VENUE PREVIEW: From ‘The Shed’ to Moogfest, area entertainment gurus looking forward to 2012
By Steve Wildsmith (email@example.com)
You don’t have to go to Knoxville anymore.
Sure, that larger city to the north of Blount County has more to offer in terms of sheer numbers, but Blount County’s entertainment options continue to grow. From the spring-through-fall “Pickin’ Porch” sessions on Saturday nights at Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop in Townsend to live bands at Brackins Blues Club and Two Doors Down to intimate folk performances at Vienna Coffeehouse to big ol’ rock and country shows at “The Shed,” there’s plenty to do in Blount County when it comes to musical entertainment.
And before spring, you can add movies to that list — the new Carmike Foothills 12 cinema will open in Foothills Mall, the first newly built Carmike theater since Wynnsong 16 in West Knoxville, boasting state-of-the-art technology and amenities.
It’s a good time to live — and play — in Blount County. The annual Foothills Fall Festival will return for 2012, the Clayton Center for the Arts is bringing more of what local residents love to see and hear to town and this summer, Maryville’s largest privately owned outdoor venue will be opening in the downtown area. It’s the brainchild of local musician/longtime deejay and Blount County boy Walker Johnson, who says that plans for the as-yet-to-be-named, location-still-on-the-down-low venue “include everything from art shows, charity events, concerts and craft fairs to pig roasts — all dedicated to the promotion of downtown Maryville.”
Here’s a look at what 2012 holds for some of Blount County’s hot spots:
CARMIKE FOOTHILLS 12
Soon to open in Foothills Mall, Maryville. 977-4499
The Carmike theater chain is about to change the way Blount County residents experience the movies.
Carmike Foothills 12 on Foothills Plaza Drive is slated for demolition, and to replace it, the company is opening a new, state-of-the-art theater attached to Foothills Mall. According to Thomas Bauer, Carmike’s district manager, the 12-screen theater will feature the latest technology available to theaters, as well as one-of-a-kind amenities.
“We’re going to have 3D capabilities in at least four of the auditoriums, and we also will have what we call our ‘Big D’ — it’s our version of IMAX,” Bauer said. “It’s huge in there. It’s a 400-seat theater, and the screen is about 50-feet tall. It’s a huge, wall-to-wall screen.”
In the lobby, patrons will fine a self-serve Coke tower that will offer 420 flavors, all driven by the customer’s use of touch-screen technology. Gourmet popcorn will be sold, and no longer will there be an official box office — the lobby’s 12 to 15 registers will serve as a “one-stop shop” for concessions and movie tickets, Bauer said.
And then comes the movie experience itself — in one of 12 auditoriums ranging from that 400-seat behemoth to a cozy 67-seat smaller theater.
“It’s just gorgeous,” Bauer said. “We’ll have all digital sound and picture in all the auditoriums, all stadium seating — it’s really going to up the bar for the movie-going experience in Blount County.”
Contractors should finish with the building’s shell by the end of January, he said, and turn it over to Carmike shortly thereafter. The company will install its equipment and fixtures, and the tentative opening is set for late February or the first week of March.
CLAYTON CENTER FOR THE ARTS
502 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway (on the Maryville College campus), Maryville. 981-8590. http://www.claytonartscenter.com
After a broad-ranging inaugural season, officials at Maryville College’s Clayton Center for the Arts are finding their niche in the community, according to Marketing Director Cheri Compton.
“Someone once said, ‘Give the people what they want,’ and in this area, people love country music,” Compton said. “That’s why we brought Charlie Daniels in (to open the 2011-12 season), and Ronnie Milsap tickets go on sale Jan. 30. We anticipate that being a huge boost as well.
“That first season was great because of the variety, but this is sort of a country music area. People love that. They love theater, and the Community Theater Festival (held last August) was a huge hit. We’ve also had a good response to the (Jan. 28 show by comedienne troupe) Southern Fried Chicks — that one is about 60 percent sold out. And dance has really been huge; Appalachian Ballet Company almost always sells out.
“We’re sort of seeing what Blount County is looking for, and now we’re hoping to draw in Loudon County and Knoxville people,” she added. “We think there are a lot of people in this region who have no clue what a fabulous facility this is and what all we have to offer.”
Big concerts like Ronnie Milsap are fine and dandy, but Clayton Center officials are aware that not everyone can afford ticket prices that start at $30. For that reason, the “Cozy Winter Nights” series launches next weekend. A sequel of sorts to the summer “Friday Nights Live” concert series, it features local performers in the Lambert Recital Hall; admission is only $10.
