Monday, March 23, 2009

more thoughts on music and knoxville

Last week's post, suggesting that Knoxville could position itself to become the Capital of Bluegrass, got a lot of attention. Many reader's comments offered good information. Some were not so nice. But for the most part a good dialogue got started. Then, a few days later, I found out that Jack Neely was on the same wavelength. Other Knoxvillians have been thinking the same thing. Maybe it was a mistake for me to couch my original question with the term "Bluegrass". Neely seems to gravitate towards "Americana". Maybe just "Folk" would work best? Or do we need a new word?

The main thing that became clear to me is that Bluegrass / Americana / Folk / Old Time / Appalachian Folk scene is spread out. There is a Bluegrass Museum- in Owensboro, KY. There is a Bluegrass Institute- but at ETSU, not UTK. There is a large Folk Music Festival near here, but it's up in Norris at the Museum of Appalachia. It was even suggested that the true "Capital of Bluegrass" was already Hiltons, VA. On one hand, all this means we've been beaten to the punch. On the other hand, I think this is an even stronger argument that Knoxville could easily become the main center of Traditional Music. The spread out nature of the genre is begging for a true capital.

I want to keep writing on this, hopefully adding something meaningful to discussion on Knoxville's future. Full disclosure: I am a sometime mandolin player and casual Bluegrass fan. I'm not hardcore into Knoxville's music scene. I don't know nearly enough about everything that's going on here. But I love Knoxville and I love music. Maybe that's enough.

Here are what I thought were some of the best points made:

I'd love to see something in the same style of Big Ears -- spread shows out among our many great venues and then have a couple of huge headliners.

We're not suggesting making Knoxville the exclusive end-all, be-all of the bluegrass scene. We're just talking about finding ways to harness this great bluegrass scene here in East Tennessee and market it to the outside world.

Knoxville is a city with multiple identities and many of those identities are quite marketable. A city of Knoxville's size and reputation (or lack thereof) should try to capitalize on as many of these identities as possible.

I think what will give this idea a real long-term draw for everyone (along with providing some unique-ness from the other festivals) is providing multiple opportunities for bluegrass musicians to play TOGETHER! The tradition of Appalachian music is to pick up an instrument, learn from each other and start making some music. I think Market Square would be a great venue to invite ALL players, professional and amateur to get together to play, learn from each other, and give us all one hell-of-a show!

...there is currently a lack of organization in communicating all of this in a unified way that is useful to locals and visitors alike. Yes, there are individual concert calendars, newspaper listings, etc., but this is about more than a simple listing or directory. There is a great need for a unified marketing plan that would let each of the stakeholders in this idea have opportunities to expand their audiences and finances.

I think Knoxville needs an identity. And Traditional Music, to me, seems like the best choice. If this was intelligently pursued, what would it look like? What other facets of Appalachian culture could be useful? What are things (like Tennessee Shines) that are here now and can be built upon? What are the best kept secrets in Knoxville's music scene?

Thanks for a all the comments so far, keep 'em coming. Let's see what we can dream up.


Anonymous said...

bristol, tn/va may fight you for this designation.

The Modern Gal said...

Anonymous, I have to ask if you even read the post.

Let's start talking about what we can do to make this a reality. Who should we be talking to? The visitors' bureau? AC Ent? Who should be spearheading this?

Anonymous said...

I think this is going to be a multi-faceted effort. The established music related businesses are going to have to play a huge part (as they already have) i.e. WDVX, AC Entertainment, etc. The next logical step is to get the city/visitor's bureau actively involved. More importantly the citizens of Knoxville have to start viewing Knoxville as the Bluegrass/Americana/Folk/Old Time Capital or it will never feel like a real identity. I think the more live events and opportunities for musicians to play together, the more legit all of this will seem to people outside of Knoxville. We need to "walk the walk" so to speak.
"be the change you want to see in the world."
"if you build it, they will come"
All of those cliches' have an element of truth.
If we act like a musical capital, we will be a music capital. Museums, institutes, and foundations are great to have, but playing the music is what will give us the credibility to pull this off.

Anonymous said...

This is just my suggestion, but someone should look into hosting an "Invitation to Play" in Market Square. One warm evening, (maybe after the first Farmer's Market of the season for example) Market Square should host all of the professional and amateur musicians in the area to get together and play. Maybe to add an element of cohesion someone could recommend some classic songs to brush up on before the event. It would be a relatively casual but hopefully large gathering, and it would give all of us an indication of the real potential that's looming. Like I said, this is just my "first step" suggestion of how to get things going.

Lo said...

I like the idea, anonymous. Knoxville needs more public jams- Market Square, Ramsey House, Volunteer Landing, Worlds Fair Park, Sequoyah Hill park, the possibilties are endless for locations! Can anyone tell me what the weekly public jams look like in Knoxville? There is music therapy and the old time jam at the Time Warp, and an Irish jam on Thursdays at Patrick Sullivan's. One commenter of my post said there was a wednesday jam at Sassy Ann's. What I'd like to see is another folk revival from the 70s like what Mike Seeger started. It starts with weekly music gatherings, like the Mumbillies in Knoxville, who got together as students at UT and continue to play throughout the year in Knoxville still. Isn't this how the great festivals come about, like Clifftop in WVa and the Rockbridge Old Time Music and Dance Festival? I think Knoxville has it in her.

Anonymous said...

Why does Knoxville HAVE to HAVE an identity? And why does it HAVE to be music related?

Can't we just go with "home of the world's largest disco ball" and leave it at that?

B said...

i think anonymous has a point. we do have an identity as the home of the sunsphere, and i've grown to appreciate that. but i think we can aspire for more.

i just had some thoughts, mostly in the form of questions, about all this.

how much do you allow a new identity to form naturally? can you force a place to have an identity?

i got some interesting feedback from a couple of friends that are involved in the knoxville music scene. one mentioned that a lot of people who play bluegrass are campers. could worlds' fair park be a good and large enough location for camping and stages? could the festival cover world's fair and downtown? is it important that something like this be in an urban setting or a rural setting?

i'd like to see it happen downtown, but wonder if it would be better suited elsewhere.