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  The Year in Review


Staged Goodness

This may be the year that we'll all look back to decades from now and say, "Yup, 1999 is when the Knoxville theater scene finally came into its own." Smaller local companies like Actors Co-op (Vinegar Tom, to name one) and Tennessee Stage (The Little Theater's Production of Hamlet) continued to consistently provide high-quality work on tiny budgets in tinier venues. But the stand-out small theater this year was Mark Moffett's Theatre Central, who produced an eleventh season full of shows like Talley's Folly and The Real Inspector Hound that blew the socks off local critics and proved that there are quality actors and directors in this section of East Tennessee.

On a much larger scale, AC Entertainment unveiled a big-budget Broadway Series that has brought in gems like Smokey Joe's Cafe, Tap Dogs, and will truck in the show stoppers Riverdance and Chicago after the first of the year. Speaking of big, the Knoxville Opera Company unleashed its Aida, complete with zoo animals and a cast of hundreds. By all accounts, it was a grand success and proof that there is a place for classical music in this town.

Also, this year Clarence Brown Theatre welcomed back some of its famous alumni, including none other than David Keith. Keep it up, guys, and prove that the years to come will put Knox theater back on the map.

Finally, the Bijou Theatre reopened in January after a many-years-in-the-making renovation that not only gave the historical venue a proper heating and air conditioning unit, but updated all its facilities. Truly, it hasn't looked this good in a lifetime, making it a sparkling home for concerts and its children's programming. Now if they'd just book some plays...

V-Roys R.I.P.

The joke, four or five years ago, was "Did you hear the Viceroys are splitting up? One of them stopped smoking." But this time it appears to be for keeps. Many of us expected 1999 would be the V-Roys' biggest year yet. Formed in 1994, the snappily-dressed rock 'n' roll quartet was riding on the crest of critical raves about its late 1998 release, All About Town. (They'd been known as the Viceroys until the planned release of their first album, Just Add Ice, got them international exposure and with it, trademark trouble with a Jamaican band of that name). The boys had even gotten their picture on the front page of Billboard. As late as summer, a starstruck reporter on NPR's Weekend Edition gave the 'Roys an unusually lengthy interview, with some breaks for performance. Then, this fall, they announced they were Splitsville. That the volatile band was breaking up had been rumored almost since Scott Miller, Mic Harrison, Jeff Bills, and Paxton Sellers first got together. (Original frontman John Paul Keith jumped ship just before the 'Roys cut their first CD and started the Nevers in Nashville, who also broke up this year.) All were individually talented musicians, and all were adults with real lives before they started the band.

Though they've spent much of the last five years touring, the 'Roys have always played New Year's Eve in their home town, and this year will be no exception. The V-Roys' final show will be the New Year's Eve millennial show at the Tennessee Theatre—which happens to be the same place they shot their last CD cover.

All four of the 'Roys plan to stay in Knoxville, including Harrison, who moved here from West Tennessee just to join the band. Harrison and Bills, who've just issued a Harrison solo CD, expect to keep working together. Miller has his own music projects, as he always has had before and during the V-Roys. Sellers is going back to finish at UT.

Wicked & Profound

R.B. Morris, who hasn't broken up yet, released his second album, Zeke and the Wheel (his fourth locally, for those who've been following him since his cassette, Local Man, nearly a decade ago), on the international Koch label; the album-release party on Market Square in October—which also showcased Jodie Manross, Jag Star, and the Ghosts—was attended by an estimated 1,000 fans. It's a great record by a mature talent which has earned positive reviews in the alternative press. National alternative-country magazine No Depression describes in it one "genuinely thrilling rock 'n' roll moment"; Stereo Times calls it "singularly impressive." The Nashville Scene says Morris "engages profound ideas in fresh ways while cranking out gritty roots rock that clangs and rolls to a wicked groove...encompassing both debauchery and deliverance." Morris may be a bigger star in Nashville than he is in his home town, but the "scruffy spiritualist," as the Scene calls him, is still at home in the Scruffy City.

