Chyna Brackeen is a bit of a fibber.
“We’re sort of in a way gearing up for year ten,” she demurs when asked what is going to be special about this year’s Rhythm N’ Blooms, the ninth installment of the Old City music festival scheduled to take place April 6-8. Over time, the event put on by Brackeen’s Attack Monkey Productions has solidified itself as the keystone event of the Dogwood Arts Festival. “We’re focusing on continuing to do things well that we’ve done in the past,” she says of the 2018 edition.
Yes, many popular elements are back: the art-guitar auction, silent disco, live music mural, music industry panels and musical walking tours. A solid mid-range lineup of respected indie rockers, Americana/roots artists and local bands that includes Dr. Dog, Deer Tick, Hayes Carll and The War and Treaty.
“The War and Treaty, I’ve been kind of preaching the gospel of this band … and I think they’re gonna blow up this year,” Brackeen says. “It’s just completely infectious.”
But there’s more than meets the eye. Brackeen and her team have a plethora of new or improved festival features for concertgoers to enjoy this year, and the more she talks, the more evident it becomes that she was holding out – or at best coolly understating – about how much is going to be happening at this year’s event.
For example, the secret shows aspect of the festival is expanding throughout multiple venues and will feature higher-profile artists and some mashups and collaborations. On Saturday, there will be a street fair at the Jackson Terminal, where Brackeen says the festival is “partnering with the local makers’ community in Knoxville.” (By the way, that event and the music panel discussions held there early Saturday are free to the public.)
“The panel discussions are about the music business and things any kind of maker or artist would find useful,” Brackeen says. “We’ve found that people really respond to those.”
And for the first time, Rhythm N’ Blooms is giving one college band the opportunity to play a coveted slot on the main stage through a WUTK-sponsored battle of the bands. Each band must have at least two members who are current University of Tennessee students.
“Talking to Benny [Smith, WUTK station manager] … there was this culture of bands getting started at UT [in the ‘80s and ‘90s],” Brackeen says. “Benny really felt like part of the impact of not having these battles of the bands [now] was not having that culture.” She and Smith see this type of event as a potential catalyst to spark more of an interest in a younger music scene and to start some of the Knoxville bands of tomorrow.
One youngish band that is playing Rhythm N’ Blooms for the first time is area indie-rock band Blond Bones. It’s hard to not call them local, as its members went to UT, started out playing tons of Knoxville shows and continue to do so even though the band technically moved to Nashville recently. The band released its shimmery, dreamy, indie-pop/folk-rock “Sierra” EP at the end of January.
“This is our first time playing in a big festival, which is exciting, and I for one am stoked for the Dr. Dog show,” singer Christian Barnett says. “Their album ‘Fate’ was huge for me, and I haven’t gotten to see them live yet. As far as the EP and playing gigs, we’re booking as much as we can and practicing as much as we can in order put on a great show. We hope that people connect, enjoy themselves and remember us when they are picking songs to listen to in their car. It’s good driving music.”
Fairly under wraps until now, Glass Magnet, a newish, Black Lillies side project from beloved Knoxville musicians Sam Quinn, Bowman Townshend and Dustin Shaffer, will perform at Rhythm N’ Blooms. No recordings of their music exist, and their web presence consists only of a new Facebook page containing limited content. But a post for one of their few other shows thus far reads, “As Cruz Contreras, their friend and bandleader in the Lillies generously enthuses, ‘Glass Magnet is equal parts genius and teetering decadence … lightning in a bottle … imagine sharp and twisted hip-hop rhymes infiltrating the world’s stankiest garage band.’”
Another set Brackeen predicts to be special is the performance by DK the Drummer. When his former band Mutemath played the festival in 2016, he had special percussive electronic gloves that he gave audience members, and he gave high-fives to the beat of the music. “I really do not know what it’s going to turn into,” Brackeen says. “Sounds like it’s going to be a complete and total spectacle, but what ends up on stage is going to blow people away.”
