K-Town's musical reputation reaches out through radio waves
A traveling musician brings many stories back home from the road.
Tales of whiskey-stained stages, broken down vans and sleeping on a friendly stranger’s couch are all too common. Different cities etch themselves into your brain, and when you’re at home you sometimes hear them call you to come back and play a few more tunes.
Who knows what aspect of a city makes you want to travel back there to play? It could be the people in the audience, the good food you ate while you were there, or it could be something so unique and rare that you just can’t help thinking about going back almost as soon as you left it. When it comes to Knoxville, I believe it’s the latter.
Most people in Knoxville are familiar with WDVX, our beloved Americana and Bluegrass radio station that, for years, has been providing great music and live performances unequalled in any other location in the United States. What they probably don’t know is just how influential WDVX has become to both listeners and musicians the world over, and how many people know about Knoxville because of it.
Charlotte-based band, The New Familiars, are no strangers to the WDVX stage.
“There's a lot to dislike about contemporary country music—until your dial lands on WDVX, a station that has proven time and again that real roots music is alive and well in America...and you can stream it,” vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Justin Fedor says.
New Familiar’s Daniel Flynn says, “Even being the ‘outcast drummer’ in the land of strings and things, I was always shown nothing but love.”
I recently witnessed firsthand how WDVX’s reputation has spread while on a short tour with local band, Christabel and the Jons, down in Louisiana. There’s a nifty little place in Lafayette called The Blue Moon Saloon, and we were stopped there to play on the first night of a tour through New Orleans.
After our set, I was right in the middle of a two-step when I spied a regular on the WDVX airwaves, Dirk Powell. Since I’ve been listening to Dirk for a while now I, of course, snagged a dance with him so I could pick his brain for a few minutes. As soon as he heard we were from Knoxville, the subject turned to WDVX and right there in the middle of a Louisiana dance floor I had a full out conversation with Dirk Powell about what an amazing radio station it is, and what a great city Knoxville has become.
This was only the first encounter with a WDVX listener that I would have on the tour. The next day we rolled on over to New Orleans for a four-night-stay. Our first show was at a private event, and we were sharing the bill with a band that knew about WDVX and then ended up stopping to play the Blue Plate show on WDVX a few weeks later.
My story is just one of many. Red Hickey, beloved hostess of the Blue Plate and the face of WDVX, has had her fair share of small world stories.
“I think it would be common to run into WDVX fans at music festivals, but once I was down in the Keys at a souvenir store,” Hickey says. “A gentleman walked up and said ‘aren’t you Red Hickey?’ That always throws me because it’s radio—not TV. I often wonder how they know what I look like.”
“Today there is the internet, and DJ’s aren’t as mysterious as they used to be” she says. “Another lady introduced herself to me in the Ft. Lauderdale airport as she was getting off the plane I was boarding.”
Much of WDVX’s widespread success can be attributed to the mastermind behind it all, Tony Lawson.
“I believe WDVX struck a chord with a lot of folks searching for music with a bit of folk soul to it,” he says. “Our ability to webcast early-on and have some great publicity via ABC World News Tonight, PBS, Oxford American, BBC, CBC and various newspapers and magazines all over the world has helped with attracting new listeners.
This publicity has resulted in some interesting times, according to Lawson, who says he has had “great experiences over the years at Twangfest”, that takes place in St. Louis.
“We webcast it for three years in early 2000's…also a very primitive setup at Rosine, Kentucky (Bill Monroe's home place in 2001), and of course Merlefest, Bonnaroo and at our very own Camperfest, where people from everywhere would come to... a whole lot of fun! “
So while Knoxville might be named on several “Top 10 Cities” lists, those who have a more intimate knowledge of the city can connect with people the world over. Radio waves make it happen, and a humble beginnings radio station called WDVX.