by festival volunteers who knew little of the daily routine in that part of town. Regardless, the hosting of the entire festival in the Old City drew large numbers of folks who had no idea about Remedy and Java, about Dale selling bratwursts on the corner, about Hot Horse’s exciting juxtaposition of music and vintage clothing, or about The Knoxville Pearl (the cereal bar). Perhaps they’ll come back soon. We’re grateful to Rhythm ‘N’ Blooms for the kind introduction.
–Adam Whipple, Celebrate Knoxville, April 13, 2015.