That may be a good description of what any promoter would hope concertgoers take away from any and all shows in a festival experience, but it is precisely what Rhythm N’ Blooms attendees can expect to see in set after set next month as they get down in the Old City. -INTRO BY LUKE BROGDEN
Highlighting some of the 2018 lineup’s most vibrant artists
By Alec Cunningham, Tanner Rutherford, Allie Stoehr and Lee Zimmerman
Blond Bones is a pop/surf-rock quartet hailing from Nashville, but they’ve spent a decent portion of their touring time in their original home of Knoxville, commonly visiting Preservation Pub and Scruffy City Hall. Via its webpage, the band’s songs are “complex arrangements of dreamy, surfy chord progressions” and “danceable driving rhythms.” The group achieves its unique personality by mixing the humor of its members with an awesome mood. Blond Bones self-identify their sound as being similar to that of Tame Impala and Vampire Weekend – both of which we here at BLANK love. This show is sure to be fun, energetic and special. – Allie Stoehr
No stranger to the streets of Knoxville, The Broadcast is a four-piece Americana/soul band from just across the mountains in Asheville, North Carolina. The band last played the stage at Barley’s in the Old City back in 2016, and we’ve been begging them to return ever since. Produced by seven-time Grammy winner Jim Scott (Tedeschi Trucks Band, Wilco, Tom Petty), the band left its New York City home to migrate to the Blue Ridge to pursue what they dreamed their music could sound like in the right environment. The Broadcast has played stages of all shapes and sizes, from intimate living-room shows to sold-out larger venues. This group knows its style and represents it beautifully through the chemistry of its members and their fervent connections to their instruments. The Broadcast’s powerhouse sound is sure to bring a crowd ready to rock and roll. – AS
Texas artist Hayes Carll has won multiple Austin music awards and is praised by critics for his likeness to legendary songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt. Carll traverses the gap between rowdy roots-rock and intimate, plainspoken, acoustic music. His song “She Left Me for Jesus” was named the Americana Association Song of the Year in 2008, and his other work has received consistent attention from several major publications. Carll describes his latest album, “Lovers and Leavers,” as “much needed breaths … let out on tape.” – Tanner Rutherford
Releasing two records simultaneously may seem like a bold move, but then again, Deer Tick never have shied away from tinkering with their template. With their recent companion discs, simply titled “Deer Tick Vol. 1” and “Deer Tick Vol. 2,” the band effectively created a double album in two parts. Nevertheless, the band’s methodology clearly works in that it divvies up the material according to tone and treatment. For those who are familiar with the band, that ought to come as no surprise. Although they often defy description, their skewered alt-folk sound combines unexpected effects, jangly melodies and a kind of cosmic cadence that occasionally elevates their efforts into the celestial realm. It’s an uncommon blend of indie and Americana that’s unceasingly melodic and incredibly compelling all at the same time. Here, then, is a rare opportunity to catch this Providence, Rhode Island, group and discover why the buzz has been building for years. – Lee Zimmerman
Fan favorites Dr. Dog have a critically acclaimed new album coming out at the end of April, so they’re sure to be treating the audience to a healthy mix of classic band favorites and fresh new tunes. Over the course of the past few months, Dr. Dog has released three songs from their new LP, “Critical Equation,” which they claim to be a mellower venture than any of their past fare. For a taste of the new release, check out the newest single, “Buzzing in the Light,” then find them on Rhythm N’ Blooms’ main stage on April 7. – Alec Cunningham
DK the Drummer
For those who don’t know, this ex-Mutemath drummer-gone-solo brings the heat to the skins so much that he is known to duct tape headphones around his head. Per his website, DK the Drummer aka Darren King is Grammy-nominated, half of Sucré, co-founder and co-producer of Mutemath and has co-produced tracks for Kanye West and Travis Scott. He is also a music video director, a visual artist, a record collector and a “bastion of beats.” As someone who knew DK when he was jumping off stages, dousing his kit in water and behaving like a rip-roaring, untamed animal, I fully expect this show to exhibit all aspects of his creativity and be both physically and mentally draining – but in a good way. Listeners can expect sick features, a large array of DK’s own DJ/drum mashups and – according to research compiled about his last few shows in our area – a possible surprise “drum jockey” dance-jam toward the end of the set. – AS
David Francisco epitomizes inspiration through every facet of his life, music and style. Being from a musical family, he’s been playing and singing for the majority of his life with family and friends, releasing several albums and EPs over the course of the last 10 years and striving to enhance his talents. About one-and-a-half years ago, Francisco was involved in a tragic accident in which he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle in Nashville. He was pronounced by doctors as having been paralyzed and deemed never to walk again. Francisco did not agree with the diagnosis and spent the next six months determined to conquer his disability. Through extensive therapy and perseverance, he now walks, is married to the love of his life (Kristi, whom he met while in recovery) and is gearing up to ride a tandem bicycle with her from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The inspirational story behind the music is what gives Francisco’s sound such rich emotion. At Rhythm N’ Blooms, he will be playing guitar and will be accompanied by a drummer and a bassist, giving this small-stage performance a more full-bodied sound that should resonate with listeners. – AS
