Downtown Dirt by Manhole: Football Time in Scruffy City

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"Post-concussion syndrome?? What the @#$ is that!??

“Post-concussion syndrome?? What the @#$ is that!??

When it was all said and done, God knew He owed us one. Because it’s a pretty lousy thing to do to One’s own children, give them a verdant green new world blessed with six months of warm, temperate weather, then bring it all to a crashing halt with six succeeding months of misery and cold. So to cushion the cruel blunt-force trauma of the coming winter, he gave us a buffer to ease our sufferings.

It was called Football, and it was good.

And by football I mean football, not futbol—that game they play in places like Argentina and Belgium, with guys named Franz and Miguel who spend way too much of their considerable disposable incomes on hair-care products, and fall to the ground writhing in simulated pain every time an opposing player so much as scratches his jock.

Nope, I’m talking about the good ol’ ‘merc’n fall classic FOOTBALL, with cheerleaders and cheap beer and Mini-Cooper-sized men who run the field at roughly the speed of a slow horse and smash each other insensate for an hour at a clip.

And granted, the name is something of a misnomer, given that the amount of direct foot-to-ball contact accounts for only about .00001 percent of actual game time. But that’s what they decided to call it, and now here we are.

But this season will be an especially exciting one, and not just because of the high hopes held out for University of Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones’ second squad, a team full of hot-shit blue-chip freshman, as well as upper classmen who have had another full year to plug into Jones’ winning formula.

No, the other reason for excitement this year is that all of the television sets across the six separate bars at Preservation Pub, Scruffy City Hall, and Oodles will be given over to football on game days. And that includes all game days—Saturday’s college slate, the Sunday NFL lineup, and the nighttime games on Mondays and Thursdays.

And here’s how it’s gonna roll: The Cinepub screen—that being the massive big screen in the main room at Scruffy City Hall—will feature priority match-ups. On Sundays, that means the NFL Red Zone, for all of you fantasy fanatics out there.

On Saturdays, that means the University of Tennessee game, when it’s televised. When UT isn’t playing, the Cinepub will show whatever is playing on the brand-new SEC network.

The other teevees in the other bars will be set with an eye toward showing as many different games as possible, while still falling in compliance with the desires of the crowd on hand.

And speaking of fantasy football, both the Pub and SCH are offering some special deals for leaguers who watch the NFL at 32 or 28 Market Square.

At both the Pub and Scruffy City Hall, you can avail yourselves of $5 pizzas and $3 beers on Sundays, all the day long. Mondays, pints are only $2, also throughout the day.

And if several (and by several, I mean “at least five”) members of your league gather at either location on an NFL gameday, the league player with the highest score at the end of the day can claim a $10 gift certificate, good for any and all Pub/SCH goodies.

And if anyone is still looking for a prime locale to host a fantasy draft party, both venues are available, and are already hosting several such events. Entertainment Director Scott West promises that “we will help you make sure it’s your coolest fantasy draft party… ever!”

And that is all the time I have for you people this week. There are preseason NFL football games on, after all, and fresh copies of Lindy’s and Athlon to peruse. Let it never be said that I don’t have my priorities in line.

Scruffy City Cinema Spotlight: Tromeo and Juliet

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As people who read this blog regularly may already know, the Aug. 24 screening of Troma Entertainment horror-camp classics The Toxic Avengers and Class of Nuke ‘Em High—with a special guest appearance in the person of Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman—has been postponed. Those films have been rescheduled for another upcoming Scruffy City Cinepub event, and organizers of the upcoming Knoxville Horror Film Festival are hopeful that Kaufman will still make it into town for his scheduled appearance at the KHFF on Oct. 24 through 26.

In the meantime, we have another, very timely Troma feature on tap for Aug. 24 at Scruffy City Hall, Kaufman’s uber-violent, sexed-up Shakespeare adaptation from 1996, Tromeo and Juliet.

What makes Tromeo so timely is that it was written by a then-unknown Troma newbie named James Gunn. Gunn, of course, recently entered Hollywood’s write-your-own-ticket stratosphere as the director of this summer’s mega-blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy.

Understand, though, that if you liked Guardians, but you’ve never seen a Troma film before, you may be in for a bit of a shock. There are no big-budget FX hijinks on display in Tromeo and Juliet; the acting is half-baked and hammy; and the violence is so over-the-top it damn near snaps back and smacks itself in the face.

The movie adapts Shakespeare’s stage classic Romeo and Juliet, but with a “revised” ending, and a host of Troma-esque embellishments. Tromeo Que is a struggling tattoo artist who shares a cheap apartment with his alcoholic dad; Juliet Capulet is the daughter of upper-crust Manhattanites, living in a mansion with her abusive father, her nutso cousin Tyrone and the family’s horny lesbian maid.

