By Wayne Bledsoe, Rusty Odom, Matt Rankin, Tanner Rutherford and Lee Zimmerman
Neither wind nor rain – nor near freezing temperatures – could keep the good vibes away over the first two days of Rhythm N’ Blooms, Dogwood Arts and Attack Monkey Productions’ annual music festival. Crowds shivered in front of the outdoor Cripple Creek stage under James White Parkway and Hall of Fame Drive and packed the warm indoor spaces at the Pilot Light, Jackson Terminal, Barley’s, Jig & Reel and other venues. Onstage at Cripple Creek, the artists wore wool knit caps and tried to warm their freezing fingers when they weren’t cradling strings. But the cold didn’t matter so much. It was drier than Friday, and it was easier to dance.
Faces not typically seen at regular shows around town were prevalent. Word has obviously spread that Rhythm N’ Blooms is an event not to be missed, and new audiences took the opportunity to check out local greats as well as touring artists.
Considering the unpredictability of April in East Tennessee, though, Rhythm N’ Blooms might consider inviting a vendor who sells Irish coffee as well as those that sell cold beer or ice cream. Here are a few of our favorites from day two. – Wayne Bledsoe
Thrift Store Cowboys
The weather outside was frightful, but the music inside Jackson Terminal evoked wind-swept desert vistas. A sizable crowd warmly greeted the Tennessee-by-way-of-Texas act on Saturday afternoon, and it returned the generosity in kind, delivering an excellent performance in a building with tricky acoustics. Anyone who has seen the band in a live setting knows what to expect: a super-solid, energetic set featuring a good number of rock-star faces made by bandleader/singer/guitarist Daniel Fluitt. Veteran local session players Brock Henderson and Robert Richards often have joined the fold as of late, allowing Fluitt’s decades-old creative vehicle to make full-band appearances in Knoxville with more regularity – a very good thing for Knoxville music fans in general and for Rhythm N’ Blooms attendees on this particular day. This show also marked the first time Fluitt traded his acoustic for the electric guitar in a live setting. It went very, very well. – Matt Rankin
Not many young music artists can emerge from the shadow of their more famous parent and really find their own way. Lilly Hiatt, daughter of famed singer-songwriter John Hiatt, has truly managed to do that. Saturday night at the Cripple Creek stage, the younger Hiatt rocked an audience that could see its collective breath in the cold.
Dressed in a knit cap and a military jacket, Hiatt delivered raw, song-centric rock ‘n’ roll while playing a jet Rickenbacker guitar. Near the end of the set, she told the crowd, “This song is designed to warm you up,” and it worked for at least a little while. – WB
Penny and Sparrow
For an act consisting of one acoustic guitar and harmonized vocals, Penny and Sparrow masterfully grasped the energy of the packed-in crowd. Their act flowed perfectly by balancing hilarious improvised stage banter with hauntingly heartbreaking ballads. Fans in front of the Jackson Terminal stage sat on the floor and many others crowded in the back, but they all remained quiet due to being entranced by Penny and Sparrow’s quietly yearning harmonies. Andy Baxter, lyricist and co-lead vocalist, seemed blown away that a room so big and full could stay so attentive to his quiet, acoustic songs. Even with limited instrumentation, the duo kept the set interesting. For one song, “Creature,” they stepped away from their mics, unplugged the guitar and still echoed through the silent room of people who hung on their every note. They employed audience-made sound effects to provide percussion for their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” and they led the whole room in singing along to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” Penny and Sparrow’s set was the perfect act for a warm, cozy room on a cold, lazy afternoon. – Tanner Rutherford
DK the Drummer
Getting off to a rather late start after a lengthy amount of time spent on setup, DK the Drummer re-emerged to the Cripple Creek stage outfitted in shiny attire and immediately quelled any lingering resentment harbored by an audience that patiently had been waiting in the cold. Buoyed at first only by a DJ to his left who pumped in modified pop base tracks, the ex-MUTEMATH stickman supplied expert percussion to round out the sound. One by one, additional band members took to the stage in order to add to the swell; by the end, a surging sound collage had the crowd in raptures.
