It has gotten around that actress Kate Hudson puts Knoxville at the very bottom of her list of places she has visited on tour with her husband, Chris Robinson, lead singer of the Black Crowes. On his show, David Letterman asked her if she’d go back to Knoxville for a million dollars. Two million, maybe, she said. She said she didn’t like Knoxville because there was nothing to do here.
Her comments took some folks aback, considering recent positive press in the New York Times , which touted Knoxville’s literary reputation; an article in the Knight-Ridder news service this year claimed, “Knoxville is very cool—and not climatically speaking...pretty much laid-back, a little bit funky, and a whole lot clean and friendly. It draws you in slowly, almost like a snake charmer....”
In the ’90s, noted alternative-music critic Ann Powers, author of Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America called us “heaven, otherwise known as Knoxville, Tennessee....” Talking us up as “Austin without the hype,” based on the live music she enjoyed in the clubs here, she said she found Knoxville more fun than Club Med.
Perhaps Kate Hudson would have preferred Club Med to the bar at the Hilton Hotel, where she spent much of her 48 hours in Knoxville this past April.
There are reasons she might not have liked Knoxville the weird, late-April weekend she was here. It was clammy, unseasonably cold, and rainy. She’s from Southern California, daughter of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. She may have found cold rain perplexing. We do have weird weather, and we can’t do much about that.
But we’ll assume her reaction was sincere, and evidence of real shortcomings on our part.
We wonder what Kate Hudson would have wanted to do, that Knoxville’s failings prevented her from doing. We wonder why poor Kate, except for a couple of visits to restaurants with her baby in a stroller, felt forced to spend so much of her one Knoxville weekend at the Hilton.
The 26-year-old actress’s comments are this week as famous as those of travel-writer John Gunther, who in 1947 called Knoxville the ugliest city in America. Back then, Knoxville mobilized and founded the Dogwood Arts Festival. Part of the point of the original Dogwood Trail system was to steer visitors away from the ugly parts of town that Gunther saw, toward the pretty things.
With the same can-do spirit, we hope the Haslam and Ragsdale administrations, together with the Tourism and Sports Corp. should get together and form an Entertain Kate Hudson Committee. Maybe they can come up with a system of Kate Hudson Trails, marked with her lovely face painted in blonde on the asphalt, guiding revelers from one attraction to another.
Our only problem is, we didn’t get to know Kate Hudson very well in April, and can’t be certain exactly what she likes to do. The zoo? The mall? The Pilot Light? We simply don’t know.
She mentioned on the show that she liked to play soccer, almost better than acting. Knoxville has lots and lots of soccer fields. One soccer coach estimates there are about 70 public soccer fields in Knox County, not counting high-school fields. Maybe someone should have taken Kate Hudson out to the Ball Camp complex, where there are about a dozen of them right there. She would have gone nuts.
I guarantee she could at least have found a pick-up game. In fact, our colleague Paige Travis has challenged Kate Hudson to a one-on-one soccer match in Krutch Park. (“No shin guards,” Paige insists.)
Maybe we should look at a New York City telephone book and discern what the Big Apple has that Knoxville doesn’t. Ethiopian restaurants, perhaps. Does she want more hip-hop discos? A Niemann Marcus? These are things Kate Hudson didn’t explain.
We may be suffering from a comparison to Asheville, where the Robinson-Hudson family went next. Every time we think downtown Knoxville has caught up with our much-smaller cousin in the mountains, we have to admit we’re comparing ourselves to the Asheville of seven or eight years ago. A Knoxvillian visiting Asheville this summer will find it discouragingly lively. Blocks and blocks of downtown retail, restaurants, nightclubs, and music outside on the streets, on every corner. Now it’s something like Paris during la Belle Epoch . Damn them. They keep moving the goal.
To be fair, Kate Hudson’s perspective from the Hilton’s bar on Church Street is pretty bleak. Outside you see surface parking lots and buildings that close before 6 p.m. Four nights a week the library’s open until 8:30, but otherwise, at night and on weekends, there’s nothing open within two blocks of the Hilton in any direction. In spite of all the new after-hours attractions in the Old City and on Gay Street and Market Square, there are still big parts of downtown Knoxville that are still strictly businesslike, weekdays 9-to-5. Unfortunately, they’re the parts with hotels where Kate Hudson and other visitors form their first impressions. And now we’re building another hotel in that office district.
The vicinity of the Civic Auditorium, where the Black Crowes played, is bleaker still, nothing but parking garages and asphalt, no urban landscape at all. A few years ago, the Crandall-Arambula report observed its isolation and recommended linking it to downtown with a broad viaduct bearing urban amenities. For now, though, there’s not even a doughnut shop.
That’s what we don’t have. But what do we need? This may be a difficult question to tackle without interviewing Ms. Hudson herself. We’ll get on it. Two million? Maybe Kate Hudson will be our next high-priced consultant.