“Alison, I love you!”
If there’s one phrase to describe Chattanooga’s response to Alison Krauss and Union Station last night, it was the perfectly timed intrusion of an over-enthusiastic fan between songs during their headlining performance. But Krauss and company were merely the capstone of what was one of the most enjoyable days of music I’ve ever experienced at Riverbend.
It started off with a surprisingly magnetic performance by Rick Bowers and the Majors on the Bud Light Stage. Although I was unfamiliar with Bowers, his swampy/Southern rock music packed a serious punch. The show ended with a cute, if ill-founded decision, to invite a handful of children on stage with him, which then resulted in a chaotic mess that cat wranglers would raise their eyebrows over. Despite the tumult at the close, Bowers and company put on a killer show. It’s not often you get to hear a pedal steel or accordion on the scene, so this local group fits a niche I previously thought was vacant.
Rather than heading directly for the Two Taverns Variety Show at Unum, I stuck around to hear the first of two performances by That 1 Guy (aka Mike Silverman), who took over after Bowers left. Since I was already well-aware of what to expect from his performance of electronic funkiness through his homebrewed Magic Pipe custom instrument, I spent most of my time watching the crowd. Clearly, it’s one thing to be told what a Magic Pipe is (which is hard enough as it is — see my earlier blog for my attempt), but to actually see it in motion is something else entirely. Silverman tackles the eight-foot monstrosity with an almost acrobatic zeal like he’s trying to arm wrestle a squid while tap dancing on hot coals. It’s fantastic stuff to watch.
Initially, I think the small clusters of onlookers were there mostly out of curiosity over what precisely was sitting on stage. As soon as Silverman put his bow to the Magic Harp’s single string, they pressed a little closer. The coup d'état, however, was when he started thrashing his instrument like it had offended him, pumping out sounds nobody expected to hear, myself included. At that point, the wrestling match/hot coal dance commenced, and the camera phones came out in droves. I love watching people’s expectations being demolished like that.
Speaking of expectations being demolished, anybody who associated the words “open mike” artist with a lack of quality clearly got their world turned upside down at the Two Taverns Variety Show on the Unum Stage. The variety was certainly in full force for the little amount of time I got to spend there, from an acoustic cover of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” to gospel rap issuing forth with only a Casio keyboard to back up the vocals. My favorite act, however, was Mark “Porkchop” Holder, whose bluesman rasp absolutely stole the show. I’ve never seen anybody play a steel guitar without a slide, but Holder played his without even using finger picks. If you play music yourself, you’ll share a collective wince with me over that. Regardless of how his fingers felt, however, he absolutely killed his set, proving, definitively I think, that our local music scene is rife with raw talent waiting for you to pay attention to.
I’d discuss Krauss and Co. in more depth, but it’s late, and assuming you knew what a gorgeous voice she had going in, you were already there enjoying it with me. If you weren’t, well your punishment is self-inflicted, but I’m not going to pour salt in the wound by gushing about Jerry Douglas and how I’m putting him up for deification as the god of the Dobro.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...