Knoxville's Second Beer Festival Succeeds in a Surprising Downtown Venue

On Saturday more people convened at the Southern Railway's old loading area than have perhaps since William Jennings Bryan's funeral train paused here in the hot summer of 1925. This time it wasn't anguish, but ale that brought the crowds down to the old platforms, which have not witnessed a regular passenger train in 41 years.

The first annual Knoxville Brewfest looked like a big success. The sold-out event (the $36 tickets were limited to 1,500) was a fund-raiser for CureDuchenne, a charity combating a form of muscular dystrophy.

Metro Pulse was a sponsor of the beer festival, and is also an old friend of the Downtown Grill and Brewery—which is closely associated with the Knoxville Brewers' Jam in October, of which Metro Pulse is also a sponsor (note a pattern, here?). There was some friction in that Downtown Grill didn't get an invite. We don't want to play favorites, but having attended each festival, our impression is that, unless they're scheduled on the same afternoon, maybe there's no such thing as too many beer festivals. Knoxvillians drink lots of beer every Saturday anyway; we might as well quaff for a cause. Lots of charities may be kicking themselves for not thinking of such a profitable fund-raiser before. It could even give temperance some much-needed revenue.

Dozens of brewers, several of them unfamiliar to Knoxville beer watchers, participated, and their wares were mostly very tasty. Few attendees, if any, tried everything, but one beer everyone was talking about was the Wit, a bright, snappy summer brew that a couple of different vendors were carrying. A competent honky-tonk band at the eastern end was scant temptation from the beer lines.

The crowd, different from the Brewers' Jam crowd, was a little less Bonnaroo, a little more Bearden (not a surprise, considering the Bearden Beer Market was a major sponsor), maybe slightly older, more affluent, not to say preppy, and more circumspect. It sold out with only the thinnest sliver of the burly downtown beer crowd. The fact that our seasoned reporter recognized only about seven attendees at a heavily attended downtown Knoxville beer festival was just eerie. It was a crowded but comfortable festival, not one where you expected something crazy to happen, and that was probably okay with the organizers.

What really got our attention, after several decades of attending downtown festivals, was the venue. The old passenger-boarding area of the 1903 Southern Railway station, which faces Depot Street and is now occupied by an architectural firm, made an ideal festival locale. Most of the vendors purveyed their wares at each of the old numbered platforms, appreciating the shade of the long passenger-boarding shelter, as customers enjoyed the logic of the numbered platforms. It was very hard to get lost.

The old station's also a more picturesque place than it might look from above. A surprising sideways view of the Old City opens up on the eastern end of it, a colorful urban landscape that looked, after a couple of glasses of wit, at least, like a lost Hopper painting.

One person was overheard to suggest this venue would have been an agreeable place for an International Biscuit Festival—and maybe it would be, if we overlook the fact that that worthy festival belongs to the Market Square District Association, which naturally favors Market Square. But we should use it more often, and it's peculiar that we haven't discovered it already.