The conspicuous but (for most of the last 29 years) problematic Sunsphere received its greatest post-World’s Fair fame when Bart Simpson and his joy-riding pals visited it in a 1996 Simpsons episode and found it had been converted into a wig outlet. (We’re not sure what inspired the joke, except perhaps that the architectural icon bears a certain family resemblance to a wig stand.) Some found the wig-industry association embarrassing, and The Sunsphere Is Not a Wigshop (notawigshop.com) is one of Knoxville’s most popular blogs—but last week’s First Friday embraced the wig with an event called Wig Out. It was a free-form wig contest at the grand-reopening of the Sunsphere, organized by PR firm Prolific Living, the booking agent for the Sunsphere’s fifth and sixth floors, which are now open for special events.
During her show, Christina Horn, singer and keyboardist for Hudson K, complained about her itchy blonde wig, as some wondered whether it was a real wig, or just her own usually unusual ’do. Most didn’t seem to get the memo about wearing a wig to the party, and some in the random crowd that included kids and old folks seemed befuddled about the proliferation of boldly hued counterfeit coifs—as some were by the fringey sounds of Ampient Music and Horn’s band.
It was funny how quickly it seems normal to have a circular party on the fifth and sixth floors, eating meatballs and spinach dip and looking down at the lights of Knoxville, which, from above, generally looks better at night than in the daytime. One of the biggest single events at the iconic structure since the Fair, the Wig Out attracted several hundred people, and raised a problem we dimly remember. If a lot of people want to leave at once, the two elevators do get crowded for their 200-foot descents. You don’t get out of the Sunsphere quick. Some visitors were careful to make a bathroom stop before re-entry to the real world.