I genuinely don’t mean this as a knock on Knoxville (har har har, oh bad puns), but I’m genuinely curious: how the hell is Knoxville, Tennessee supporting not one but two really well-booked good-sized music festivals this spring? The first is the recently passed Big Ears Festival, a hipster’s paradise of bands coming back from South by Southwest, and the second is the upcoming inaugural Rhythm ‘N’ Blooms festival, an Americana/roots music festival that looks to have a similar structure to the established Bristol Rhythm and Roots Festival1 in September (multiple indoor/outdoor stages with bands playing several sets over the course of the weekend in various locations).
The first at least makes sense to me — snag bands who were doing a southeastern swing on their ways home from SxSW and pull together a festival, although tickets were sort of obscenely priced, IMHO — but the second is … I guess I’m just perplexed, because Knoxville is certainly not first or second or even third or fourth when I think of excellent musical destinations in Tennessee. (I think in my brain it would go Memphis, Nashville, Bristol, Johnson City, Knoxville, Chattanooga.) Tennessee already has a roots festival whose booking is impeccable and that has a long-time track record of success and awesomeness; does it need another, even one six months earlier in the year? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not a booker or a promoter or a musician. Any of those out there reading this? Musicians, if you could play a roots festival in Knoxville in April and then Bristol in September, would you do it?
And Knoxville. Hardcore props to them, but I’m still a little baffled. Is Knoxville really that much of a destination for music? Is this a concerted effort to make it so? If it is, I guess that’s awesome, but give me something to work with: I will happily go to Tennessee for music, but Knoxville, like I said, wouldn’t top my destinations list on first or second list-making, so what’s different about Knoxville now, except for a distinct lack of Lane Kiffin? I welcome all thoughts from anybody, particularly the folks behind either of these. I’m not trying to be critical. I’m really just curious. What’s driving this? Why should I think about going to Knoxville for a festival in the future?
If you’re in or near Knoxville and you go to Rhythm ‘n’ Blooms, come back and tell me how it was. The booking looks solid but kind of safe, and I want to know about venues and structure and how easy it was to get around/drink beer/feed yourself between sets/get back to your hotel after the last set on Saturday. Because Bristol does a whole lot of things well, but one thing they do really well is logistics, and I’m old and grouchy and not into things that are poorly organized, except for the mess that is my desk (perpetually covered in empty wine glasses, camera bits, memory cards, books, pens with no ink in them, laptop paraphenalia, and band stickers).
The best strawberry shortcake I have ever eaten, pictured above, was purchased at Litton’s in Knoxville and dragged to Chattanooga in a takeout container and eaten in a hotel room at 1am. Man, sometimes I still dream about that dessert.
1: Bristol, obviously, is more convenient for me as this Knoxville festival falls smack in the middle of baseball season, and I love roots music, but I love the Carolina baseball team more. Most days, at least. Whereas Bristol falls on Florida/Tennessee football weekend, and I could give a rat’s ass about Florida/Tennessee except in cases of rooting for Great Moral Kiffin Victories for the lolz, all cases of which have now moved to Los Angeles.