Naturally, Tromeo and Juliet eventually meet, and fall in love, despite the fact that their families are at odds. The rest of the story, though, bears only a passing resemblance to the Bard’s original tale. (Big props for: having Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead serve as an intermittent narrator, prefacing a handful of scenes with very proper readings of Shakespeare’s original text.)

Despite its camp and grindhouse origins—or maybe because of them—Tromeo and Juliet made the rounds at film festivals and arthouse theaters in the mid-‘90s. And it was, for the most part, well-reviewed. (Although one prominent critic stated that it is a film “in which Juliet has lesbian sex, Romeo masturbates, various body parts are removed, and the feud is between rival porn stars.” As if those were bad things.)

But be forewarned: How well you will like Tromeo and Juliet will predominantly hinge on your taste for sadistic violence, incest, and mutant cows.

Tromeo and Juliet will screen on Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. at Scruffy City Hall.


Heavy Rotation: What’s playing in your earbuds?

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Kelly Van Kelegom

Kelly Van Kelegom

Kelly Van Kelegom:

1. “Guided by Voices is my current favorite Pandora station.”

2. The Silver Jews: “I think David Berman is a brilliant wordsmith. He’s published two books of poetry.”

3. The Shins: “I’ve been a fan since the Garden State soundtrack. They’re f@#$ing really good. They’ve transcended indie rock.”

4. Dr. Dog: “It’s the best shopping music. Dr. Dog is great for grocery shopping.”

5. Neil Young: “I’ve always loved his brand of Americana… Even though he’s not from the U.S.”


matt kilgore

Matt Kilgore

Matt Kilgore:

1. Mac DeMarco – Salad Days

2. Beck – Mutations

3. Portugal the Man – Evil Friends

4. Blossom Dearie: “She’s this lady from the ’50s.”

5. “The song ‘Nightcall’ by Kavinsky; just because it’s sexy.”


Now Playing: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars at the International Music Fest on Market Square

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Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are the kind of outfit that reminds us of the abiding truths that underlie hoary clichés about the life-affirming power of music.

Born under the direst of circumstances—in a West African refugee camp, in the wake of a brutal civil war in Sierra Leone—the band began as a duo, vocalist Ruben Koroma and guitarist Francis Langba singing simple songs to the accompaniment of Langba’s battered acoustic, to entertain other residents of the Kalia refugee camp in New Guinea.

Other musicians in the camp soon followed, succored by the donation of some old electric guitars and a used sound system by a Canadian relief organization. A pair of American filmmakers, Zach Niles and Banker White, “discovered” the All Stars at a performance at Guinea’s Sembakounya camp, and their 2005 eponymous documentary film helped bring the band’s burgeoning legend to other parts of the globe.

From those humble beginnings, the band has built a worldwide following, performed on big stages on nearly every continent, worked and played with some of the biggest names in the music industry. They’ve released four albums to date, beginning with 2006’s internationally acclaimed Living Like a Refugee; the latest being their 2014 effort Libation.

Their music is the very soul of transcendence, a pan-cultural mix of reggae, tribal chanting, and various African pop styles, a joyful, buoyant confection that translates the pain and hardship of oppressed peoples into tidings of hope and redemption.

As Koroma told Niles and White in the documentary, “I just took all the suffering of the people and made a song of it.”

The All Stars have a special connection to Knoxville, and, in particular, a special connection to the West family of Preservation Pub and Scruffy City Hall. Around 10 years ago, the Wests got a call from the documentary producers, a request to screen their (then little-known) film about a group of musicians who played in African refugee camps.

But the band wanted to establish their presence overseas with more than just a few film showings—they wanted to tour, as well. And soon enough, the screening was accompanied by a scheduled performance of the All Stars, at the now-defunct World Grotto, a club that the Wests co-owned on Market Square.

The performance ended up being the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars’ first show ever in the western hemisphere.

As it happened, the All Stars also needed a place to stay. And they stayed several days longer than expected. Scott and Bernadette West agreed to let the band members—a dozen of them—crash at their modest home in Fort Sanders. “Every morning, I’d wake up, come downstairs, and there would be a bunch of African dudes sitting in my living room drinking tea,” Scott West remembers with a chuckle.

The band’s youngest member, the then-teenaged singer/rapper/percussionist Black Nature, learned to drive while staying in Knoxville. Bernadette West gave him lessons in her 1972 Volkswagen. “For years after, he would call her, out of nowhere, sometimes in the middle of the night, just to talk,” Scott says. “It became a ‘mom’ kind of thing.”

The next time the Wests saw the All Stars, it was on the main stage of annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, TN.

