Downtown Dirt by Manhole: Band Eat Band Update. F@#$ers.

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band eat band

B.E.B. 2013: a little water never hurt anyone

Without much fanfare, the 2014 version of the Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall Band Eat Band Contest is steamrolling toward the semi-final rounds, to be held in SCH come May. And when I say “without much fanfare,” think of it as my gentle little way of boxing your collective ears, rousing you from your drooling slumber, and reminding you to pay some f@#$ing attention in class!…

Because there have been some less than shall-we-say-stalwart nights, thus far, in terms of attendance and audience participation at this year’s B.E.B. And while there have been a few lackluster moments in the competition itself, there have also been so many moments to celebrate. The latter fact, as well as an infusion of new talent from the contest having been opened to regional performers, will in all probability bring us to a final round even more exciting and diverse than last year’s.

And in case you missed it, last year’s August B.E.B. finale made for some damn fine entertainment, even with the Gods of No-Fun trying to sabotage everything by pelting us with shit weather intermittently throughout the day-long affair on the Market Square stage. F@#$ers. Just let ‘em try and pull that one again this year, and we’ll simply move the whole show inside to Scruffy City Hall…

On second thought, scratch that last remark. It is never a good idea to play Chicken with the Gods. History is littered with the ruined lives of reckless fools who spat in the eye of divinity, and lived just long enough to regret it—Lucifer Morningstar and Jonah and Prometheus, to name just a few.

The point is, we are ready, Jake. And this year’s finale will not be denied, nor diminished. And though we don’t yet know who the championship round participants will be, we have a nearly full roster of candidates.

And it is no surprise that that roster includes 2013 B.E.B. finalists the Crumbsnatchers. The pride of Lenoir City won their first-round heat sounding, if at all possible, even tighter and more explosive than they did last year. Their particular brand of crunchy, loopy indie rock continues to be a crowd favorite.

That they won their first-round matchup in 2014 is all the more impressive for the fact that they edged out surprising, and relatively new, contenders Sidecar Symposium. Purveyors of cheeky, well-crafted cabaret pop, Sidecar had played local stages occasionally, if irregularly, in the past. But their performance in B.E.B. this time so impressed that the judges awarded them a rare on-the-spot wildcard bid into the semis, tho they had lost the night to the Crumbsnatchers’ fearsome tour-de-force.

Also receiving a night-of wildcard was tri-cities outfit 100 Acres. An unknown quantity hereabouts, the Acres brought a throwback brand of country and honky-tonk to the Pub stage, earning instant kudos and a pass to round two in spite of their loss to local neo-traditionalists Dixieghost.

And if you have any affinity for old-time country and mountain music, and you haven’t yet seen Dixieghost, you’re doing yourself a grave disservice. Their eerily on-point backwoods harmonies and string-centric instrumental virtuosity guarantee they will contend for top honors before it’s all said and thru.

On another, distant sector of the musical spectrum are fellow first-round winners The Theorizt. For diversity’s sake, it’s good to have a band of hip-hop vets thrown into the B.E.B. mix this time around. And for quality’s sake, it’s even better to have one as talented and scintillating as the freestyle juggernaut of J-Bush, Courageous and Black Atticus, backed by a blistering dual-guitar attack.

And speaking of guee-tar, did someone say Justin Kalk Orchestra? A Nashville-based power trio, the JKO are also on the B.E.B. semifinal radar. If you’re a fan of serious six-string wizardry, google Kalk and co., and prepare to be amazed.

As of this writing, there are yet two weeks left in the first round of contests, with the final pairing of round one taking place on April 29, with 2013 semifinalists Far Far Away squaring off against another relative newcomer in the Marina Orchestra.

FFA play polished, soaring, arena-ready Rawk, heroic vocals over big guitars that manage to sound classic and contemporary at the same time. Marina, on the other hand, meld Afro-centric flavorings with throwback college-radio eccentricities—smatterings of the B-52s, hints of Talking Heads—buoyed by a lush undercurrent of girl-group harmony. If you can only go to one B.E.B. show this year—other than the finale, of course—that FFA/Marina O. mix-up on April 29 is your bestest choice.

And the fact that there are as many as two wildcard bids still open for the semifinals means that everything is still in play, for everyone. We still believe in miracles here at the Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall Second Annual Knoxville Band Eat Band Contest; it’s a magical kind of place, where even losers can still win.