Max Gomez has an incredibly buttery voice that has the ability to woo you right into another decade. Behind the vocals rest smooth dulcimer accents and lighthearted riffs that ever-so-gently complement his nostalgic, peaceful lyrics. Gomez finds inspiration in the spirits of those who came before him, and his sound backs up this theme; his tracks take you back to a less-complicated time. Gomez’s vivid storytelling bears the influence of traditional folk artists in a past era. He effortlessly produces sentimental vibes with simple yet excellent tunes. Gomez’s show will project attendees into the good old days and will remind them of how easy life used to be – and how it may be again someday. – AS
A longtime friend of the Scruffy City, singer-songwriter Lilly Hiatt hails from Nashville and music royalty (her dad is none other than John Hiatt). She has played several venues around Knoxville including the Tennessee Shines series at Boyd’s Jig & Reel, Barley’s in the Old City and even a past iteration of a festival bearing the BLANK name. Released in August of last year, Hiatt’s newest album, “Trinity Lane,” is titled after the street in East Nashville on which she lived during the recording process. Her voice has a steady twang that beautifully complements the storytelling nature of the LP that documents Hiatt’s battle with change. Produced in Johns Island, South Carolina, by Michael Trent of Shovels & Rope, “Trinity Lane” has received a plethora of positive reviews due to the simply honest and relatable content in each of its tracks. Hiatt’s voice is similar to that of Gillian Welch, and she captures similar sensibilities: the choices we make when faced with challenging situations and the ability to find the good in hardship. In comparison to previous shows she’s played in Knoxville, Hiatt’s performance this time around likely will feature more Southern-style, country-tinged rock ‘n’ roll smothered with her signature emotional authenticity. – AS
Early James and the Latest
While drawing influences from both the old and the new, Early James and the Latest puts a unique spin on a genre that sometimes feels played out. James Mullis often performs solo or in a duo with upright bassist Adrian Marmolejo, and he provides a fresh take on folky blues and country. When necessary, the group adds volume with drummer Devonte Hutchins and his percussive might. Mullis has a hauntingly raspy yet controlled vocal style, which could be compared to that of a young Johnny Cash. Their self-titled EP, just released in January, has brought them to all corners of the Southeast, and we can’t wait to see them in East Tennessee next month. – AS
The Lonely Biscuits
Formed in the halls of Nashville’s Belmont University, The Lonely Biscuits blend soul, pop, funk and hip-hop into a unique, rhythmic, indie-rock mixture. Some songs feature hook-driven pop vocals, while other songs rely on rapped lines. While their influences are obviously widespread, they specifically cite Sublime, Beastie Boys and G. Love. In 2013, The Lonely Biscuits won the MTVu Woodie award for College Artist of the Year, and they are sure to put on a fun, energetic show in this university town. – TR
Luthi will certainly bring a dance party to Rhythm N’ Blooms. Their stage show, which utilizes nine members, has been described as a “boogie circus.” They share a passion for helping others let loose, and they are adept at bringing together several decades of dance music into a funk-filled dance party. Though they function within a jam-band paradigm, they don’t ignore lyricism; rather, they pen interesting, provocative words. Their set will likely be memorable, as they operate from a shared credo of “keeping it weird.” – TR
Becca Mancari has stopped through Knoxville a couple times over the past year. First, she played the Open Chord in September while on tour with Humming House. Then she came back through the next month, playing the Mill & Mine with her Nashville-based supergroup, Bermuda Triangle, which consists of herself, Brittany Howard and Jesse Lafser. Mancari carries that twangy, quintessentially Americana sound, and she puts a modern lyrical spin on her stories and songs. Currently on tour with Joseph, Mancari kicks off a new tour with The Weeks in May. – AC
Penny & Sparrow
Penny & Sparrow (Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke) have been creating music together since their inception in 2011. The beautiful harmonies executed in their wide array of emotional songs tug at listeners’ heartstrings. The duo has released five albums together, each one featuring its fair share of highlights. Their latest release, “Wendigo,” grabs listeners’ attentions from the opening title track on, introducing them to themes of fear and conquering and rationally distinguishing between things that scare us and things that shouldn’t. Penny & Sparrow have a sound similar to that of Simon & Garfunkel, appropriately enough: seriously melancholy and deeply honest. Performing live, Baxter and Jahnke’s light banter in between songs provides sweet temporary relief from the stoicism. – AS
Possessed by Paul James
Possessed by Paul James, an alt-country project led by Florida’s Konrad Wert, incorporates traditional Americana instruments such as banjo, guitar and fiddle into an aggressive, folky style that often straddles the line between traditional music and punk. Fans of Shakey Graves or Trampled by Turtles will enjoy Wert’s fresh contribution to the alt-country scene. Possessed by Paul James is likely to deliver an energetic show that will appeal to both those looking to dance and those looking to engage with insightful lyricism. – TR
