secret_history (2005-34)

What To Do

Again with the Kate Hudson thing

by Jack Neely

Forgive me. I keep thinking of things we should have shown poor Kate. Earlier this month on David Letterman, she told the world there’s “not much to do” in Knoxville. I’m told the weekend she was here, which has taken on legendary dimensions, was April 28-30. Naturally I looked up the April 28 Metro Pulse to see what she missed.

So it wasn’t the liveliest weekend ever. There was nothing doing at the Tennessee or the Bijou, nothing at Clarence Brown Theatre nor the Black Box.

But both days, there was lots of live music, of all sorts, and all over the place, especially downtown, within walking distance of the Hilton.

That Thursday night, rootsy Nashville guitarist and songwriter Buddy Miller was playing Sundown on Market Square. Granted, it was cold and wet.

If Kate had bus fare for the KAT #11, she could have caught Donald Brown at 4620; the local jazz keyboardist and recording artist can pack nightclubs in New York and Paris.

There were other options. The two nights she was here there were shows by some of Knoxville’s finest performers, like our melancholy boho chanteuse, Leslie Woods, who played at the Pilot Light. There were also bands from Cincinnati, Buffalo, Detroit, and Athens, Ga., some of them recording artists with national reputations. Between lively nightclubs like the Preservation Pub, Blue Cats, Barley’s, the Pilot Light, the Corner Lounge, and Sullivan’s, there were at least a dozen live shows each night.

Both her days here, she could have caught WDVX’s Blue Plate Special free lunchtime live-radio shows at their headquarters on Gay Street. I know of nothing in America like it. All that weekend, “Dining with Durang,” a cross-dressing tribute to one of America’s bawdiest comedy writers, was at Theatre Central on North Gay.

And on that Friday night, even if she didn’t want to come to the Metro Pulse Best of Knoxville party at the Foundry— free food , Kate—there were other things. Annie Sellick, a Nashville-based jazz singer, was at the Knoxville Museum of Art for Alive After Five. On the walls upstairs, the KMA also had the startling Beauford Delaney exhibition, “From New York to Paris.” (Maybe she’d already seen it in Minneapolis.)

For whatever it’s worth, the Red Iguana was hosting a big night with some MTV personalities, filming a reality show. And there was a Dance Carnival Extravaganza at the Electric Ballroom. Never mind the Black Crowes at the Civic Auditorium.

A lot of that was too late for me. After the Metro Pulse party Friday, I was watching a good bluegrass band at the Back Room Barbecue, and wondering where the hell Kate was.

She had excuses. She had a kid in tow, and was staying in a hotel in an especially quiet quarter of downtown. If she’s like a lot of folks who tour with a rock’n’roll band, she got to a point where she just didn’t want to bother with going out.

What bothers me most isn’t any given celebrity’s remarks. She’s no travel writer, but an actress who felt obliged to blurt an answer to a surprise question. What bugs me is some Knoxvillians’ stubborn impressions about their own city.

There are a whole lot of criticisms you can make of Knoxville, and make them stick—about bland architecture, careless development, watered-down curries, and utter cluelessness about parking our cars. Not much to do just isn’t one of them.

I have foggy memories of thinking Knoxville a dull place. I’m not sure whether it was Knoxville that was dull, or a certain kid who kept going back to the same dim taverns and sitting in the same barstool and ordering the same Budweiser longneck and watching Starsky and Hutch muted on the bar TV. Maybe I didn’t want to believe anything else was going on.

That credo is not as strong as it was a few years ago, but judging by some e-mails I’ve gotten, there’s still an almost willful belief that Knoxville, and downtown in particular, is a dull place. It seems most pronounced among longtime Knoxvillians.

Try this quiz. Say you want to do something in downtown Knoxville on any given night—that is, find something to eat or drink, maybe listen to some music. And let’s say it’s just an ordinary night, with nothing playing at the big venues, and no live drama, no shows or films on Market Square, and no parties on Volunteer Landing, and no gallery openings, no poetry readings.

Well, then. How many choices do you have? You don’t have to name them, just pick a number. If you’re within five, consider yourself correct.

And I mean downtown, strictly defined. Not stuff within walking distance of downtown, like the Strip, or the Corner Lounge. I mean just downtown, the way we all think of downtown, from I-40 to Volunteer Landing. How many choices do you have on, say, a Tuesday night?

So, what do you think? Ten dependable downtown dinner restaurants and nightspots? Fifteen?

My count’s 37. There’s a big loud dance club; a late-night dive devoted to daring new music; a classy wine bar; a popular sushi bar; a live-bluegrass barbecue joint; a brewpub with a generous happy hour; a semi-famous Mediterranean place that’s open late; a formal restaurant in the top of a modernist skyscraper; a couple of coffee shops; a few pool halls; an old-fashioned saloon with good live music from all over the country; a big pizza place with 40 draft beers on tap and a lively stage; a couple of discos; an 86-year-old steak house; three distinctive restaurants that offer riverside dining; a workingman’s beer joint; a swank cocktail bar where you can buy an expensive drink with a jewel in it; an often-crowded karaoke place; a nightclub that has a reputation for catching major stars just before they get big. And then there are all the other places.

Please don’t try to have one drink in each one of downtown Knoxville’s bars and nightclubs the same night. You would die.

That’s not to mention a handful of retail stores and galleries that keep open some evening hours. True, it’s not concentrated in one walking area. One of downtown’s problems is that its attractions are diffused; we don’t yet have a walking neighborhood with more than a block of things to look at. That’s a tough one.

There may be reasons a visiting starlet might miss what there is to do here. There’s less excuse for Knoxvillians to.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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