“We’ll have everything from swing to bluegrass to jazz to a dulcimer club,” Compton said. “We want people to say, ‘What are we doing on Saturday night? Let’s go to the Clayton Center.’”
On that note, the “Friday Nights Live” series will return in the summer — but more than likely, the performances will move to Saturday nights so as not to conflict with the concerts taking place at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend. The Community Theatre Festival will return this summer, featuring six area theater groups, and plans are already under way to book the 2012-13 season, Compton said.
“We’re going to have some fun and interesting things, and we hope to open with a big name like Charlie Daniels,” she said. “We’ll have six to eight main stage presentations again, as well as a small series for the Recital Hall. We’re also working on something similar to non-credit classes — for children after school, on Saturdays and even some for adults on Saturdays. We’re looking at acting, music and art classes, to get that educational aspect as well as presenting the arts.”
FOOTHILLS FALL FESTIVAL
Downtown Maryville. 273-3445. http://www.foothillsfallfestival.com
Perhaps it was the success of the 2011 Foothills Fall Festival — which featured country superstar Reba as the Saturday night headliner and sold out in less than three weeks — but City of Maryville Events Coordinator is exceptionally light-hearted about this year’s Foothills Fall Festival, which takes place Oct. 12-14 in downtown Maryville.
“Yes, we will have it this year because it falls before the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world — although it may be our last,” she joked. “The first thing I want to keep consistent this year is the weather, so we went ahead and ordered that.”
In all seriousness, Groff added, the success of last year’s festival demonstrated that organizers have plenty of latitude when it comes to booking the festival’s headliners. After several years of featuring classic rock on Fridays and country on Saturdays and Sundays, the past two years threw a curve ball into that mix — 2010 featured Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd on Saturday night, and classic rockers Chicago closed out the 2011 festival on Sunday.
“Once we started changing up Friday, we realized we had a little more flexibility with the lineup in general, and when we booked Skynyrd it gave us more confidence that people are coming to the festival because they know they’re going to see great music, regardless of the genre,” Groff said. “As far as the rigidity of the schedule goes, what we’d prefer to do is book the best acts available. If that works into our traditional schedule, great; if not, we think people are still going to come.”
There’s no deadline on announcing this year’s performers, and Groff said many of the final arrangements will depend on tour routes for those artists and how Maryville might fit into their schedules. Although organizers would like to announce the full lineup at one time, there’s always the possibility, like last year with Reba, a single big name will kick off the process and the rest of the schedule will be rolled out as it’s confirmed.
And of course, the ticketed concerts are only part of the Foothills Fall Festival.
“Our Art Way layout was probably the best one in the history of the event, so we definitely anticipate keeping that one as is,” she said. “We’ll hopefully add new elements to that area, and for Adventure Land, we want to find some fun new shows and keep lots of entertainment happening all weekend so people can come out and enjoy it.”
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS HERITAGE CENTER
123 Cromwell Drive, Townsend. 448-0044. http://www.gsmheritagecenter.org
Visitors to Townsend this year will soon find they can spend the entire weekend without ever having to leave “the peaceful side of the Smokies,” according to Heritage Center Director Bob Patterson.
“Townsend is getting a reputation for a quality place to visit, and we’re seeing more and more people,” said Patterson, who added that with 28,000 visitors in 2011, the Heritage Center recorded its third highest attendance ever. “Now, we have Cades Cove buses going up in the park. You can take a tour of the Cove on one of our buses; come back and get something to eat; then take a tour of the Heritage Center. Now, Townsend has enough tourist activity to keep a family busy, and we’re starting to add to that more and more.”
Heritage Center officials are considering partnering with other festivals and organizations to put out a “Festivals of the Smokies” guide. First on that list would be the Winter Heritage Festival, scheduled for Feb. 2-5; into March, that list would include the Smoky Mountain Fiber Arts Festival.
“This year, we’re going to have vendors and classes here,” Patterson said. “What’s fun is that they’ll be shearing sheep at the Visitors Center, and we’ll be teaching spinning and weaving in the log houses and the church here at the Heritage Center, like they would have done it back then. It’s a really nice program.”
April will bring both the “Music of the Mountains” program in conjunction with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; a Girl Scouts day of crafts and badge competitions; and the Young Pickers Talent Contest. In May, the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra returns to the Heritage Center, and on June 9, a brand new event — the Foothills Garden Festival — will take place in conjunction with the Blount County Master Gardeners Association.