One of the hallmarks of the Sierra Leone All Stars’ career is that, from day one, they have consistently “paid it forward”, giving thanks for their own success by playing benefits and performing for refugees and oppressed peoples even after their renown reached global proportions.

There’s a moment in the Sierra Leone documentary where bandleader Koroma explains to a group of people, at a refugee camp in another country, the larger mission of his All Stars. “We are refugees; we know your problems,” he tells them. “The contribution we have is to de-traumatize the people.”

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars will headline the International Music Fest on Market Square Saturday, Aug. 23. Opening acts include The Theorizt and Marina Orchestra, both of Knoxville. The shows start at 5 p.m.

Who do you think you are: Preservation Pub/SCH bartender Ryan Williams

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Ryan Williams, w/sister Rachel.

Ryan Williams, w/sister Rachel.

Q: What’s the best joke you’ve ever heard?

A: There’s a hippie riding a bus. One day on the bus, he sees a nun and he falls in love with her. He wants to have sex with her, so he goes to the bus driver and confesses his love for the nun, Sister Mary. The bus driver says to him, “I have an idea. Every Wednesday I drop her off at this church, and she’s there all alone. And I know this is blasphemous, but maybe you could dress in a Jesus costume, and command her to have sex with you.” The hippie says, “That’s crazy, but it might work.” So he goes through with it, gets a costume and goes to the church. And she’s there like the driver said. So the hippie gets on the P.A. system and says, “This is Jesus Christ.” And he makes a spectacular entrance. Then the hippie says, “As your savior, I command you to have sex with me.” And so the nun thinks about it and says, “Okay, but I’d like to stay a virgin. So can we have anal sex instead?” And the hippie thinks a second and says, sure, why not? Then he throws up the back of her gown and they go to it. And afterward, he’s feeling so good he pulls off his costume and says, “Ha, Sister Mary! I fooled you. I’m not Jesus; I’m the hippie from the bus.” And then she pulls off a rubber mask and her habit and says, “Nope, I fooled you. I’m really the bus driver.”

Q: Who’s your favorite superhero?

A: Nightcrawler. When I was a kid, I thought he was so intriguing, and he looked so neat. He was so nimble, and he could teleport. He was the coolest of the X-Men.

Q: You’re having a Moonshine Roof Garden Party at Preservation Pub. What three guests would you like to host?

A: John Lennon, Winston Churchill, and Gandhi.

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

A: Water board. That element of drowning is so scary. And you wouldn’t have to get your hands too dirty.

Q: Describe your worst date ever.

A: I was out with this girl, and it turned out she was batshit crazy. I had seen her around, and I was stoked that I got a date with her. She asked me to come over to her house, and we ended up watching wrestling. I thought that was interesting. Then she told me she was bipolar, and then she confessed all this crazy shit. She basically admitted that she stabbed her ex-boyfriend. I was scared to death. Everything you’re not supposed to say on a date, she said it. So it was three hours of wrestling while she tells me how crazy she is. It couldn’t have been worse.

Q: Who’s your least favorite celebrity?

A: Floyd Mayweather. I want all the bad things in life to happen to him.

Q: Describe your most embarrassing drunken moment.

A: I was in Panama City, about 21 years old, staying at this hotel called the Sandpiper.  I got blackout drunk, and my stupid friends told me it would be hilarious to if I went around to rooms, run in and take my clothes off and start dancing around like Party Boy from the TV show “Jackass.” For the rest of spring break, I was known around the hotel as Party Boy. I didn’t remember any of it.

Downtown Dirt by Manhole: Pub Memories, part deux

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Suck it, 'droid-boy.

Suck it, ‘droid-boy.

There was a helluva buzz going around Preservation Pub and Scruffy City Hall on July 24, a general headiness and tingling of spines that saw folks who were in the know glancing, furtively, throughout the evening, checking the clubs’ entrances, looking for a certain Someone to materialize from the ether of the night and stride grandly through the front door(s).

Along the walls, scruffy local jazz musicians shuffled and hawed, looking uncharacteristically like starry-eyed children as they watched for HIM to show; waiting; hoping…

The HIM in question was none other than Wynton Marsalis—august jazz personage, classical virtuoso, arguably the greatest trumpet player currently walking the face of this great big rock we like to call Planet Earth. Marsalis played a gig in town at the Tennessee Theatre that evening, and the good word was that he planned an après-show appearance at one of our two favorite venues—instrument at the ready—for a round of drinks, a little tete-a-tete, and perhaps a chorus or two of horn magic on either the Pub or SCH stage.