Local boys Southern Cities take good ole’ groovy rock ‘n’ roll, pair it with Southern elements and blend it all together with a touch of psychedelic funk. Their energetic spunk and lively stage antics always make these guys a local crowd favorite, and they should relish the opportunity to perform in front of an even larger audience in their hometown. – AC
Caroline Spence, a young singer-songwriter from Charlottesville, Virginia, has garnered numerous awards for her songwriting and has been featured in the American Songwriter magazine. Falling in line with the greats of American songwriting, Spence attempts to render life’s complexities in simple songs. Her voice harbors both purity and brokenness, gracefully straddling the line between ethereal precision and earthy honesty with lyrics that balance those same themes. She was lauded by critics for her most recent album, “Spades and Roses,” for her ability to deliver honest emotion to those who long to hear their stories put to song. – TR
Sucré is an indie-pop project fronted by Stacy King, formerly of the sibling-based group Eisley. King’s enchanting vocals paired with husband Darren King’s beastly drum and production skills are a match made in heaven. This project takes the mesmerizing, orchestral vocals for which Eisley was known so well and combines them with the complex, elaborate drum arrangements of Mutemath’s former drummer. Stacy King’s vocals are at the forefront of focus on this project, and an up-tempo, electro-pop atmosphere complements her especially well. – AC
Sweet Years have grown to become a staple in the Knoxville indie-rock scene over the last couple of years, and there’s a great reason why. Comprising super-talented and prolific locals Zach Gilleran, Travis Bigwood and Dakota Smith, this group is as energetic and as crowd-engaging as it gets. You’ll never be disappointed by a Sweet Years live set, making the outfit is a must-see on a bigger platform in Rhythm N’ Blooms. – AC
In another era, Paul Thorn might have been a travelling preacher or maybe the emcee of a minstrel show. A true gentleman possessing an authentic Southern style, Thorn boasts a mix of humility, humor and soulful sounds that reflect the essence of a traditional, traveling troubadour with an antebellum attitude. A former boxer, he sings songs imbued with a sly spirituality and relays true tales that reflect a somewhat unruly upbringing. Combine that with stories of rowdy relatives, unlikely observations and an occasional harrowing happenstance and you’ve got songs that can be moving and mesmerizing. Each of Thorn’s albums offer life lessons – albeit from a somewhat skewed point of view. But his latest, “Don’t Let the Devil Ride,” finds an ideal blend of religion and rowdiness, therefore making it the perfect place to begin. That all but guarantees that Thorn’s performance will be something akin to a rock ‘n’ roll revival, where music and mirth find equal footing. – LZ
The Trongone Band
Upon first glance, you’ll notice the gorgeous locks atop each member of the Trongone (pronounced “tron-GO-knee”) Band’s heads and wonder why you never saw them before. The Charleston, South Carolina, group is a lovely combination of Dixieland jive and Americana soul. The hair really contributes, too, though, as the band’s stage presence is akin to that of the Allman Brothers. The Trongone Band’s original compositions are funky, old-school, homegrown jams. The group has visited this area before, having played at Sugarlands Distilling Company in June 2017, but this year’s Rhythm N’ Blooms will mark its first foray into the Old City. Expect a solid performance full of blues-inspired riffs and compositions bursting with the Southern rock ‘n’ roll we all know and love. – AS
The War and Treaty
Making Rolling Stone’s list of the 20 best things seen at AmericanaFest in 2017, the husband-and-wife duo The War and Treaty mixes an aggressive yet sensual blues style with rousing gospel and R&B to create a show that is hypnotically unique. No Depression claims that they take crowds on “an emotionally charged ride with stunning songs about love, loss, grief, heartache, redemption and love.” The band name represents their music as “the pull between trauma and tranquility, music inspired by darkness and despair that ultimately finds a higher spiritual purpose.” – TR
Pulled from his website and frankly the best description of the musician I’ve come across: Andy Wood is “known for blurring the lines of preconceived genres.” Well-versed on several different instruments, Wood famously showcased his ability to hop genres when he won the Guitar Center-sponsored Guitarmageddon contest with an acoustic at age 22 after being a mandolin aficionado up until then. Wood also was a music instructor at Rik’s Music & Sound in West Knoxville, where he contributed to the musical efficacy of our city by sharing his talent and knowledge with the next generation. Andy Wood’s performances as of late are a grand mix of technical ability and ear for melody, and listeners can expect a full-sound rock show featuring astonishingly creative electric guitar – most likely culled from his own line, the Suhr Signature Series. – AS
Andy Wood is a jack of all trades; put any type of instrument in his hands, and he’ll wow you with it five times over. This guy can absolutely shred on the guitar and mandolin. Wood has a way of making his craft look effortless, translating onto the live stage as an all-absorbing, almost hypnotic experience for concertgoers. His talents have afforded him quite a few larger opportunities over the past few years. Most recently, Wood has worked as a touring member of LOCASH and Rascal Flatts. – AC