Downtown Dirt by Manhole: Fall, and the Heart of Darkness

will on stage

Will Horton sits in on songwriter showcase celebration

September has been good to us this year, my friends. Summer’s end; the month of harvest. And this year’s harvest has been a fine one, rich with bounty. Notwithstanding a couple of wretched mishaps on the football front, but we won’t plunge so deeply into the enervating mire of that discussion. Suffice to say that the present misfortunes are but the requisite birthing pains of a program giving rise to a new era of gridiron supremacy.

And enough for that. Closer to home, things are happening again at our very own Presevation Pub, with a staggering celerity of motion, too quick for the unadulterated human senses to follow or comprehend. First Family Scott and Bernadette West won an important battle this month, scoring a decisive victory over the forces of Other in their relentless quest to put a bold new façade on the building at 32 Market Square, adjacent to the Pub.

It’s all part of a Top Secret Project the Wests have brewing—and we do mean brewing, Jake—a Top Secret Project that is perhaps, at this point, the least-kept secret in the downtown vicinity. The point is the Wests have Big Plans afoot, and their recent coup—accomplished at the Historic Zoning Commission—means that the new balcony-façade conceived for that location will proceed as scheduled. Be assured that we will discuss matters further.

And for those who missed it, September saw the 10th anniversary of the singer-songwriter showcase celebrated in grand style, with a line-up of past and current singer-songwriter stalwarts that presented as impressive a bill as has graced the stage at 28 M.S. in many moons.

Regulars like Joey English—who won the showcase’s most recent best-of contest—and Bill Lawson gave a fine account of themselves, short sets all, so as to make time for the sheer volume of performers that evening.

With his dual-threat talents, English has recently earned himself a couple of feature-level gigs at the Pub and (ahem) other venues about town. And for any of you who have never witnessed Billy Lawson weave weird axe magic with his pedals, effects and trusty electric gee-tar, know that he is easily the most accomplished and creative six-stringer in town who doesn’t already have a regular gig.

And the heavyweights showed out, too. The man who would be Cornbred—Jon Worley, natch—was there of course, piping on harp and keys with anyone who’d share the stage, a man out of time with his Classic Rawk-ugly features and ‘70s white-bluesman swagger.

Christina Horne did her thing, holding the crowd in rapt focus for a couple of songs with her considerable keytar chops, and her soaring, electro goth-goddess vox. And speaking of white-boy soul, Davis Mitchell came up and gave an apt sampling of his perfect picking and funky falsetto. Burly rapper Jaystorm even joined him at the last, and the two ran through a letter-perfect rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain”, complete with the soulful “Whoo-hoo”-ing that indelibly marks that song’s lovely rideout.

And in the best surprise of the evening, Black Cadillacs frontman Will Horton, with B.C. guitarist John Phillips in tow, came aboard for a satisfying set of unplugged Cadillacs tunes. Those boys are going places now, and it was nice to see them give props to the place they still call “home.”

But September is drawing to a close now, which means we are now entering the dark heart of autumn, October, with September’s sun-kissed summery recollections fading in the background, and the first icy brush of winter’s cold touch just around the corner, in November. It is an unholy marriage of chill winds and darkening skies, played out on the bleak stage of world that still clings in vain to the dying vestiges of another, brighter era.

Look for the scares of All Hallow’s to creep in early, this year, as our very own Preservation Pub takes a wicked hand in the promotion of a long-overdue recognition. The Pub will play host on Oct. 13 to a portion of the Karl Edward Wagner Fantasy and Horror Festival, in honor of the city’s best writer that nobody in the city actually seems to know about.

A brutish, red-haired giant of a man, Wagner was a giant, too, in world of horror and sci-fi. His best-known literary offspring, Kane, reimagined barbarian sword-and-sorcery in ways that Wagner’s idol, Robert E. Howard, would have scarcely recognized. And as an editor, he presided over several landmark collections of pulp fiction, anthologies preserving the legacy of otherwise-forgotten genre greats.

This is the festival’s first “legitimate” incarnation, having morphed from an informal gathering of Wagner’s friends and drinking associates into an actual series of events in the space of a few short years. It is pegged, in this instance, to Wagner’s belated induction into the East Tennessee Writer’s Hall of Fame on Oct. 10.

In the meanwhile, we will track the proceedings of this grim and terrible month with a keen eye and a steady hand. Because when it all goes to hell on the end of a hot stick, somebody has to rise through the miasma of fire and ash and make a clear-headed accounting of the things that have transpired.

That is what we are here for, Jake. Now go play in the traffic.

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