Larry Crowell, 65, Retired Chemical and Electrical Engineer, "The Beer Hat Guy"

Where are you from?

I was born on the family farm in northeast Iowa. It was a typical family farm—cattle, pigs, chickens, various crops. It belonged to my grandmother and she sold it when I was 12. We then moved a few miles into Winthrop. The population was only about 700. It was definitely a farming town. When I was 18, I took off for Iowa State. I majored in chemical engineering and it took me a while to get through school. I graduated in 1969. The job market was different back then. When you went to college you never worried about finding a job. The job offers just poured in. We actually got to fly all over the country interviewing at different places. I eventually chose Alcoa in Pittsburgh, Penn. I started as an engineer, but factory automation was what I evolved into. It was the beginning of computerization and I had a talent for writing industrial software.

How did working for Alcoa eventually bring you here?

I quit Alcoa in 1977 and started my own consulting business. I worked for a variety of places helping with the automation industry. In 1985 I came down to Maryville to work as a consultant for Alcoa. I'd fly into Maryville on Monday, and fly back to Pittsburgh for the weekends. It turned out to be a long-term project, so I decided to move here and work as a regular employee until I retired in 2005. I bought a house on the lake out in Friendsville. At about that time, a girl I used to date in college got ahold of me. Shortly after that she moved down here. In the early '90s we bought a house in Loudon. It's on five acres and very secluded. Even though she and I split up in 2005, I still live in that house.

How did you become a fixture in the Knoxville music scene?

In 2005 I was jobless and womanless. I asked myself, "What am I going to do? I don't want to be a hermit." I started to realize that the people I thought were my friends were not my friends. I had never had a group of people that really accepted me for who I am. I am not religious, so church wasn't an option. So I decided to take in the music scene. The more I did it the more I became a fixture. It's what I do—I just took a roundabout path to get here.

You always have a beer hat on. How did that start?

Well, I've been wearing hats for years, but Preservation Pub threw a Mad Hatters party on April 1. It was more of a party for the regulars, I suppose. I remembered seeing a video somewhere about how to make a beer hat. My first attempt was pretty rough so I kept working on it. Eventually I had one I liked and wore it to the party. It was made out of PBR cases. People raved about it so I made another and another. I created this monster! I'm actually quite shy and introverted and the hat gives me some nice attention. So I think I'll just ride the joke out as long as it lasts.

Do you have a life philosophy?

As an atheist, I believe that religion and morals are two separate things. I am morally conservative and self-reliant. We are all responsible for our own actions. I am fascinated with the origins of the universe. The more I study it the more I realize how ridiculous religion is. It's dominated my thoughts lately. I don't know what to do about it. Especially in Eastern Tennessee. I feel that as Earth, we are the Gary, Ind., of the intergalactic highway system.

Worn Clothing

Boots: Elliots, six years ago, $100

Belt: Mail-order catalog, 15-20 years ago, $30

Milwaukee's Best Beer Hat: Made recently. How much does a case of beer cost? That's how much I spent on it.