Knoxville in 2008: Arts, Entertainment and Media

Out of the Box

Actors Co-op, the once-nomadic theatrical troupe known for both children's programming and risky and sometimes risque adult experiments, left the only home it has ever known. In April, they moved out of the Black Box Theater in Homberg Place, citing cost and maintenance issues. Since then, they've offered shows in other venues, including the Bijou Theatre and Ironwood Studios. Meanwhile, talented platinum-blonde bombshell Sara Schwabe, a sometime Co-op performer and director who also fronted the remarkable Yankee Jass Band, a torch-song purveyor at late-night venues around downtown for the last decade or so, decided to dump us for higher education—she's studying music on the graduate level at Arizona State.

Eyes Off the Prize

The Peter Taylor Prize, a national prize for a new novel and run mainly by volunteers, had been an interesting annual event in town for the last five or six years. Named for the Tennessee-born Pulitzer laureate and run by Taylor's onetime assistant, local writer Brian Griffin, the prize was chosen from hundreds of entries, all of which were dutifully read, many of them in the prize's headquarters on 11th Street. The May bestowal of the prize always brought the author, sometimes from great distances, to accept it, an event at the downtown library which at least a couple of times evolved into a moonlight poetry reading on the old Taylor family plot in Old Gray. It ended when UT Press, which offered publication as the main prize, stepped away from the project, citing difficulty with selling little-known novelists.

Arrowmont Limbo

In August, the Pi Beta Phi fraternity—the founders, long-time hosts, nurturers, caretakers, and landlords of Gatlinburg's storied Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts—pretty much pulled the hand-woven rug out from under their tenants by announcing that the campus would be changing hands within a matter of weeks. A reprieve of sorts, the hotel and waterpark developers who had planned to purchase the land evaporated this fall, about the same time inter-bank credit became a thing of the past.

Some artists involved at Arrowmont have said that the shock was a positive thing. The school has been forced to at least imagine a future elsewhere, which might not be a bad thing. The garish Gatlinburg strip is not necessarily hostile to the historic school and what happens in its studios, but it's incongruous at best. In a written statement on Arrowmont's website, executive director David Willard says that the organization also intends to determine the value of the 14-acre campus and consider raising funds to purchase the land themselves. The school's lease of the property runs through August 2011.

Benevolent Leader Makes Supremely Wise Business Decisions; Metro Pulse Awaits Further Instructions

In 2008, print journalists witnessed the decimation of their once robust industry. As readership continued to veer away from hard copy news and ad revenues plunged even further, scores of small papers folded, venerable news outlets like the Christian Science Monitor ceased printing and went web-only, and major metropolitan dailies like the Detroit Free Press cut weekday home delivery. Not even a giant like the Tribune Company, which owns both the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, was immune. But here in Knoxville, we had the blessing of real guidance. From hundreds of miles away, the Great Lighthouse shone bright. And in the direction it pointed we could see straight through all of that darkness into our collective future.

And that future, my friends, is called Efficiency. Newspapers have had it all backwards. We were putting all of our resources into creating the final product rather than refining the process. It created redundancies. This is no way for a business to operate. Why hadn't we seen it before? The traditional, large, clunky, broadsheet (or, for that matter, tabloid) format is a ludicrous anachronism. Those giant paper tarps do nothing but encourage ridiculous florid writing. And in so many sections. Why are two different news sections required? That hardly seems environmentally sound.

And as for the matter of the so-called layoffs, or "firings," (including 28-year KNS veteran film critic Betsy Pickle and our own Clint Casey, a nine-year Metro Pulse veteran) they were unfortunate in the short term. But in the long run, we like to think of them as temporary displacements to allow for future self-actualization where their specialties were needed. After all, the same movies that are showing in Knoxville right now are showing in hundreds of different cities throughout the country.

Now isn't that all worth an extra quarter?