Or, they can bollocks it all up and hit the dumper again. But that’s out of our hands. Just remember, Jake, that the best thing anyone can ever give you is a second chance. It’s up to you to grab that f@#$er by the throat and run like hell for daylight

Who do you think you are: Sapphire bartendress Erica Casey

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Erica Casey

Erica Casey: likes dogs, but not Pitbull

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

A: There’s two muffins in an oven. One of the muffins says, “It’s hot in here!” The other one screams, “Ahhh! A talking muffin!”

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

A: Mind reading. Not only would it be very advantageous politically, but you could see what people are really thinking about you.

Q: Who’s your favorite superhero?

A: Is Luke Skywalker a superhero? He’s my favorite.

Q: Describe Hell.

A: Fire. Torture. Screaming. Barbed wire.

Q: Describe your most embarrassing drunken moment.

A: I was walking my dog one day, and I saw some friends and started running after them. face-planted and ate shit. I think I tripped on the leash.

Q: If you met the Devil, what would you say to him?

A: “Set my people free!”

Q: If you could invent your own designer drug, what would it do?

A: Is there a live-forever drug? Never age and live forever.

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

A: Sexually.

Q: Describe the worst band you’ve ever seen.

A: Just like uncoordinated guitars and too much double bass. It was not melodic or harmonious in any way.

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

A: [Death Cab for Cutie frontman] Ben Gibbard; Gandhi; and [Scottish philosopher] David Hume

Q: What’s your least favorite song?

A: That f@#$in’ “Timber” song by Pitbull. Like if a tree is falling, everyone’s going to see it coming?

Q: What would you like to put on your tombstone?

A: Just my name. Don’t need anything else; I’m gone.


Now Playing: An Evening of Art Pop, w/ Hudson K, et al.

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Hudson K frontwoman Christina Horne didn’t want her April 25 gig at Scruffy City Hall to be just another rock show.

Or at least, not the kind of rock show people are used to seeing, circa 2014. What she wanted instead was something that might have sprung from another, more colorful era, when musicians from myriad genres performed under the same marquee, alongside dancers, poets, painters, artists of every stripe.

“There were a combination of things that happened,” Horne explains. “We played the Rikki Hall tribute [at Scruffy City Hall] in March, along with Tim and Susan Lee and several others. Tim gave me a book that Patti Smith put out, where she talks a lot about New York in the 1960s and 1970s. And she talked about how it wasn’t until later that they realized there was a ‘scene’ going on.

“And I related that to Knoxville. We have a scene, too. So the idea was to pull everyone together for a multi-media sort of experience. We have a lot of friends who are very talented at what they do.”

So much like the days of yore when the Velvet Underground rocked Andy Warhol’s Factory, and venerable jazzers and bluesmen shared triple bills with hippie rockers, Horne’s April 25 Evening of Art Pop will include a host of diverse rockers, a handful of rappers, plus dancers, poets, and visual artists performing, collaborating, and exhibiting their wares.

Local dancers Teejei Brigham and Claire Metz will perform with Horne throughout the evening—first during a solo piano set from Horne, and later during her Hudson K set, with drummer Nate Barrett.

Metz’ mesmerizing interpretive dance has been a regular feature of more recent Hudson K shows. Horne says their collaboration began a couple of years back, when Metz asked the band to perform at a larger production she was putting together. “We got to know each other, and we kind of let that relationship develop over the last few years,” she says.

Claire Metz w/ Hudson K

Claire Metz weaves dance magic with Hudson K

“We had also worked with Circle Modern Dance in the past, and seeing dancers work with live musicians has always been really inspiring for me.”

Other performers at the Evening of Art Pop include the aforementioned Tim and Susan Lee with the Tim Lee 3; local poet/rappers J-Bush and Courageous, both of The Theorizt; singer/songwriter Danimal from Chattanooga; and the Atlanta, Ga. band Sonen, which Horne describes as “a very danceable art/pop electronic band.”

“They [Sonen] have a keytar player, just like myself,” Horne laughs. “She’s the only other keytar player I’ve run into.”

Horne hopes the Art Pop show will set the stage, so to speak, for other collaborative multi-media performances. And so far, she says the word-of-mouth has been good. “People are telling us that they’re really excited,” she says. “If people really like it, we’ll do it again.

“It’s really like a variety show, except I don’t want to use the word ‘variety.’ What we’re going for is artful, but not cheesy.”

Downtown dirt by Manhole: Big Ears in review

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Marc Ribot rawks the Scruffy City, photo by Bill Foster


There was truly no greater testament to the success of the Big Ears Festival, v. 3.0, than the sight of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero cutting a rug to the jazzy Latin-inflected beats of Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos with a handful of other ecstatic festival goers at a beer past one in the A.M. on a Saturday nite/Sunday morning. At our newly beloved Scruffy City Hall, no less.