“We’ll be studying Native American plants and how to grow them, have classes and demonstrations and have a plant sale,” Patterson said. “People can bring in their old plastic pots to let them be recycled or let kids paint them. This is an event being organized by a group of people who love to do this, who know what they’re doing and are avid about it and who want to share it.”
And, of course, the Sunset Music Series returns on Friday nights in June, continuing throughout July and into the first two weekends of August. September will see the arrival of the Fall Concert Series and the venue’s biggest event, the Blue Ribbon Country Fair.
RIVERSIDE BUSINESS AND EVENTS CENTER
3769 Old Knoxville Highway, Rockford. 970-3000. http://www.riversidetn.com
Don’t forget the family — that’s the message Caryn Geren, marketing and promotions director at Riverside Business and Events Center in Rockford, wants Blount County residents to remember.
While the venue has featured a number of music concerts, the former church is making waves in the comedy arena as well. Einstein Simplified, East Tennessee’s improv comedy troupe, performs there monthly, and Geren and her team have tapped the expertise of nationally recognized clean comedian Henry Cho, a Knoxville native, to bring in funny men (and women) of similar ilk.
First on deck — the “Hen Party,” featuring comediennes Karen Mills and Leanne Morgan on Jan. 14.
“The clean comedy is something we don’t have any competition for,” Geren said. “It’s something where you can bring the kids out and enjoy it without the shock factor and all that other stuff.”
At Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson, 1820 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Maryville. 977-1669. www.smh-d.com/shed.php
The “Winter Shed Sessions” continue inside, the spring/summer/fall concert season kicks off April 7 with Unknown Hinson and the folks at “The Shed” still aren’t done.
According to Aaron Snukals, marketing and special events director, April will also see the launch of a new free concert series at “The Shed.” On the second Friday of every month through September, from 6-9 p.m., two local bands will perform on “The Shed” stage, giving local patrons a chance to see live music for free and enjoy the weather.
“It gives us a chance to support local music, and I think it’s going to be a good thing for the community,” Snukals said.
Other improvements this year include improvements to the sound system and a better line-of-sight for audience members — the stage has been raised, so “folks sitting in chairs can now see the stage with no problem,” Snukals added.
The full “Shed” season lineup will be announced soon, but Snukals confirmed several crowd favorites will return for 2012. Performers booked for this season include Unknown Hinson, the Hackensaw Boys, Jason and the Scorchers, Big Gun (an AC/DC tribute band), Hayes Carll, Goose Creek Symphony, Mustang Sally, Blackfoot, Blackberry Smoke, Scott Miller and the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Headhunters, Billy Joe Shaver, Marty Stuart and Bo Bice. (The touring website Pollstar reports Marty Stuart will play May 25, the Headhunters on Sept. 1 and Billy Joe Shaver on Sept. 15.)
In addition, Cody Canada, formerly of Cross Canadian Ragweed, will play an indoors show on Feb. 25.
“All the old favorites will return, and we’ll bring in some new ones,” Snukals said. “We’re still finalizing the schedule.”
One can’t talk of entertainment in Knoxville without consulting AC Entertainment. The company, founded and run by Ashley Capps, is responsible for booking such Knoxville venues as The Tennessee and Bijou theaters, The Valarium, occasional shows at the Civic Auditorium/Coliseum and other venues and such festivals as Sundown in the City, Bonnaroo and Moogfest.
Because of the ever-increasing scope of the company’s activities, one such festival — Big Ears, which debuted in 2009 and continued in 2010 before being suspended last year — is still on hold, Capps told The Daily Times. The experimental music festival, which brought avant garde and off-the-beaten-path artists to Knoxville, isn’t dead, but it’s unlikely to be back in 2012.
“It remains on hold, and to be honest, a lot of it has to do with the fact these other projects have taken off,” Capps said. “They’ve occupied a lot of our time. Moogfest (held over Halloween weekend in Asheville, N.C.) has very quickly grown into an event far beyond the scope of what we originally intended. And that’s been a little bit of a factor, because that festival requires a lot of work to stay on top of.
“And it’s a little bit of a timing issue. By the time we get finished with Moogfest, we’re getting ready to go into the holidays, and it’s too late to start planning a spring event in January. We wanted to do a spring event in 2012, but again, there are logistical problems — Easter weekend is the first weekend in April, and we have to work around South By Southwest, the major industry festival. And when you throw that into the availability of theaters, you start having to work around Knoxville Opera and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.