DK proved to be a master showman in his second consecutive performance at the festival. Whether it was flipping his drumstick high in the air before catching it and continuing to pound the skins or climbing into the crowd in order to demonstrate his dancing skills, he engaged on another level than what I had expected going into the show. It was different, compelling and a perfect transition set leading into the evening’s action. – MR
With his everyman approach to vocals and his dry delivery, Hayes Carll doesn’t exactly present himself like a man whose accomplishments includes chart triumphs, ongoing accolades and Grammy nomination. Indeed, his decidedly low-key performance Saturday night at Jackson Terminal suggested instead he could be an earlier offspring of Woody Guthrie – or Woody’s own heir apparent, Bob Dylan. A sardonic Texas troubadour, he’s given to tales of persistence and self-effacing commentary that actually endear him all the more. Sharing memories of the time he played to an audience of two consisting of just an elderly blind man and his escort, or the unlikely billing he received at a club that advertised “all you can eat fried chicken and Hayes Carll,” drew sympathetic laughter and added to the entertainment.
Carll was quick to credit the “Tennessee sipping water” he was handed at regular intervals for his casual approach, and while he insisted that he wasn’t prone to namedropping the people who had recorded his songs (“because it’s never happened before,” he joked), he did make time for special guest Corb Lund, a travelling buddy who had previously played an unannounced pop-up performance at Barley’s earlier that evening. The two performed a song they co-wrote called “Bible on the Dash,” which documents the time they were pulled over by a fundamentalist Southern highway patrolman, while also cracking up at times because their delivery was decidedly impromptu. Nevertheless, Carll’s creative rapport with the crowd and thoughtful treatises on the foibles and failings to which most folks – including himself – fall prey made his performance that much more engaging. – Lee Zimmerman
The Pilot Light was packed beyond typical capacity for Blond Bones’ show. The Knoxville band’s music ranges from upbeat power-pop to a sort of dreamy alt-rock. It was tight, loud and fun.
During one song, lead vocalist Christian Barnett began singing, “Why is our house on fire?” Somehow, it reminded you that you were inside, warm and happy with friends. When he whipped off his shirt and tossed it into the crowd, we felt like maybe it was spring after all. Like during so many shows at the venue this weekend, many in the audience appeared to have been first-time Pilot Light visitors. Blond Bones gave them a good first impression. – WB
Beth Snapp may not always find herself at the top of the marquee, but on Saturday night at Boyd’s Jig and Reel, she showed she was well-equipped to seduce an audience, even those in the crowd who might be there for a very first encounter. Backed by an adroit four-piece band (her husband included), Snapp switched from guitar to ukulele and back again, while singing sweetly and sensually. Happily, she shared her earnest intents without lapsing into self-serving or overly serious sentiments as some young folkies are occasionally prone to do. A convincing version of Phil Collins‘ monster hit “That’s All” and a jaunty read of the age-old standard “Has Anybody Seen My Gal” fit in nicely betwixt her own originals, particularly a newer effort called “Work Song” and an amiable, engaging offering, “Whole New Thing.” Even so, it was her charming delivery that quickly won over the crowd, even at the outset.
At one point, Snapp pointed out that one of her college professors was sitting in the crowd, no small source of pride she noted, because she actually had completed only one semester of college. Nevertheless, her teacher didn’t seem to fault her for managing such a brief tenure. He laughed and beamed with pride, obviously happy that he had encountered her so early on. After all, it was evident that despite her short time, she had done well regardless. And on Saturday night, that was a source of satisfaction in which everyone could share. – LZ
Nowadays, Dr. Dog is the United States’ closest cousin to The Beatles. Within the band’s albums, you’ll find harmonies, shared vocal duties and a tinge of psychedelia, and it all blends perfectly. They are a band for appreciators of well-written songs, as evidenced by myriad attendees singing along throughout, but those hearing the Philadelphia band for the first time were able to find the groove just as easily as the seasoned listeners on Saturday night. They mentioned that it might have been the coldest show they’d ever played, but that didn’t stop them from giving the crowd everything they had, even with the occasional walk to the onstage heaters/hand-warming station in between songs. They ran through a large volume of their known catalogue and mixed in a few new ones along the way, as well, before encoring with “Jackie Wants a Black Eye.” It marked another successful day at the main stage and set the table for Luthi (who may have won the day in terms of gaining new fans) and others. – Rusty Odom