downtown dirt by manhole: The Black Lillies! ‘Nuff said.

The Black Lillies Salt Flats by Wyatt Svendsen copy

Maybe the Black Lillies Oct. 2 performance downtown in celebration of their latest album Hard to Please won’t go down in Knoxville history as the single biggest event ever to take place on the city’s venerable Market Square. But in a just World with a just God — one with discriminating taste in music — it would be all that and more.

And even in this wretched dimensional plane, where discord reigns and good men die like dogs in the street, it will rate as a more than tolerably significant event, seeing as how the Lillies are the biggest thing going in K-town now, bigger than Bill Haslam and Johnny Knoxville and David Keith and the Sunsphere put together, rolled up into one very tall and excessively phallic package.

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last six years or so, the Black Lillies are an ace Americana outfit founded by Cruz Contreras in 2009, in the wake of his departure from another high-profile local Americana act, former Columbia recording artists Robinella and the CCstringband.

The story of the Lillies’ coalescence is the stuff of local legend now, the tale of how Contreras recorded the band’s debut album Whiskey Angel with a pull-together line-up in his own living room, played Bonnaroo and the Ryman Auditorium scant weeks after releasing that first platter. How the fledgling outfit hit the Road forthwith, played 38 shows in 40 days, dominated the festival circuit and garnered attention from everyone that’s anyone in the realm of American roots music.

They’ve been a DIY outfit from day one, the Lillies have, releasing each of their four platters on their own North Knox Records imprint, paying for the whole deal through a mix of crowd funding and shrewd money management. And yet without any sort of corporate backing, they’ve received beaucoup national attention — on the Billboard music charts and at awards shows and in the music media, Independent Music Awards and Rolling Stone recognition and inclusion on various Album of the Year lists from here to Sri Lanka, at least…

The aforementioned Stone has written the band up a couple of times, putting them on their 2014 list of “Ten Artists You Need to Know for Summer,” describing them as “genre-mashing roots music with an Appalachian anchor,” and “a co-ed ragtag group of Knoxville-based pickers whose songs bridge the gap between Appalachian folk, California folk-rock, bluegrass and jazz.”

Vanity Fair jumped into the fray, as well, praising Contreras’ lyrics as “measured and familiar, bitter but not jaded, reassuring — that you are not alone” in a recent short review. VF also interviewed the band and quoted Lillies chanteuse Trisha Gene Brady as saying that her aspiration as a singer was to be not so much Patsy Cline as “Jimmy Martin with tits.” Salute.

The Black Lillies’ new album — which has been available for streaming over at American Songwriter, in advance of the Oct. 2 release — is at once their most stylistically expansive and accessible release to date. Contreras has noted on many occasions that the band is product of its diversely experienced line-up — a line-up that has changed more than a couple of times in the last six moons.

An East Tennessee kid steeped in bluegrass and trad-country, Contreras went on to study jazz piano at the University of Tennessee. Former BL guitarist Tom Prior was a Grateful Dead aficionado; new pedal-steel ace Jonathan Keeney is another former UT jazz student who has dipped more than just a toe into the realms of cry-in-your-beer honky-tonk (Guy Marshall), reverent string band worship (Dixieghost), and balls-out rock (The JoJax).

New axeman Mike Seal, meanwhile, is fresh off a gig with acclaimed drummer Jeff Sipe’s fusion trio.

And that’s just a small hint of how Lillies past and present have contributed to the band’s broad, eclectic sound. Point is, there’s a whole lot brewing on every BL release. Check out the new record’s thumping country-rock title track, just ferinstance, or Trisha Gene on track three — “The First Time” — laying down a torch-song warble over a horn-laden Motown groove.

Or just come out to Market Square on Friday, Oct. 2. And get there early, because the opening acts kickstart at 5 p.m. That would include buzzed-about Nashville act Margo and the Price Tags, whose debut album is set to roll on Jack White’s (!) Third Man Records soon, and Electric Darling, the also-much-buzzed-about Knoxville band featuring former Dirty Guv’nahs Kevin Hyfantiss and Cozmo Holloway teaming up with dynamic frontwoman Yasameen “Yas” Hoffman-Shahin.

