The most successful annual festival in Knoxville history celebrates a guy who died 140 years ago and never set foot on this continent. And whose first name was probably unknown to most of the 70,000 people who flooded downtown for the party in his honor.
In fact, despite the big jolly roaming mascot who resembled him, Gioacchino Rossini has seemed less and less a part of the Rossini Festival in recent years; the featured operas were both in Italian, but they were Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which date from before and after Rossini’s era. (The Knoxville Opera Company will make up for neglecting their official honoree next year, with an already-scheduled performance of Rossini favorite The Barber of Seville.) And some remarked that the street fair seemed a little less Italian this year, with eggrolls and funnel cakes and fried corn on the cob. Maybe it reflects these difficult times, Italian Recessianno.
But the weather was great, maybe four degrees beyond perfect, so tens of thousands of strangers comfortably jammed Market Square, looking for more food and wine, or arts and crafts, or performances, which ranged from
childrens’ violin orchestras to the obligatory belly dancers to the Society for Creative Anachronism’s sword fights. The best-attended operatic shows, on the Gay Street side of Krutch Park this year, included a spirited preview of Pagliacci.
For a festival honoring a local guy, mark your calendar for June 13, the Louie Bluie Festival at Cove Lake State Park, just off Interstate 75 in Campbell County. It will celebrate the 100th birthday of La Follette-raised Howard
Armstrong, the black fiddler and mandolinist who was a familiar character on the streets of Knoxville in the 1920s and early ’30s. Musical guests will include Hokum’s Heroes, a Boston-based band which evolved from Armstrong’s last band after his death in 2003, as well as well-known local folkie Sparky Rucker and other practitioners of country, blues, and “mountain jazz”—a phrase you don’t hear every day, but one which may do as well as any to describe Armstrong’s oeuvre.