And so everyone waited. And waited. And waited… And HE never came. Something to do with a long night, hours of politicking at the venue, too little time or energy to make it all the way back to the hotel room for a clean sport coat and a fresh dab of powder on the nose, then out again, to the Clubs, for more pressing of the flesh and hobbing of nobs and yet another exhausting round of impeccable hornsmanship on another overheated stage…

That’s how the apple splits, Jake. Sometimes a piece falls your way; sometimes it doesn’t. And it’s not the first time our Pub has been jilted by Celebrity. There was an occasion, a couple years back, when a dozen or more hot-shot guitar players checked into town for a Jimi Hendrix tribute show at one area venue or another. And rumors ran hot that after the performance, the venerable Buddy Guy—maybe our greatest living bluesman—would make a Pubside appearance with bassist extraordinaire Billy Cox, our best last connection to Hendrix himself.

They never showed, either. But the Marsalis affair (or lack of same) has stirred the ashes of memory. We cataloged in this very space a couple of weeks back how on so many occasions past, famous folk from every walk have stopped over in our little corner of Market Square. And upon further reflection, it would appear that we neglected to recount more than a few such occasions

Like, jusferinstance, the time ‘80s New Wave rockers The Fixx happened in on a Tuesday night, during the Pub’s regular singer/songwriter showcase. Given an open tab—there’s nothing like a little 80-proof Good Will to grease the wheels—the blokes from the U.K. were coaxed on stage for rousing renditions of the old radio nuggets “One Thing Leads to Another” and “Saved by Zero.” By the second song, the upstairs bar was packed to overflow with onlookers, many of them standing on tables and cheering, partying as if it were… well, 1983…

Not all of our best-known guests have been musicians. The 2013 Fanboy Expo at Knoxville Convention Center brought a weird and misbegotten line-up of aging sitcom stars, horror-movie troglodytes and forgotten action heroes to town, and several made their rounds at the Pub.

Fanboy guests included Anthony Michael Hall, who was reportedly well-regarded by staff and patrons alike—even if he did take a few too many liberties with the ladies, if you catch my drift. The 45-year-old former John Hughes poster boy stumbled around two floors like a drunken frat boy at the end of Hell Week, doling out high-fives and getting his rocks off to the heavy blues of Knoxville’s Big Gene and the Loud Pack.

That same weekend—and I hope I’m not bursting the bubbles of any hardcore Star Wars fans here—Kenny Baker, the diminutive actor who portrayed R2D2, showed at Pres. Pub with Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund at his side. The general consensus on Baker, in the wake of his visit: “A total asshole, and cheap as hell.”

Who knew that the heart of an ill-tempered miser dwelt deep within that cute little tin-can suit?

Andrew Bird seemed like a reasonable sort the night he came by after a performance in town. He mostly kept a low profile, throwing back shots with friends in the upstairs bar.

Even further down on the down-low were members of Swedish stoner rock band Ghost, who stopped in after a Bijou date last year, unrecognizable without their trademark ghoulish face paint and hooded robes. The Ghost fellows took a liking to K-town, it would seem, so much so that they damned near left the city with a souvenir in the form of a comely Oodles waitress stashed in the back of their tour bus. She was rescued, prior to said bus’ departure, by friends with clearer heads and lower BACs.

Perhaps the most auspicious guest ever hosted by the Pub was none other than Quentin Tarantino, in town just a few years back on a potential location scout for the then-yet-to-be-filmed Django Unchained.

Tanrantino came by on the invitation of a former Pub bartender, who—while off-duty—met QT on Gay Street and offered to buy the famed director a beer. Tarantino repaid the kindness, after holding court in the upstairs Speakeasy, by leaving with the bartender’s date. No good deed ever goes unpunished, Jake.

And that will be quite enough for now. Maybe we’ll continue this little reminiscence at some time in the future. But for the moment, it’s time to move on, to smaller and lesser things. Keep in mind, though, that here at Preservation Pub and Scruffy City Hall, we do not have brushes with greatness. Greatness seeks us out and brushes us. And says ‘Thank you’ when it’s done.

Heavy Rotation: What’s in your earbuds?

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Sam Hull

Sam Hull

Samuel Hull, Preservation Pub food preparation specialist:

1. I go back and forth between BR549 and Tribe Called Quest on Pandora. It depends on what mood I’m in at work.

2. I’ll go back to the Rancid station pretty soon.

3. It’s 20 years later, and I’m actually just discovering Nas.

4. Streetlight Manifesto. That’s a band I picked up on from the Rancid station.

Sara McLaughlin (r)

Sara McLaughlin (r)








Sara McLaughlin, TVA zoologist and Pub Preferred Customer:

1. A lot of Broken Bells.

2. The Shins.

3. I like jazz radio on Pandora. It doesn’t have words, so I listen while I’m working.

4. I’m always big on Morrissey.

5. Ray Lamontagne. I’m preparing for his concert at the end of the month.