Bear in mind, too, that the Eve of All Hallows is almost upon us, and Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall will be celebrating in typical, inimitable fashion. But that’s for another time. First things first; the Black Lillies are back in town. Miss the Hard to Please album release party at your own peril.

Preservation Profiles: An interview with Black Lillies frontman Cruz Contreras

The Black Lillies’ forthcoming fourth album Hard to Please is the band’s first with an outside producer (Grammy winner Ryan Hewitt, of Avett Brothers fame), and its first with a major distributor (30 Tigers out of Nashville). But Lillies leader Cruz Contreras says those changes came without hazard to the fierce creative instincts that have defined the hard-working Knoxville Americana outfit since their founding in 2009.

“Those were scary steps,” says Contreras, speaking from his home recently during an infrequent break from the road. “But I think it’s turned out in our favor. We’re still independent, and we still have our own record company. Now we just have someone else to help distribute.”

Truth be told, if there’s a model for making it in the music industry in the post-digital era — an age when all of the industry’s traditional cash cows are dying in the field — that model looks a lot like what the the Lillies have been doing since they laid tracks for their debut album in Contreras’ living room.

Because even as those old standbys — radio adds and CD sales and arena-centric road trips — have fallen by the wayside, the Black Lillies have risen, and gotten stronger. Theirs are the tools of a new era in music, crowd-funded DIY releases and careful merchandising and touring the festival circuit.

Having begun his career in earnest in the late 1990s with Robinella and the CCstringband, he says he realized at the outset that the rules of the game were in flux. “When we made our first record in 1999, we were an anomaly in that we were doing it ourselves,” he says.

“But that was right at the time when, suddenly, people could share music on the internet and not pay for it. That reality was a real wake-up call for me. It made me realize that if I would really have to be persistent about this if I was going to make it my career.”

Contreras recalls an instance some years back when a couple of young female fans approached him after a show in another city. “One girl comes up and says, I love your band — I burned your CD for all my friends,” he recounts with a rueful chuckle.

“I was making $75 a week at the time. And I didn’t really know what to think. ‘Should I be happy about this?'”

But Karma rewards Persistence, and Contreras is nothing if not Persistence in boots and worn denim. As of Oct. 2, the Black Lillies will have released four fine albums in six years, rated on U.S. Americana and Country charts with albums and singles alike, garnered fawning attention from the likes of Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone and the Wall Street Journal, and played more high-profile shows on more big stages than can be justly considered in the space of a single article.

Perhaps there is no better testament to the Lillies’ impeccable cred, though, than the fact that they have graced the stage of the Grand Ole Opry nearly 40 times to date, a record for independent recording acts.

“We’re in a pretty good place now,” Contreras allows. “We’re an independent band that has been able to make a career making music. We’ve survived and thrived in a changing environment.”

They’ve evolved musically, too, from a band firmly grounded in roots musics to a versatile Americana juggernaut, a barnstorming, genre-bending outfit capable of shifting seamlessly between faithfully-rendered bluegrass, soulful southern rock, throwback country and swing.

“We started out as something closer to a string band,” says Contreras, a gifted multi-instrumentalist and former jazz piano student at the University of Tennessee. “That’s changed the more I’ve written songs. As I started writing more, the rock and country and jazz influences started coming in. Now, its shows in the fact that we get compared to so many bands.”

Contreras promises that the band’s sound will only get bigger as the Lillies incorporate new influences from new members Sam Quinn (ex-King Super, the everybody fields), Jonathan Keeney (Guy Marshall, Baseball, Dixieghost), and Mike Seal (the Jeff Sipe trio) — three well-traveled veterans who bring impressive credentials both as players and as songwriters into the Lillies’ fold.

“I’m excited,” Contreras enthuses. “The band has evolved even since we recorded in March. We have new members, new sounds, a new vibe, a new chemistry. I want to be open to what our new sound will be.

