History is made as local musicians do their thing
The first time I met Rus Harper, I walked away a little disappointed.
My hand didn’t burn after I shook his. He didn’t leap up onto the nearest table and start screaming like a howler monkey. His eyes didn’t glow.
He was — and is, in fact — a laid-back, nice-as-could-be gentleman who used the word “sir” a lot, smiled often and was both good-natured and pleasant. All of the stories I’d heard about the man seemed to fall flat in the face of his nice-guy persona.
This was a guy whom former Metro Pulse owner Brian Conley based a villain in a Knoxville-set novel? This is the guy who, on a dare, climbed on stage in the 1980s wearing women’s underwear and combat boots at a punk show? This is the guy who was arrested at Metro Fest a few years back for mooning the crowd?
Yes. Same guy. And he couldn’t be a nicer fellow.
Rus — who performs Friday at Two Doors Down in Maryville with the Melungeons — is a more mellow individual these days than he was in his rambunctious youth. He teaches classes (at Pellissippi) and counts among friends a lot of guys in the East Tennessee music scene who are held in high esteem by those of us with a sense of appreciation and history. He’s humble and gracious, and more often than not he’ll recall those stories of yesteryear with equal parts amusement and embarrassment.
There’s no shame, nor should there be. And there’s no pride, either. But I, for one, am proud to know him. And I wish I had been a part of this beautiful, vibrant music scene years ago, when those stories were unfolding.
The other day, the guys in the Melungeons came up to The Daily Times for a photo shoot, and we walked up to Two Doors Down so the guys, none of whom had been there before, could get a feel for the stage and the establishment. Along the way, they told stories and remembered shows and adventures of days gone by like veterans of a war. They spoke in tones filled with fondness for one another, admiration for their own survival and wistfulness for all the days that have passed since.
That’s one of the best parts of my job: Hearing these stories. Collecting them, committing them to both paper and memory. Chronicling the twists and turns of this beautiful, vibrant arts scene, the outlandish tales that can never be repeated in polite company, the incredulous ones that become legendary in their retelling, the little moments of magic and wonder that make the local music scene such an amazing place.
Friday night, many of you will go to the movies ... or sit at home and watch TV ... or go to a sports bar ... or go see karaoke. You’ll drive right by Two Doors, and all of the other establishments around here that feature local bands and musicians, and you won’t think twice about them. Melungeons? Voodoo Bone (playing at Brackins)? All Jack’D Up (at the Waterfront)? Southbound (at Nater’z)? The Avenue C Band (at Smoky Mountain Brewery)? Some of you have heard of those bands, but many of you have not, or if you have, you make the mistake of thinking that if the band is local, it can’t be any good.
You’d rather spend outrageous sums of money to go see musicians and bands you hear on the radio. You’d rather keep your radio tuned to a station that plays music made in million-dollar studios, augmented by the best technology money can buy. You prefer watching music-oriented reality shows in which a winner is determined via a popularity contest.
All of those things, of course, are OK. If that’s how you prefer to consume your music ... you get what you pay for.
With local bands and musicians, you get what you don’t pay for.
All of the bands and the shows I just mentioned? They’re all free to attend. They don’t cost a thing. And I promise you this: The local musicians and artists will give as much or more of themselves than their more famous counterparts.
Candi Kagay of the Avenue C Band will put more of her spirit into the songs she sings on Friday night than Miranda Lambert will over at Thompson-Boling Arena. Tim Flatford and the boys in Kudzu (opening for the Melungeons) will rock harder than Dierks Bentley. Voodoo Bone will give you as spirited a blues performance as Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang will when they come to town in a couple of months. And the Melungeons? Heck, those guys will make the slick-and-polished rock shows coming to the Civic Coliseum look like fraternity parties filled with fake individuals named Tad and girls named Kourtney.
What you get locally is raw and real. It’s got fire and heart and intensity, because most of these folks know they’ll never sign a major record label, and they’ll never get to play a show at Thompson-Boling. But they can, and they will, make their little corner of this local music scene a brighter and better place, simply because they’ve chosen to put themselves out there and make some music.
That, my friends, is a beautiful thing. It’s the artistic heartbeat of any community.
I’m proud to say that I’m just a guy holding a stethoscope up to that organ, hearing how strong that it is and reporting back to the rest of you.
But hey, don’t take my word for it. Get out there and hear for yourself. And if you’re out on Friday night, stop by Two Doors and say hello.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.