“Suddenly, you’re into late April and on top of Bonnaroo,” he added. “And on top of that, one of the challenges is that I think we set the bar pretty high. It’s hard to reel it back in, because when we do come back, we want it to be as mind-blowing as the first two.”
That said, it’s full-steam ahead on a myriad of other AC-related projects. The company is wrapping up booking for Bonnaroo, the annual super-festival held every June in Manchester, Tenn., and that lineup should be announced in February. Already, the third Moogfest is being planned for this October as well.
“We’re really thrilled with the lineup for Bonnaroo again this year, and we’re still in discussions to do Moogfest, year three, even though it’s several months away,” he said.
In addition, AC has taken over the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky.; Sundown in the City will return in the spring; and there are other projects on the drawing board that take AC “outside of the music sphere,” Capps hinted.
“We’ll be eager to share information about those events when we have them locked down, but at least one of them looks likely to happen in 2012,” he said.
Because despite AC’s national reach, East Tennessee is still the company’s home — where Capps and his employees live, work and play along with those they help entertain.
“I think the mere fact we live here really focuses our attention on our community,” he said. “In booking and managing The Tennessee Theatre and The Bijou Theatre, we really focus harder on making those venues in particular special.”
While not on the par of AC Entertainment — yet — Attack Monkey Productions, owned and operated by Chyna Brackeen, is responsible for a big slice of the entertainment pie in Knoxville as well. In addition to booking shows for The Square Room in downtown Knoxville, Brackeen puts together the annual Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival, which will return in April, and is now heading up arranging details of the International Biscuit Festival, which comes back to Knoxville in May.
“At The Square Room, we’ve finally started to turn the corner,” Brackeen said. “For a long time, people were so used to the Bijou and the Tennessee, they were quite ready to embrace a new club. At first, people thought it was just a singer-songwriter or a Christian venue. But we’ve really tried to pay attention to developing a good mix of shows, and now people are starting to see it’s just as good of a place to see an electronica show as a singer-songwriter show.”
Proof of that — the indie electronic band Neon Indian, scheduled to perform in March (and booked by AC Entertainment). On the other end of that spectrum, roots artist Justin Townes Earle, who performed at The Square Room last fall and has the drawing power to jump to a bigger venue like the Bijou, opted instead to go with The Square Room for a May show.
And, she hinted, by the end of spring, an “exciting monthly program” will likely be announced for the venue “that may or may not be something people have seen in Knoxville before and miss.”
On the festival front, Rhythm N’ Blooms was a resounding success in 2011, by all accounts, and work is already under way for a repeat of that success this year. Scheduled for April 20-22, it’ll be the same format — shows spread across multiple downtown Knoxville venues, with the final day held at the Knoxville Botanical Garden — albeit with some modifications.
“We’ll maybe have more than one stage at the Garden, and we hope to have a headliner for a venue like The Tennessee Theatre,” Brackeen said. “One of the things that’s really special about Rhythm N’ Blooms is that we get to go into these really unique spaces, like John Black Photography Studio, and we want to keep that sort of vibe — that intimacy of going into smaller spaces. At the same time, with the size of our audience last year, we’re to the point where we have to grow, so we want to one night at the Tennessee as sort of an exclamation point to the whole festival.”
Although the schedule and the complete lineup will be announced by the end of the month or February at the latest, confirmed performers for Rhythm N’ Blooms 2012 include Jessica Lea Mayfield, Jake Shimabukuro, YARN, Darrell Scott and The Boxer Rebellion, led by Maryville native Nathan Nicholson, whose band had to cancel a November performance at The Square Room.
“One thing we are definitely adding this year are workshops,” Brackeen said. “We’re asking a majority of the performers participating to lead a workshop, whether it’s an intimate, small-scale, sign-up-in-advance workshop or a more broad one where anybody can come.
“I think the biggest challenge, and also the part that’s the most fun, is trying to top last year. Then, we got really lucky — it was a combination of great artists, a great audience and great weather, and hopefully all those come together again.
“One thing I really, really love about the way the festival works is that we’ve managed to have the nicest artists involved. There’s very little drama, and they genuinely appreciate being here. Every single one of them tells us they love Knoxville, and we want to just continue to build on that and showcase what the city and region can offer.”