At year's end, Morris's frequent sideman Hector Qirko has released a CD with his own band, which he's now calling HQ Band. That album South, on the Blind Guru label, will debut at an official release party in January.

Cyber South

This summer, UT graduate student and sometime Metro Pulse contributor Glynn Wilson launched an online magazine, The Southerner. Some of his friends indulged his dreams that it might get some attention, and suddenly it has, excerpted by Utne Reader's website and praised by the Oxford American as the true heir to defunct Southern magazine. You can check it out at

File Under: Exposure, Indecent

If you're going to go out, go out with a bang. At least that's the approach A-1 Art Space took when it closed the doors on its 128 S. Gay Street location at the beginning of the year. Whole chickens were detonated, a large stuffed monkey was stabbed, and Marko Sonnie, puppeteer, was arrested for indecent exposure and resisting arrest.

While A-1 is still mounting shows in the Candy Factory, it is looking for a new home and currently accepting works to be considered for its post-millennial show. We wish these avant-gardists good luck.

Movie Time

Movies were a bigger industry than ever in 1999, and even Knoxville benefited. First, there was the July announcement that Florida-based Muvico Theaters would be building a new 24-screen complex in The Pavilion at Turkey Creek (the controversial shopping wonderland under construction on what was once wetlands). But this will be no '80s-style shoebox multiplex—Muvico promises it to have a "boutique-style approach" that will make it the "most innovative entertainment venue in Tennessee." Indeed, if the architectural rendering is accurate, Muvico Knoxville 24 will hearken to the movie palaces of yore with a glitzy Ancient Egyptian theme. Meanwhile, other theaters in the area slugged it out, retrofitting stadium seating and adding screens. Meanwhile, the old Terrace Theater's screens finally glowed again as the Cinema Grill, returning to its roots as a full-service restaurant, bar, and theater of second-run movies. Sadly, the '60s-style globe lights went by the wayside (you can see some of them now at Chez Geuvara) as did the art house films. However, Regal's Downtown West theater picked up the non-mainstream film gauntlet and devotes several of its screens to indie, foreign, and classic films. And speaking of classics, it warmed the heart of many a movie buff to see the Tennessee Theatre's summer movie series bring back great films to the picture palace's hallowed aisles.

The Goods

Visual art lovers had a treat this year when two great shows hit town. First, the Frank H. McClung Museum dazzled us with Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur from early February to May, which, when coupled with the Maya exhibit, lead to a 28 percent increase in attendance over the previous year. The Knoxville Museum of Art also scored big with its luminous collection of Tiffany art glass—a spectacular show that proved that art can also be useful.

Hip Hop Knoxville

Despite enjoying enormous popularity, hip hop doesn't get much attention locally. It's not that the genre hasn't caught on locally (there is plenty of hip hop lovers at local high schools and colleges and record sales are high) or a lack of talent. But local clubs and authorities seem intimidated by the form, which is unfairly linked to gangs and violence. A short-lived hotspot, The Network located in the affluent, largely-white Sequoyah Hills, shutdown not long after police drove a street sweeper through its parking lot one night (an action, the police chief later said was inappropriate). Another hip hop friendly club—Flamingos on the Cumberland Avenue strip—shut down after it lost its beer permit. Hip hoppers have lately been going to Lava Lounge on Kingston Pike. Still, there are no venues for any of Knoxville's many hip hop acts to perform at—including the N.U.T.S., which recently released its second full-length CD and is hoping to be picked up by a major label.

...Freezes Over, and the Dogwood Arts Festival Changes a Bit

Knoxville's largest (and most uninspired) festival shook things up slightly last spring, with a bluegrass concert. Despite being held on a cold, rainy night, the bluegrass (sponsored by Knoxville's WDVX) drew a decent crowd. More promising changes are in the works for next spring, giving the festival a life after 5 p.m.—another bluegrass festival, one-act plays, and concerts by the likes of Superdrag and Man Or Astroman?. Now if they could just do something about all those tacky glue-gun crafts.

Hunh? Leroy on CeeDee?