“Whatever that is, I’ll be as surprised as anyone. But I do think that more songs that work on a big stage will be coming down the line.”

None of which should be taken to mean that Contreras doesn’t miss the rich contributions of former Lillies who have left the fold — decorated players like guitarist Tom Prior, who left this year to move West, or former drummer Jamie Cook, who departed the band to become a bandleader in his own right.

“What’s continuity?” Contreras laughs. “You know, I’m the only member now who has been here since the beginning. It takes courage to move ahead.

“In our band, we don’t talk about our ‘personnel.’ We talk about our family and friends. And it’s sad when friends move on. But what do you want to do? I want to keep playing music.”

Zeus Speaks

unnamedZeus is Preservation Pub’s resident djinni and spiritual counselor. Every month in this column, he holds forth on matters of world-shaking importance. And some silly s#@t, too.

SP: We’re entering the thick of the presidential primary season, and everyone is talking politics. Why is Donald Trump the early Republican front-runner, despite his controversial remarks?

Zeus: Everybody knows him. He’s got money. He’s had TV shows. He’s owned all those business. He has celebrity status. So he’s got some standing with the people that count.

I think America is at a crossroads. People don’t know what to think or what to believe. What they’re missing is God. Too many people put faith in man, as opposed to Who created man. Their focus isn’t high enough.

SP: Hillary Clinton’s candidacy looks like it might be struggling. What do you think will happen to her?

Zeus: I think she’ll be okay. Because of who she knows and the circle of friends she has. Money talks.

SP: Why is it that independent and third-party candidates can never get a toehold in our political system? Why is the two-party system so heavily entrenched in American politics?

Zeus: America’s been so programmed in having to make the choice of A or B. If everyone focused on God, the choice would already be made.

But I’m not here to tear down one candidate or another, to spread negativity. I’m here to awaken. I’m here to spread light and love.

SP: What do you think was wrong with Vester Flanagan, the man who killed several TV journalists in Roanoke, Virginia recently?

Zeus: Too much work. Not enough rest. He had too much stuff on his mind.

Remember this rule: If you’re seeing triple, focus on the one in the middle.

Zeus’ Quote of the Month: “If we want to be healthier, we should speak healthier. What good is eating right if we’re living wrong?”

Who do you think you are: Rebecca Neely, Assistant Talent Buyer for AC Entertainment

11737857_10204833754632780_4054263367883199638_nQ: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

A: Probably teleportation. It would be convenient, and it would be really cheap to travel.

Q: Who is your least favorite celebrity?

A: Taylor Swift.

Q: If you were going to torture someone, how would you do it?

A: I’d probably hire someone to follow them around with a high-pitched whistle and constantly blow it in their ear.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: Don’t take anything too seriously.

Q: What actress would you like to have play Rebecca Neely in a movie?

A: Lena Dunham. I love her.

Q: What is your least favorite song?

A: “God Bless the USA,” by Lee Greenwood

Q: Describe your most embarrassing moment ever.

A: I once drunk-dialed one of my college professors at 4 in the morning and told him how he attractive he was on his voicemail. Then he told everyone in class and I never wanted to go back. He was such an ass. Which is probably why was so attractive.

Q: What is your favorite bad movie?

A: I watched “Plan 9 From Outer Space” when I was a kid, and I actually thought it was really scary. I couldn’t take a shower for over a year.

Q: Who is your favorite superhero?

A: Iron Man. Because he actually earned it; he’s just really smart. And he’s probably the most realistic super-hero.

Q: Describe your worst date ever.

A: It was a blind date a friend set me up with. The first thing he asks me is how many children I want. Then he brings up how women should not be in the workplace because women were built to be mothers by God. Then he starts talking about how black people and gays deserve to have AIDS. I thought it was a prank, at first; I was looking around for cameras. But I ended up yelling at him at the table in the restaurant and leaving in the middle of dinner.

