The tenth annual Rhythm N Blooms Festival held in Knoxville, Tennessee this past weekend was a perfect melding of a city’s ambiance, good music and laid back vibes. The festival is laid out with two stages, the Cripple Creek Stage, featuring the headlining acts and the other, the Kid Curry Stage featured a blend of smaller bands/artists. Other bars and small venues within the Old City of Knoxville hosted more intimate shows as well as pop-up secret shows throughout the festival. Because of the nature of festivals, multiple acts playing at the same time throughout the day, I’ll only be hitting the highlights that I personally witnessed each day.
For me, the clear winner regarding the lineup was Friday night. Maybe because I’d seen all of the bands at least once, if not multiple times and they’re all artists that I love. After a brief intro by the mayor of Knoxville and other official declarations, the music kicked off on the main stage with Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. The band’s punk meets outlaw country sound served as a great warm-up for the evening and as their set continued, the crowd filled in. A brief downpour didn’t interrupt the music, as the main stage is tucked conveniently under a highway overpass. I love most all of Sarah’s songs and the set didn’t disappoint with such favorites as, “Dwight Yoakam,” “Devil May Care,” “New Ways to Fail and “Nothin Feels Right but Doin’ Wrong”.
Knoxville’s own, The Black Lillies were next on the bill and as they took the stage they were met with cheers. This is a band I’ve seen no less than eight times and although the lineup changes more frequently than I would like, the core members are always there, continuing to refine their sound and put on a great show for their fans. Songs from most, if not all five of their albums were included in the set, to include, “Gold and Roses”, “Two Hearts Down”, “Whiskey Angel” and “Midnight Stranger”. Switching from electric to acoustic guitar and then finally keyboard, front man Cruz Contreras made it all look effortless. Bass player Sam Quinn is a joy to watch, not only because of his stage antics, but his playing is top notch. Bowman Townsend was steady as ever on the drums and the newest addition to the band, Graham Mallany, was on electric guitar, having replaced previous member, Dustin Schaefer.
The last act on the main stage of the night was Tyler Childers. Having just announced a new album and new tour the day before, his fans filled the stage area to the brim. Starting out the set was “Whitehouse Road” followed by “Deadman’s Curve”, “Shake the Frost”, “Bus Route” and fifteen more of Tyler’s popular songs with three covers thrown in, including “Tulsa Turnaround and “I Got Stone and Missed It”. Tyler led the crowd in a massive sing-a-long and his band, The Food Stamps were on fire as they always are. I’m late to the Tyler Childers game, having only first seen him in the fall of 2017, but since that time I’ve followed his meteoric rise and it is truly outstanding. This group of men put on a stellar show every single time and I’ve yet to hear their fans complain about the length or assortment of songs that Tyler chooses for his shows.
On Day Two, I chose to hang out at the smaller of the two main stages (Kid Curry Stage) to see what it had to offer. Rainbow Girls was the first act I caught, a trio of California ladies that are as political as they are poetic. Their stage antics and harmonies made the set for me and I can’t say I’ve ever heard a song accompanied by a kazoo, but that’s exactly what happened on the song, “Patriotism Killed the Cat”. Next up was the Nashville based band, The Foxies, a rock band fronted by Julia Lauren Bullock, who is a tornado of energy sporting pink hair. Songs like “Disco” and “Moon Man” had the crowd dancing and singing along and the energy emanated from the stage for the entire set. My only disappointment of the entire festival was the band Teen Spirit. It wasn’t because a lack of talent, because the many members of the band had it, but when I go to a festival, I want to see new acts, showcasing their original songs. I don’t want to see a cover band and that’s exactly what Teen Spirt was. I get it to some extent, they are popular around Knoxville and with a catalog of 90’s hits, they draw a crowd, but again, in my humble opinion, a festival isn’t the place for a cover band and a choice time slot isn’t the best idea either. A brief weather delay put a hold on all outside activities and by the time it was over, I decided to venture over to the Cripple Creek Stage to check out last minute addition, Rayland Baxter, who took the time slot that Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real were to have. Unfortunately, Lukas Nelson pulled out of the festival about two weeks before it was to happen. I think the festival did a great job finding a replacement, unfortunately for fans of Lukas Nelson, as I am; it’s hard to replace that sort of energy, no matter how talented and entertaining the artist is.
Two days over and only Sunday remained of the festival. This would be my shortest day here in Knoxville, as I had to catch an afternoon flight home. However, I wasn’t going to leave without checking out some more talent in one of the more intimate venues of the festival, Boyd’s Jig & Reel. I caught the last three songs of Sean McConnell’s set and I was left wanting more. His songwriting was phenomenal and the song, “Secondhand Smoke”, a song about fathers and sons, a broken relationship and memories of when it was whole, was mesmerizing to say the least. Local poet, Bill Alexander, otherwise known as the Appalachian Hippie Poet had the honor of introducing each artist at the Jig & Reel. A bonus was a different poem of Bill’s that he recited before each introduction. Next on stage was Haley Labelle, a Knoxville artist who describes herself as, “indie”. She had a quiet way about her and at times, even sitting on the front row I had to listen intently to actually hear the words. Switching between electric and acoustic guitar, Haley took the crowd through her set full of songs about heartbreak, living and dying. In stark contrast to the quiet and dreamy set of Haley’s was the final act that I caught while in Knoxville, Handsome and the Humbles. Fronted by Josh Smith, this quartet of musicians brought a decidedly rock feel to the room. Having released their second full-length album, We’re All the Same in 2018, this Knoxville based band aren’t newcomers to the music scene. Unfortunately I didn’t get to stay for the entire set, but based on what I heard, I’ll be adding them to my list on Spotify.
If you’re a fan of a wide variety of music genres, with a healthy mixture of up and comers and veterans, set in a city that has a wide variety of things to do and delicious food to eat, then Rhythm N Blooms festival is for you. Keep an eye out for this festival in 2020!