Forging ties between Texas and Tennessee: Top Hat Recording Studio curates Pilot Light concert series pairing musicians from each state

Anyone who’s studied their history ought to know by now that there’s always been a well-defined connection between the Volunteer State and the Lone Star State. The bond began in 1836 when a group of fearless Tennesseans, led by Davy Crockett, travelled to Texas to help a local militia fight a war of independence against Mexico. They joined forces at an old Spanish mission named the Alamo where some 200 Texans and Tennesseans valiantly attempted to fend off more than 7,000 troops under the command of Mexican General Santa Ana. Every one of the courageous defenders lost their lives, but the battle ranks as one of the most remarkable struggles in American history, and the folks that fought against incredibly awesome odds still are considered heroes today.

John Harvey and Mary Podio, owners of Top Hat Recording Studio, know that connection all too well. The pair operated their business in Austin, Texas, until they made the decision to relocate to South Knoxville in early 2014. To celebrate their 20-year anniversary of being in business together, the duo have decided to branch out and, at the same time, to find a common link between their new home and their previous one. They recently announced a series of shows that they will produce at the Pilot Light in the Old City, pairing artists they became acquainted with in Texas and musicians they met since moving to Knoxville. The performances will take place on Thursdays at 7 p.m., beginning July 20 and continuing for the next seven weeks through August 31. The cover charge is a modest $5.

While they know plenty of Texas musicians, finding local artists shouldn’t be a problem, either. Since opening their doors here this past January, they’ve recorded several local artists – the Tim Lee 3, the Barstool Romeos and J.C. and the Dirty Smokers among them – and become an integral part of the local music scene.

Cost and crowds convinced the pair to relocate here, but there were other considerations, too. Harvey grew up in Chattanooga (where his mother still resides), and he attended UT, which made it a sensible move.” They purchased a wooded plot of land in South Knox, tore down the house that was on the site and built a 3,800-square-foot house and studio in its place.

The couple met when Harvey was operating a studio of his own. Needing some electrical repairs, he phoned a local provider and asked for a service call. Podio happened to tag along, hoping to further her own acumen in the process. Later, when Harvey needed more work done, he called her directly. They hit it off personally as well as professionally, and the two have been working together ever since.

It turned out to be an ideal combination. Podio managed the books and assisted with the engineering while Harvey oversaw operations. The teamwork paid off; their studio played an essential role in garnering several Grammys for albums recorded on the premises.

Indeed, Top Hat provides their clients with a special vibe that eschews any overdependence on hi-tech computers or electronic trickery. Instead, they rely on vintage equipment that lends their recordings a more natural and unencumbered feel. “We allow people to record their parts together in the same room in a warm and natural environment,” Harvey says. “We don’t micro-fix or over-edit, either. We prefer to keep the human factor intact.”

That personal connection helped foster the decision to start a concert series. Appropriately, they’ve dubbed the series “T for Texas, T for Tennessee” in honor of the immortal duet sung by Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash.

“We thought a great way to celebrate [our anniversary] would be to get our clients and friends from Austin to come to our new home and help us kick off the next 20 years by getting together to play with our new clients and friends,” Podio explains. “We paired people based on who we thought might enjoy each other’s company, so the music may not be all that similar on any given night.”

The challenge, she says, is to coordinate schedules and provide lodging and accommodations for those that arrive from out of town. Still, she insists that the efforts will reap special rewards.

“Hopefully we forge new friendships between our old friends and new friends that might foster future collaborations,” Podio says.


The line-up is as follows:

7/20 March and Beauty (Austin) with Peak Physique (Knoxville)

7/27 Jeremy Nail (Austin) with J.C. Haun (Knoxville)

8/3 Jon Dee Graham (Austin) with RB Morris (Knoxville)

8/10 Seela (Austin) with Hudson K (Knoxville)

8/17 Michael Fracasso (Austin) with Greg Horne (Knoxville)

8/24 Forrest Jourdan (Austin) with the Barstool Romeos (Knoxville)

8/31 The Adventures Of… (Austin) paired with Bark (Knoxville)

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