Fred Eaglesmith Amazes the Blue Plate Audience – Plus, Waynestock starts tonight!

Fred Eaglesmith, Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2012

I’m publishing blog posts as fast as I’m able, but I seem to keep falling behind on writing about some of the great shows I’ve seen lately. One of the reasons is that so much great music has blown through in a very short time. I wrote a couple of days ago about seeing Jenna and Her Cool Friends’ phenomenal show at KMA and that same weekend I saw Fred Eaglesmith at the Blue Plate. And then I saw Blue Mother Tupelo (later post) at Boyd’s Jig and Reel.

And the music will keep on rolling this week. The second (annual?) Waynestock will be held at the Relix Theater. The Relix is locate in Happy Holler, just outside of downtown proper on Central. It’s a really cool venue which has been crafted from an old White’s Grocery Store. Most importantly, for only $5 a night, you can enjoy some of the very best local music and see more local bands in one stop than at any other time during the year. All money goes to benefit former Band of Humans’ front-man Phil Pollard’s family. Phil died this past fall and is being honored in this year’s event.

Here’s the schedule:
Thursday (starting at 7:00 PM) – Jeff Barbra and Sarah Pirkle, Greg Horne, Kevin Abernathy and Jay Clark, Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet, Ian Thomas and Christabel and the Jons
Friday (starting at 8:00 PM) – Sara Schwabe and Her Yankee Jass Band, The Lonetones, RB Morris, Tim Lee 3, King Super and the Excellents
Saturday (starting at 8:00) – The French, The Theorizt, Todd Steed and the Suns of Phere, Senryu and an All-Star Tribute to Phil Pollard featuring members of the Band of Humans

Unbelievable. You just can’t miss this. Drinks and food available, but wouldn’t you do without both just to hear this? I’m serious. If you’d like to get a feel of how it plays out, you might enjoy reading my blogs about last year which you can find here: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. But enough of that – you’ll get all the details later – let’s talk about Fred Eaglesmith.

Fred Eaglesmith, Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2012

Fred Eaglesmith, Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2012

Fred and his traveling show took over the Blue Plate at WDVX recently. Playing a show at the Shed later that night, they pulled their “special” bus into the parking lot beside the station, propped a piece of cement under the wheel and came inside to set the house on fire. Bill Poss did a couple of songs, followed by the Fabulous Ginn Sisters doing a few and then Fred took the stage.

He’s got a funny stage presence, part comedian, part icon, both wry and corny in the same story. His weathered voice, tasteful guitar work and always, the excellent songs he writes combine to form a perfect union. His band is just right for what he is doing and they are each very talented. Always joining him center stage, the Ginn sisters have a very unique vocal blend that twangs as hard as any Nashville vocalists.

Fred Eaglesmith, Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2012

Fred Eaglesmith, Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2012

He’s promoting his new album, “6 Volts,” which I bought that day and it is excellent. My favorite song has to be “Johnny Cash,” which is great on the album, but is even better live with Fred staring down the crowd spitting out lyrics like “You sure do like Johnny Cash, now. Now that he’s dead and in the ground . . . and where were you in 1989 when it looked like Johnny was on the decline. His career was fading, his shows weren’t selling and you were listening to heavy metal, but you sure do like Johnny Cash, now.”

When he sings “I’m dangerous to myself,” it’s believable. Sometimes he sounds as if he might be dangerous to anyone. Then he tells a joke or gives a wink and you aren’t sure if he’s dangerous or if he’s more like your mischievous uncle. He patiently signed everything handed to him after the show and posed for a picture with me when he certainly didn’t have to, so I’m thinking maybe on the not-so-dangerous end.

Fred Eaglesmith, Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2012

Fred Eaglesmith, Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2012

The room was packed when I arrived a half hour before the show and the crowd got what they had hoped for. We all need to be very appreciative of the great music we get to hear at WDVX. It’s a great radio station that distinguishes our city from any other. And on this particular Saturday they gave us a great musician and a great band. Thank you Tony and thank you Fred.

I’ll end with Fred performing “Johnny Cash.” See you guys at the Waynestock shows.

The Special

Just Old Men Passin’ Through: Fred Eaglesmith and Urban Guy

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!

Fred Eaglesmith with High Kotton at the Blue Plate Special

How could you improve the live radio concerts hosted weekdays at noon on WDVX for several years now? Add a weekend show, that’s how. Many of us can’t be downtown at noon, but judging from the crowd in the visitor’s center Saturday, virtually everyone can make it on a weekend. The room was packed nearly an hour before showtime and people kept coming. By the time the broadcast began, there was hardly room to breathe. Red Hickey said it was almost without doubt the biggest crowd in any visitor’s center any where in the country that day. I’m not sure other visitor centers are as cool as ours to have regular concerts, but it was a very big crowd.

Fred Eaglesmith, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 22,2011

As I said in the last post, I would not be able to see Fred Eaglesmith at the Shed, so I jumped at the chance to see him at WDVX on Saturday. I’m not as familiar with his work as I will be within the next few days (I’m buying in big), but I’d heard enough on WDVX to get me pretty excited. If he’d never written anything beyond Alcohol And Pills that would be enough reason to go down and listen.