Which isn’t to imply that the Mayoress was imbibing. Nope, that’s just my little way of marking the time, a system that the rest of you depraved f@#$s will surely understand. The point is, Big Ears came once again to our fair little town on the weathered banks of the Tennessee River, and a good time was had by all. Especially Ms. Rogero, who christened Knoxville’s newest, bestest, and bestest-sounding Pagan/Viking concert hall and future brewpub with her presence on a couple of occasions over the course of a three-day weekend.

The Mayoress also earned props from no less than Rolling Stone magazine for name-checking Captain Beefheart(!!) at her festival-opening address at Knoxville Museum of Art on Friday, March 28. Can’t imagine her predecessor, current gov Bill Haslam ever dropping a way-cool ref like that one during one of his speeches—maybe he’d give props to the Kingston Trio, or Michael Bolton, or some other damned thing. And never-you-even-mind the thought of Brother Bill getting his boogie on to heathen ethnic devil-jazz at some boozy charnel house on the far side of the witching hour. Wouldn’t happen, nope.

All told, the weekend of March 28 was a smashing success, for the city, for the Big Ears festival, and for our newly beloved Scruffy City Hall, which was one of the main hubs of activity for the three-day fest. For those of you who stayed at home all weekend—and you know who you are, you laggard pork-rind-snarfing couch-potato sons of Bacchus’ waterhead third cousin—for those of you who laid on the sofa three days watching “Teen Mom 2” marathons, here’s a taste of what you missed:

Sunn O))) co-founder Stephen O’Malley kicked off Friday’s musical festivities at SCH with a late-afternoon set consisting of… well, consisting primarily of O’Malley thrumming the low E string (which was, in truth, probably detuned to C, or B, or some other subterranean frequency) on his guitar at 15- to 30-second intervals, fronting an intimidating wall of Marshall stacks that set each heavy-handed bombination ringing through the innermost vestibules of the gizzard, as if there were some serious heavy machinery tearing away at the building’s very core and thereby quaking one’s innards into so much well-churned paste.

It was an… interesting performance, and probably not to every taste. Say this for him, though—O’Malley drew a good crowd, and most of them saw the entirety of his 40-minute set.

More engaging was saxophonist Colin Stetson’s set. No one knew much what to expect from Stetson, whose career is most notable for high-profile sideman gigs with the likes of Arcade Fire and Bon Iver. But his show turned out to be a true headf@#$; wild, echo-laden contrapuntal vortexes created by means of various (and variously proportioned) saxophones, a couple of stomp-box pedals, a larynx mike, and some far-out Jedi-mutant breathing techniques.

And I’ll admit, I missed an SCH act or two—couldn’t resist the lure of a legend like John Cale, late of the Velvet Underground, gracing the grand stage of the Tennessee Theatre—but I caught the day’s crown jewel in Ethopian funkmeister Hailu Mergia, fronting New York world-beat act the Low Mentality at SCH somewhere around midnight. A near-capacity crowd bore witness to the jubilant, jazzy, and imminently danceable set, the perfect ending to a day of weird, wonderful music in our fair city.

Saturday the 29th saw more, and less, of the same, with the day’s best surprise coming in the form of SCH performer Bill Orcutt. Orcutt made his bones as leader of the cacophonic scream-rock outfit Harry Pussy out of Miami in the 1990s. A middle-aged gentleman with a frowsy and graying natural tonsure, he’s a little more settled now. And the music he makes is a strange and beautiful sort of raga-blues; angular, hypnotic drones offset by flurries of rough virtuosity on an ancient acoustic guitar.

And a highlight of the entire weekend proved to be the aforementioned Saturday set from Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos. It rapidly turned into the hottest ticket in town, as local VIPs of various stripes approached SCH/Pres Pub Benefactor Scott West about sneaking them into the packed house, sans Big Ears wristband. This was one instance, though, where SW—a renowned pushover—simply couldn’t oblige. The folks at A.C. Entertainment were gatekeeping this one; no freebies allowed.

Sunday was reserved for those with truly eclectic tastes, beginning with an afternoon Scruffy City set from Japanese avant-rock guitarist Kenji Haino. And I am not exaggerating when I say that never in my years of life on this big rock we like to call Earth have I witnessed so many people crowd into a mid-sized venue to listen to so much left-field ruckus.

Haino is a screech artisan; a provocateur; a guitar mangler of the first order. But whether they loved him, hated him, or just plain didn’t know what the hell to think, scarcely a single member of the dual-floor SRO crowd left for the duration of his hour-ish-long show.

