Back in the early '00s, Josh Sidman was playing in a bluegrass band in California called the Earl Brothers. The group found out that WDVX was playing their songs in Knoxville and decided to come for a visit.
"We'd never been out of California," Sidman says. "But we came to Knoxville a few times—we played Camperfest and a couple of Blue Plate Specials—and I was blown away by what I saw here in terms of local talent."
In 2006, Sidman left the Bay Area for good and settled in Knoxville. After a month, he says, he was playing mandolin and bass in four or five different bands.
"People from here don't realize how incredible this town is in that respect," he says. "The Knoxville roots-music scene is why I'm here, and why I started this business."
The business is Sidman's part of the new North Knoxville deli/catering service/music shop the Parlor, located at 726 Chickamauga Ave. Sidman's running a vintage instrument shop and a restoration and repair service, as well as offering music lessons from some of Knoxville's best musicians.
So far the Parlor has a stock of about 150 instruments, ranging from entry-level guitars to a John Monteleone mandolin with an $18,000 sticker price. Sidman even has a few of the 1,000 or so mandolins built by the legendary R.L. Givens—"I only know of one other store in the country where you can regularly find his instruments," Sidman says.
Sidman's roster of instructors includes Christina Horn of Hudson K, Tom Pryor of the Black Lillies, Taylor Brown, Jon Whitlock of Christabel and the Jons, and Scott McMahan. They're part of a holistic, collaborative approach to music instruction that Sidman says he wishes he'd had when he was learning to play.
"A lot of the ideas we're trying to embody here are based on my own musical education, and specifically the shortcomings of it," he says. "It's the way I wish I'd been educated musically. The whole education model is based on authority—the student submits to the teacher, the teacher tells the student what to do. We want the student to view the teacher as a resource, a more experienced buddy who can show them how to pursue their own goals. The model depends on the students being able to identify where they want to go."
Sidman says he plans to eventually build a stage in the Parlor for student performances.
For now, the Parlor is only open by appointment.