From its humble beginnings as the one day Azalea Festival in 1982, Oak Ridge’s Secret City Festival is evolving into one of the premier events in East Tennessee and has been expanded to encompass three weekends, June 2-17. A highlight of the event will be the weekend of June 9-10, with arts & crafts vendors, children’s programming, and concerts by locally revered and nationally acclaimed musicians. While previous festivals have featured classic rock, this year the festival looks firmly toward the future with artists who are poised to continue making an impact on their respective genres for years to come, including festival headliners The Black Lillies on June 9 and Dr. Dog on June 10. In another change from previous years, admission is free. The festival will be held at A.K. Bissell Park.
The Black Lillies began as a group of friends making music in songwriter and frontman Cruz Contreras’ Knoxville living room, and have evolved into what is now one of Americana’s biggest success stories: an internationally-renowned band of roots-rockers, armed with songs that blur the boundaries between folk, soul, red dirt country, blues and jazz. The band’s sharp, southern-influenced songs — including Americana radio hits like “Hard to Please,” the kickoff single and title track from the band’s most recent album — have earned praise from Rolling Stone Country, NPR, American Songwriter and beyond, with their most recent album Hard to Please debuting at #12 on Billboard Heatseekers and #30 on Billboard’s Top 200 Country Albums. 2013’s Runaway Blues and 2011’s 100 Miles of Wreckage both fared similarly well, with outlets like Entertainment Weekly praising the band’s “strong roots-folk songwriting, sweet harmonies, and charismatic indie spirit.”
Proudly independent since their formation, The Black Lillies were one of the first independent bands to play the Grand Ole Opry and have since returned dozens of times – sharing that stage with big-budget bands and major-label mainstreamers. They’ve chased down success on their terms, ignoring the trends of Nashville and focusing on a sound that, as Vanity Fair notes, “continues to cross generations and musical genres – country, folk, blues and…a touch of the Dead, for good measure.” Featuring multi-instrumentalist Contreras, bassist and vocalist Sam Quinn, drummer Bowman Townsend, guitarist/vocalist Dustin Schaefer, and a rotating cast of stellar instrumentalists, The Black Lillies are one of the most visible, viable groups in contemporary roots music.
Hailed as “America’s next great band” by Relix Magazine, psychedelic indie rockers Dr. Dog are part of a long tradition of D.I.Y. pop oddballs who blend unapologetic ’60s pop worship with lo-fi recording techniques and an apparent disregard for current trends. The origins of Dr. Dog trace back to guitarist Toby Leaman and drummer Scott McMicken first playing music together in eighth grade. The two never played covers, instead, opting to write all their own music. Over the course of several years, they found enough free time to record the casual, sprawling, 35-track set The Psychedelic Swamp in a basement rehearsal space, finally self-releasing it in 2001.
When My Morning Jacket’s Jim James hand-picked Dr. Dog to open an East Coast tour, the band’s national profile began to rise. Not long after, they drew the praise of New York Times and other critics, and were signed to Park the Van Records. Since that time, the band has released nine albums, signed a new deal with ANTI- Records, toured relentlessly, and defied easy categorization. At times, their harmonies and pop hooks draw comparisons to The Beach Boys and the Beatles, but they are just as much at home with fresh, indie, even electronic sounds and screaming psychedelic guitars. A favorite at festivals ranging from Newport Folk to Lollapalooza, the band has a seriously independent ethos, a highly energetic live show and a tremendous national following.
The Black Lillies and Dr. Dog anchor a weekend of music June 9-10, with additional performances by Cereus Bright, Electric Darling, Nora Jane Struthers, Dave Eggar, Hudson K, and more. Additionally, a children’s stage will feature performances throughout the day. In partnership with TNCreates, arts and crafts vendors will display and sell their work throughout the weekend.
This weekend is a centerpiece of the larger Secret City Festival, which kicks off on Friday, June 2 with a free movie (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) in A.K. Bissell Park. On Saturday, June 3 the festival will “Celebrate Our Heroes” with historical displays, demonstrations from police and firefighters, and the largest multi-battle World War II reenactment in the South. The evening will conclude with a USO-style show by Megan and Her Goody Goodies with Vintage Rhythm Room. On Sunday, June 4 an Interfaith Celebration of Music and Dance will showcase a multicultural display of worship through music. The celebration moves to Blankenship Field on Tuesday, June 6, where the family movie Sing! will be aired. Returning to A.K. Bissell Park on Wednesday, the festival showcases a Celebration of the Arts featuring local performing and visual artists, and remains at the park for the weekend on June 9-10. Finally, the festival will conclude June 16-17 with the ACO Cornhole Tournament at the Oak Ridge Civic Center. A complete listing of events is available at the festival website, secretcityfestival.org. Admission to the festival is free of charge.