(54 points, two first-place votes; see the complete list)
In late 2006, I went to Cambodia looking for an exotic adventure, to reinvigorate my journalism career and to escape the grief of a disastrous marriage. But most of my time was spent working a boring night desk job. I was a drone laying out endless pages of wire copy no one ever read. Every night, I would connect my iPod to some speakers in the office and let it play on random. Occasionally a song from Knoxville would pop up—R.B. Morris, The V-Roys, Todd Steed, Divorce, or my old friends Dixie Dirt—and I would swell with pride for my adopted hometown, so far away. Of all the Knoxville bands, Angela Bartlett, Kat Brock, and company got the most attention from my co-workers: "Who is this?" they would ask, perking up, certain they recognized it from somewhere, perhaps hearing another Cat in Kat's distinctive Southern drawl. But when I said their name, my co-workers would give me blank stares, and I would smirk, knowing a secret I was excited to share.
When I heard them play live, I often marveled at how I felt like I became part of the music, the moment, my heart rising and falling with each crescendo, feeling each song was the best thing I'd ever heard. It wasn't, but it was as close as you could ever hope to get on any random night. The band felt so tight and so in tune with each other that listening to them, you can't help but feel a part of it, too. It's a cliché, but they made me feel alive. It was their collective gift and I'm sorry they gave it up, but wish all of them the best.
The first time I heard this band, during sessions for Pieces of the World, I was at the White House over in the Fort. Brad, Pete, Angela, and Kat were all crowded into a little room off from the kitchen, door shut, and when they launched into "Sleep," it was like someone walked up and threw a cup of ice water in my face, grabbed me by the hair and screamed, "This is why you do what you do, bitch!" Jut the intensity, the passion—the room turned into this seething cauldron of rage and angst and emotion. I never missed a Dixie Dirt show after that, and no matter what sort of personal drama went on behind the scenes, when the four of them (and, later, Chris Rusk) got on stage, everything went into the music. It's just hands-down some of the best rock I've ever seen.