High Kotton, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 2011

The opening act was a local group, High Kotton, who told me they have only “been together since October” and, if I understood them correctly, they have “practiced seven times.” Some of them have been friends for a longer time, but the group and vocalist Wendy Crowe found each other through Craigslist. This group, to have been together such a short time displays amazing potential. Wendy’s face is set to default to “smile” and her charm as the front of the band combined with her great country voice and the rich harmony produced by her along with very talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Amanda Thomas and other band members will take the band far. It’s hard to imagine how good they can be after they’ve put in the hours required to make a band tight.

Fred Eaglesmith, Knoxville, January 22, 2011

So it was a good opening for the main course of the noon concert: Fred Eaglesmith. I had no idea what to expect. His most recent album Cha Cha Cha features the sound from the David Letterman video below and it was this seductive groove that he brought to the Blue Plate. The sound is augmented and elevated tremendously by The Fabulous Ginn Sisters who are excellent recording artists in their own right. Filling out the band wasKori Heppner on drums, Justine Fischer on bass and Matty Simpson on banjo and guitar.

Fred Eaglesmith, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 22, 2011

Matty’s banjo playing provides another whole topic for conversation. The banjo looked about as beaten up and down as if it might have been one of the first banjos cobbled together somewhere in Africa. It alternately sounded vaguely like a banjo and entirely like a fuzzy guitar on a smoky night at 3 AM.

Fred Eaglesmith, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 22,2011

The ragged backing vocals gave the performance almost a gospel feel. The distorted lead banjo and guitar gave the music an element of 60’s garage rock. The rhythmic foundation keep the train on the track and Fred’s gravely, but sure-voiced vocals seeped into the mix to produce a sound unlike anyone I could name. Steady throughout was the excellent song-writing. It was not country music, for the most part, it was what country music should have become. I could imagine Hank Williams being happy to walk the length of Gay Street from the Andrew Johnson Hotel to hear this music which is completely different from anything from his era, yet, I think he would recognize it immediately.

Fred Eaglesmith, WDVX Blue Plate Special, Knoxville, January 22, 2011

Fred played Thirty Years Of Farming which was a number one bluegrass hit for James King, but it was the sound of the new music that was so intoxicating on this day. Delivering the goods was a man who knows his place and feels good about it. He will never be a hit on contemporary country radio, but as he says on his web site, he can draw a hundred or two hundred people almost anywhere in the world who are willing to pay twenty bucks to see him and that suits him perfectly. He also told wry jokes and mentioned his fascinating oil paintings, which are for sale on his excellent web site.

I’ve found an artist I plan to enjoy getting to know very well. Thank you, one more time, WDVX.

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Hanging on through Winter

In a way, the city recedes just a bit in winter. It’s cold out and fewer people walk the streets. Lazy strolls disappear in favor of rapid-fire paces with the destination more in focus than the trip. A cold wind howls through many city blocks like unnatural canyons, making the snow, ice and rain more bitter. We long for those days of grace when the weather offers a warmer, if momentary reprieve. Snow, when it falls is beautiful in the city. Ice on sidewalks is much less attractive.

So, we venture out less, but so much is happening just beneath the cold tundra that has been downtown Knoxville the last few weeks. Word came this week of a new, yet old, restaurant moving to the block just south of Market Square. The Lunchbox which had catered to a lunch crowd on Gay Street will make its new home just outside Krutch Park and hopes to cultivate a customer base into the evening hours. To see retail businesses and restaurants emerging off Market Square is an exciting development. Hopefully this will expand resident, and particularly vistors’ conception of places to frequent in the city.

Perhaps related to that story is the remodeling of the Hotel Saint Oliver. I’ve wondered if they might shift the entrance of the hotel to face Market Square. What prompted that thought was a quote from one of the new owners that they wanted to become more of a presence on the square. I don’t see how that is possible unless they connect to it directly. This would mean that one or both of the restaurants located on the first floor of the building would have to move. One of these happens to be the Market Square Kitchen which seems to be the most direct competition to the new Lunchbox which will be a block away. Do the Lunch Box owners know something? Am I thinking too much about this? Maybe so. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Nama is preparing to move and according to a reader in a comment several days ago, a new restaurant is preparing to open in its place. A new club is expected to open on Gay Street, soon. Blue Coast Burrito and Just Ripe are working toward their respective openings.

There is also plenty of music on the immediate horizon to keep us warm as we wait the spring thaw. I hope to catch several of these upcoming shows: R.B. Morris and Marshal Chapman play at the Laurel Theater. Fred Eaglesmith, songwriter extraordinaire, will be at the Blueplate Special Saturday at noon. The Black Lilies will host their CD release party Saturday night at the Bijou. I understand there are a very few tickets left to that. Waynestock, a three day musical event at Relix, featuring may top local musicians and bands will happen next week.

All that hot music might be enough to cause an early thaw. Maybe not. As I’m writing this it is snowing outside. Tomorrow promises to be another frigid day. Stay warm everybody. Just two months until spring.