The day closed at Scruffy City with doomy veteran post-rock outfit Earth. They drew a sizeable crowd, too, and tho a few in attendance felt the thundering three-piece were a trifle… repetitive, I, for one, appreciated the meditative beauty inherent in their single-minded pursuit of Salvation via the Almighty Riff.

And so we will put this year’s Big Ears Festival to bed, and look forward with bated breath and open… Ears, to next year’s event. In the meantime, there is so much else for us to do here on Market Square. Be ready for a hella good spring season. And take plentiful notes. There will be a test when it is over.

Who do you think you are: Preservation Pub bartender Robert Jolley

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robert jolley

Robert Jolley: Did Aquaman ever need a canoe?

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

A: It’s the best and worst. What do you call a deer with no eyes? No-eye dear. What do you call a deer with no eyes and no legs? Still no-eye deer. What do you call a deer with no eyes, no legs, and no balls? Still, no-f@##ing, no-eye dear.

Q: Who’s your favorite superhero?

A: Aquaman. I like that he can cruise around the ocean.

Q: Describe Hell.

A: You die, you go to Heaven, and you find out there’s no beer there.

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

A: I’d fly. No, on second thought, I’d like to be like Aquaman, be able to breathe underwater and swim forever. That would be cooler.

Q: What’s the worst band you’ve ever heard?

A: Motley Crue put on the worst show I ever saw. I went expecting to hear their early albums, and I got “Dr. Feelgood.”

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

A: John Travolta, Dolly Parton, and Rihanna.

Q: If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?

A: I’d go hang out with my son and my wife, probably do whatever they wanted to do. I’d probably drink a little, too.

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

A: I’d tickle ‘em. That would be cruel, dude.

Q: If you met the Devil, what would you say to him?

A: “How’re you doing, George?”

Downton dirt by Manhole: Big Ears, part II

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Big Ears, II

Ears wide open: Do you allow grazing on the loggia?

Let’s be clear: I’m not a man(hole) given to passing out kudos at the drop of a hat. There are those who might say that I am curmudgeonly; misanthropic; a hater. There are others who simply say that I am a miserable #$%.

Shit on those people. They are a cowardly, stupid lot. Their jibberings hold no truck with men of substance. The truth is that I am a hard man, but a fair one. And I will sing praises only when praises are well-earned. And this is one of those times when they are, indeed, richly deserved. So let’s get to it.

Plaudits to Ashley Capps and his team at A.C. Entertainment, for putting together the best line-up yet in the ambitious five-or-so-year history of the Knoxville music fest known as Big Ears. And plaudits, too, to our Benefactors, Preservation Pub first couple Scott and Bernadette West, for agreeing to play host to several of this year’s best Big Ears performers at our newly-beloved Scruffy City Hall.

We have already discussed, in no small detail, the preliminary plans for SCH on the Big Ears weekend of March 28-30. And it would seem now that the plan has remained steadfast, with no amendments to the line-up announced here when last we convened in this space.

What we know now that we didn’t know then is the time schedule for the festivities, and the line-up for the Sunday bill. Which heretofore had been a mystery, even to those of us with our fingers close to the pulse. For those of you who weren’t paying any damned attention before—and you know who you are, you laggard f#$%s—I will reiterate. And add more.

On Friday, March 28, Scruffy City Hall will host its first act of the 2014 Big Ears Festival when drone/doom-metal icon Stephen O’Malley [Sunn O)))] takes the SCH stage at 7 p.m. Bon Iver and Arcade Fire horn player Colin Stetson will follow at 8:30; electronic/industrial renegade Vatican Shadow performs come 10 p.m; Afro-pop hero Hailu Mergia closes out the evening at midnight, fronting New York ensemble the Low Mentality.

Saturday’s roster includes Nowegian singer, writer, and performance artist Jenny Hval putting on a multi-media show beginning at 5:30 p.m.; multi-instrumentalist and electronica wizard Mark McGuire playing at 6:45; avant-blues and noise-rock guitarist Bill Orcutt raising a ruckus around 8; Vladislav Delay bringing ambient Finnish electronica to Knoxville at 10 p.m.; and genre-spanning guitar legend Marc Ribot fronting his Latino fusion big-band Los Cubanos Postizos at midnight.

If you want to know more about those particular artists, go back and read my previous missive, wherein they are discussed at greater length. Or else Google them. I am not going to repeat myself further, just to accommodate the indolent. F#$% you for not keeping up.

Because now it is time to discuss the Sunday shows—Can I have drum roll, please?—and to revel in what should prove to be Mr. Manhole’s best-loved performance of the festival, across all venues combined. (And there are other venues, as well as other performers, involved in Big Ears 2014. We just figure it will be hard for most of you to leave behind the sweet mothering ambiance of our newly-beloved Scruffy City Hall.)

