There’s just enough room at Vestival. People wind around the card tables, the booths, tread the soft grass here on the grounds of the historic Candora Marble Company without bumping hips or tripping over dogs or elbowing aside small children to see the make-your-own candles and price check the Jack Daniel’s pulled pork or let glass beads dribble through their fingers.
No one—not the prim, strong septuagenarians with ironed shirts tucked into knit slacks, not the muscled teen boy with his dark hair sticking out every which way, nor the dimpled blond brother toddlers—tips over the bike parked on the path to the apple fritter stand, though its homemade trailer with Rubbermaid bin makes the contraption as vulnerable as pick-up sticks.
The sounds mingle peaceably, too. Standing next to Yawah Awolowo, regally dicing celery at her raw food booth—wheat grass shots $2—Jake Winstrom of the Tenderhooks is audible 20 yards away sending one out “for anyone who’s ever dated.” A little closer, you hear them respond, “Mmm, hmmm,” and, “You know it,” no laughing.
Snippets can be intercepted and enjoyed. “I can’t. I gotta bottle beer later,” this guy in cargo shorts is explaining to his buddies on the lawn in front of the circa 1923 Candora company show room—the restoration project of the South Knoxville Art and Heritage Center that unites these merrymakers each Saturday before Mother’s Day.
A few steps away: “It’s like a canvas of broken dreams,” the glass bead vendor is telling someone about her plans for the inevitable shattered bits and pieces.
“Okay, gals,” a bountiful woman all in black sings out to her band mates. Never mind that two of them are men, dapper Western wear fellows, with fiddle and guitar in hand. She is ready for them to take the stage, on wooden stools they carried up the hill from the back parking lot themselves, arrayed before a shiny blue curtain as Sisters of the Silver Sage.
This is Donna, the oldest sister of six, three of whom live local and play in this Western band. Janet, number five, is on bass. She has a long blonde braid and sound checks like a chicken, “Check, check, chick, chicka bawk...”
“You’re a mess,” Rhonda, number four, tells her—but it’s Rhonda who almost rode right off the shoulder on Pellissippi Parkway, composing “I’d Love to Be a Cowgirl.”
The sisters do sing like silver, their harmonies sliding down like gulps of cool water, and a twentysomething keeps time with a Frisbee thwapping his 2007 Paddle Clean Water T-shirt. The other fans could be anyone: a studious neatnik with rope sandals and gun-metal gray hair; an old dude—dude in the traditional sense—with a crisp white button-down shirt beneath overalls; a freckled vision of vibrance in a tank top, encouraging her tie-dye toddler to two-step with a little demonstration.
In the back, quiet like, is gentleman John Scott on guitar. The sisters say he gets all the credit for bringing the band together, remembering what they could do long after they’d forgotten. But he never speaks, just watches and strums, sometimes studying an invisible spot on the wall.
Just one, two, three steps past his gaze an arch opens to a full view of the battered, broken glass and great heaps of rust of the old warehouse.
Three steps right from there, almost a square dance, and the second stage shows itself, with the same audience. Only, not the same people. And different, very different, music. The LoneTones and razor-sharp John Myers have joined forces, harmonizing and jamming out—is that a tambourine?—while Myers yanks some soul and funk out of golden oldies like “Yaketty Yak.” Three young women in vintage India prints dance back-up, Supremes-style, from the grassy audience and all is fun and right.
Still more chat, in this place where you can hear yourself think. “Phil Pollard is next? Is he really gonna be here, or did he leave for good?” a pony-tailed man wants a woman with a pierced nose to tell him. She won’t say.
Another woman, ordinary and kind in a sun dress, hears, “I read Phil Pollard and the Humans on MySpace,” she says, and sure enough, that is Phil with wild hair and bare feet, the same guy who defected to Virginia last year, sliding a big old xylophone or something into place and for warm ups.
“They’re not human,” cracks another guy wearing a polo shirt and dark face-painted facial hair, “That must have been a misprint.”
There is parking in odd South Knoxville places for Vestival. Immanuel Baptist Church, known for pickle-juice popsicles at Vacation Bible School not many years back, professes its availability with a hand-lettered sign. A tiny cross road over the railroad track fits a few cars, but they take up half the lane for outgoing traffic, and a mechanic’s garage next to a used tire supplier has a spot for a little car to creep into.
On the way out, the intersection of two of these novel parking possibilities is a bit muddled. A large American car, blue, is backing up into north and east traffic; people are patient, giving it space, hoping the front right tire won’t slide any further into the ditch.
“Hey now!” a friendly man yells out. He’s walking, seedless-watermelon-kabob in hand, and taps for the woman to roll down her window. “I’m going to pull out of that spot right there. If you wait, you can pull in!”
The woman is red and bothered. “Look here, honey!” she snaps. “I don’t want to go to any old Vestival. I’m just driving through!”
Just as well. She would be welcome, but there wouldn’t be enough room.