Preservation Profiles: Preservation Pub Bartender and Cold Fusion Brewmaster Isaac Privett

Maybe you know Isaac Privett — pale and pony-tailed, stocky of build and stoic of countenance, he is the placidly unassuming fellow who frequently mans the taps on the second floor Speakeasy of Preservation Pub.

But what you may not know is that Privett does more than just pour craft beers — he’s been

Isaac Privett: Brewing sophisticate

Isaac Privett: Brewing sophisticate

known to brew them, too. And as the newly licensed proprietor of his own Cold Fusion brewing company, he is now serving some of his own product at the bar he tends, his Cold Fusion ales now being available in both the Speakeasy, and at one of the taps next door at Scruffy City Hall.

Cold Fusion was long in the making, seeded by Privett’s back room brewing efforts as a student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. It was a weird beginning for a future craft brewer, a genesis inspired by prison culture, obscure science fiction, and sheer reprobate instinct.

“I started making what I called ‘hooch wine’ in my closet in a garbage can for my friends when we had parties,” Privett says with a wan smile. The idea came in part from an apocalyptic Warren Ellis webcomic entitled “FreakAngels”, wherein the main characters — living in the ravaged climes of London in the wake of a world-ending Flood — made wine by distilling old stores of tea.

“I did some research, found out you could really do it that way,” Privett says. “Then I bought a bunch of raspberry hot tea, steeped it, dumped it in the garbage can, added a lot of yeast and let it go for a week.

“I didn’t have any furniture back then. But by god, I always had 26 gallons of pretty potent prison hooch in my closet.”

He continued his primitivist brewing efforts for some years thereafter. In the meantime, he moved to Knoxville, where he met and married wife Nicole. She takes a good deal of the credit — and all of the blame — for Privett’s evolution from a distiller of rotgut raspberry tea.

“I have her to thank for making my first ‘serious’ beer,” he says. “She bought me a make-your-own beer kit for Christmas one year. It was the first time I’d ever made anything ‘sophisticated,’ and it turned out pretty well.

“I figured out I have a talent for making beer, and it became an obsession.”

And three years ago, that obsession became the basis for a business when Privett — once again at wife Nicole’s behest — decided to pursue his own brewing operation. “I wanted to find a way I could be my own boss,” he says.

“And Nicole said, you’re good at making beer, so why don’t you make that into a business? I had no idea what it would entail, so I came up with a name, and went from there.”

But it wasn’t easy. In fact, Privett rates starting his own brewery as “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

“It takes so much perseverance.  It’s one roadblock after another. You have to deal with so many different people, so many different departments. You satisfy one person, and then the next person says, ‘Here’s 50 million more things you need to do.’

“I’m brand new to business, so of course I had to choose alcohol as the business I’m going to start in.”

Privett describes a veritable bureaucratic obstacle course of building permits, occupancy certificates and health regulations, befuddling hurdles to be cleared on the track to legitimate brewing. At one point, he had to scrap outright plans to move into a particular facility, after spending thousands of dollars on renovating the place.

Finally, though, he found a suitable locale for Cold Fusion HQ, a 1,500-square-foot facility in North Knoxville off Merchant’s Drive, a building which he subsequently outfitted with 150 gallons worth of brewing capacity, complemented by 200 gallons in fermentation vats. “We’re starting off pretty small,” he says.

Cold Fusion was declared “legal” by all relevant authorities around mid-summer, and Privett has been busy brewing and wrangling potential bulk buyers ever since. He’s currently vending Cold Fusion at the Pub, Scruffy City Hall, and Bearden Beer Market. “I’ve got other requests coming in all the time,” he adds.

Privett plans to brew seasonal beers in the near term, “so I can make whatever people want at the time,” and expand as sales and finances permit.

What’s the secret to successful brewing? Privett won’t divulge all of his trade secrets, but he does offer a couple of tips to the budding brewmeister at home.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” he says. “If you’re not sanitized, you’re going to make terrible-tasting beer.”

And: “It takes intuition, sort of like the intuition that good cooks have, that kind of creativity and understanding of how ingredients go together. I get a lot of inspiration from cooking. I look at food pairings a lot.”