On Sunday, March 30, the final day of Big Ears begins at SCH with Keiji Haino, at 2:30 p.m. A singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Haino has a long, weird history that dates back to the 1970s. He has stuck his hand in the till of everything from straight-up blues-rock to drone to free improv to noise and ambient psychedelia. Watching Haino tear into his axe like some feral beast in the throes of bloodlust is a visceral, inspiring, exhilarating thing. It will also scare bejeezus out of you. Don’t say I didn’t warn.

At 4 p.m., African-American artist Lonnie Holley will present. Holley fashions absolutely stunning works of found-object sculpture, works assembled from the junk out of scrapyards and dumpsters, maybe even the Island of Misfit Toys. It so happens that I have seen Mr. Holley’s creations—his home in Alabama is a destination for art pilgrims the world over, his house and property festooned with the beautiful, twisted fruit of his ceaseless labor—and it is nothing short of astounding. I’m not sure how his presentation will roll, but it is nothing you want to miss.

But the crown jewel, for my money, of the whole damned Big Ears weekend—and this is the part where I get all flustered and eager, Jake, like a giddy schoolgirl with a crush on Teacher—the biggest show yet will be Sunday’s SCH performance from Seattle’s Earth, at 5:30 p.m.

What is Earth, you ask? What isn’t Earth, is my response. Founded in 1989 by guitarist Dylan Carlson, Earth is the mostly-instrumental outfit that helped pioneer modern doom-metal, drone and post-rock, way back in the early 90s, when we didn’t have nifty little descriptors for those kinds of things. As time wore on, Carlson and co. added new influences to the band’s deliberate, richly-textured mix, everything from jazz, country, and British folk, to the exotic miscellany of Italian soundtrack master composer Ennio Morricone.

They are that rare outfit whose music is so transcendently diverse that it can satisfy the cravings of music listeners from across the entire spectrum of aural experience, Big Rawk riffaholics and fusion sophisticates, and lovers of layered orchestral beauty.

My work is done here. In the meanwhile, please consider your options for the weekend of March 28 over at, where you can snag three-day festival passes for $175, and single-day passes for $75. The passes are good for all participating outlets—there are a couple of noteworthy shows at (ahem!) other venues, if you’re dead-set on shopping around, sets from the likes of Steve Reich and Television and Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood and the Velvet Underground’s John Cale. If you’re into that sort of thing.

You will find me camped at Scruffy City Hall for the duration, though, munching trail mix and MREs and waiting for the likes of O’Malley and Orcutt and Dylan Carlson to alter my perceptions in profound and ineffable ways. Open your ears and join us, Jake. Your heart will be better for it.

Who do you think you are: Preservation Pub/Scruffy City Hall bartendress Destiny Smith

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Destiny and Dog

Destiny Smith: Who let the dogs out?

Q: Tell us a joke.

A: Why did the can-crusher quit his job? Because it was so depressing.

Q: Who’s your favorite superhero?

A: Wonder Woman is pretty cool. She has a pretty cool outfit, and an invisible plane.

Q: What’s the worst pickup line you’ve ever heard?

A: I’ve heard a million, all in reference to my name. Stuff like, “Are you my Destiny?”

Q: Describe your most embarrassing moment.

A: I went to the wrong apartment one night. It was these two guys that I knew. And I just walked right in and sat down on the sofa while they were in the kitchen, without realizing the difference.

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

A: I’d lock them in a room with a CD player, and set “Who Let the Dogs Out?” on repeat.

Q: What was the worst band you ever heard?

A: Skrillex. Does that count as a band? At  the time and place, it was the worst thing I’d ever heard. I was working 20-hour days at Bonnaroo, and I had to fight through a crowd of Skrillex zombies to find my friends and get our keys so I could go to sleep.

Q: Describe the worst date you ever had.

A: I drove about two-and-a-half hours to visit this guy. We hadn’t been out before, but we’d talked on the phone. The whole time I was there, he made me pay for everything we did.

I didn’t stay long.

Q: Describe Hell.

A: Being in one of those reality TV shows like “The Bachelorette.” Watching them kind of sucks, too.

Q: Who are your most hated celebrities?

A: The Jersey Shore girls.

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

A: Mozart; the comedian Mitch Hedberg; and Dolly Parton.

Q: Describe God.

A: I don’t even know where to start with that one.

Q: If you could invent your own designer drug, how would it make you feel?

A: Invincible.

Q: If you met the Devil, what would you say to him?

A: “Are you following me?”