We Know Who Said it First (No, We're Not Telling)

The New York Times ran its first 48 Hours page about Knoxville. Written by award-winning author and former Metro Pulse contributor (and sometime MMA fighter) Allison Glock, the piece offered a pretty good summation of how to spend a weekend in our home town, but may be remembered for perplexing us with a nickname unfamiliar to most of us: "the Couch." But we appreciate the shout out, which may be partly responsible for the astonishing number of strangers we keep seeing downtown.

Coming and Going

Nightclubs come and go. Like pop music itself, the places where we hear it in its most immediate form aren't really designed to last. It's the nature of the business, which is built on illusion, the changing tides of fashion, the momentary thrills of booze and sex, and the rush of youth.

Knoxville's nightlife and cultural landscape had some notable closings in 2008: Blue Cats, the Corner Lounge, Host Clothing, the Art Gallery of Knoxville, the mercurial South Knoxville all-ages space the Poison Lawn, and the Disc Exchange's Kingston Pike location. The Basement Gallery has closed temporarily while its owners look for a new space, and Barataria never quite got off the ground in the old Blue Cats space in the Old City. And Writers Block Live, the series of concerts and live radio broadcasts at Knoxville Museum of Art led by singer/songwriter Karen Reynolds, ended its five-year live run in December, though it will continue to be aired on WDVX.

Those losses were offset by the opening of the 1,000-capacity Valarium in the old Electric Ballroom building on Western Avenue in January and, late in the year, of the Square Room on Market Square, a 450-seat listening room for mid-level club acts and local performers. In addition, Three Flights Up Gallery moved its space from the upstairs of the Emporium Center on Gay Street to a building on Tyson Street in the burgeoning Downtown North neighborhood.

Waiting for Zep Would've Been Worth It

Led Zeppelin didn't play Bonnaroo, but Robert Plant and Alison Krauss did, and so did the all-female Zep cover band Lez Zeppelin. So did Metallica and Kanye West. West's much-delayed set, in fact, was nearly the story of the festival after the Chicago rapper failed to take the main stage until two hours after the scheduled 2:45 a.m. start time. (West reportedly insisted on the late slot to accommodate his light show.) West responded by calling the festival's management, Superfly Productions and Knoxville's AC Entertainment, "squid brains" on his blog.

10 Debuts at 12

10 Years continued its streak of chart and radio success with Division, the band's fourth album and second for Universal. Division debuted at number 12 on the Billboard album charts and topped the magazine's hard rock album chart. The single "Beautiful" peaked at number 14 on the modern rock chart.

Metal Success

Who knew Knoxville was a hotbed for heavy metal? Just two years after forming, local deathcore merchants Whitechapel—veterans of all-ages shows at the Electric Ballroom and various rec centers all over town—released This Is Exile on the somewhat legendary Metal Blade label, home at one time or another to Slayer, GWAR, and Lamb of God. The album broke into the top 200 on Billboard's album chart. The long-standing local band Straight Line Stitch, after nearly a decade together, released When Skies Wash Ashore on the Koch imprint Raging Nation Records.

Do Not Be Fooled by Imitations

It ain't nothin' for him to whup a man's ass. The much-traded Whup Ass Tapes, a collection of masterful prank phone calls recorded by Knoxville's John Bean in the 1970s and '80s, got the deluxe reissue treatment from Nashville's Dualtone label this fall. The Real Leroy Mercer: The Original Recordings of John Bean collects most of the classic tracks—"Eddie's Auto," "C & C Auto," and "Thom McCann's"—with about as much fidelity as possible and liner notes by Bean's sister, Betty Bean, an occasional Metro Pulse contributor.

Morristown Idol

Former Morristown, Tenn., resident Josiah Leming, a teenager who was living out of his car at the time of his audition, became a sensation during the early rounds of American Idol's seventh season. He wowed the judges with a rendition of Mika's "Grace Kelly—" though he was warned about the affected British accent—and broke teenage hearts with his tendency to burst into tears. Then he blundered into a disastrous performance of "Stand By Me" and found himself headed back home. Don't worry—he's signed a deal with Warner Bros., just released an EP, and has an album set for release in the spring.