While some guy calling himself "Roy D. Mercer" has been making a bucket of money taping his crank phone calls and releasing them on Virgin Records, the work of the true original has been recognized only by those lucky enough to get fifth-generation tapes. But now you can buy the real deal on CD at your local record store. The Real Leroy Mercer is John Bean, the first official release of a series of recordings made in the late '70s and early '80s by the late John Bean, a local prankster and master of psychological manipulation. Under his redneck telephone persona LeRoy Mercer, Bean would, for example, call an auto parts store and engage in a tactical battle of words with the equally redneck owner. He could take a person to the edge of patience—and then send them plummeting over. This CD release of the tapes came about when two Chattanooga filmmakers, Dave Lang and Bobby Stone, tracked down Bean's sister (and Metro Pulse contributor) Betty, and convinced her that they could help set the record straight and expose lesser redneck imitators making money from Bean's schtick. For more information on John Bean and how to get a copy of The Real Leroy Mercer is John Bean, point your web browser to

Notable Books

The last year of the millennium saw a peculiar assortment of new books, most of which are, in one way or another, historically related.

Fast and Loose In Dixie by J. Madison Drake (Salt Press, Sanibel, Fla.). This reprint of a fast-paced memoir of a Union lieutenant who escaped from a Confederate prison in 1864 concludes with the escapee's safe arrival in Knoxville during the Union occupation. It's not much of an edition, but still a great read.

Harvey Logan In Knoxville by Sylvia Lynch (Creative Publishing, College Station, Texas). An amazing feat of historical research, Lynch has gathered nearly all the lore, photographs, and even cartoons about the last couple of years of the last of the Wild West outlaws, train robber Harvey Logan, AKA Kid Curry—especially the Central Avenue gunfight that led to his arrest and 18-month imprisonment, his 1903 escape from the Knoxville jail after which he fled across the Gay Street Bridge on a stolen horse, and his alleged death of gunshot wounds in Colorado in 1904; included are the controversial photographs of his alleged corpse.

The Killer of Love, by Brian Conley, is a novel set in Fort Sanders in the '80s which has drawn a great deal of attention and speculation.

The Marble City by Jack Neely and Aaron Jay (UT Press, Knoxville). Three years in the making, this collection of local gravestone images, prompted by a 1995 Metro Pulse cover story, features the photography of Aaron Jay and relevant stories by Metro Pulse staff writer Jack Neely. The project was all Jay's idea, but in March, days before the book's release, the love-struck photographer moved to Dublin, Ireland, and soon married his girlfriend, Ali.

Mountain Rebels, by Todd Groce (UT Press, Knoxville). This long-awaited survey, begun several years ago when Groce was director of the East Tennessee Historical Society (he now does the same thing for the whole state of Georgia), this book takes a hard look at East Tennessee's Confederate minority, previously neglected by historians.

Place Names of the Smokies, by Allen Coggins. Hiking was never as much fun before we knew how Charlie's Bunion actually got its name. That and a few other of the Smokies' most colorful monikers are explained in this fascinating book, which can be read as a non-linear history of our favorite mountains.

Secessionists and Other Scoundrels: Selections from Parson Brownlow's Book, edited by Stephen V. Ash (LSU Press, Baton Rouge). A fascinating collections of essays and quotations from "Parson" William G. Brownlow, the outspoken Unionist editor and later state governor who remains the most controversial Knoxville resident in history.

Local Record Releases

Defying the nay-sayers who proclaim the Knoxville music scene dead, local musicians put out an impressive array of records this year. Stand-outs include:
* Jodie Manross, still
* Donna Lee Van Cott, Eclipse
* The Boogeymen, Sister Blue
* Evil Twin, Extra Damned
* Greg Horne, Floating World
* Kid Snack (A.K.A. Snack Crapple Pox), Jimbo
* V-roys, Are You Through Yet?
* Immortal Chorus, noble cause
* Subbluecollar, Daydreams
* The Malignmen, Filthy Malignmen
* Beeswax, Use Your Confusion
* Kit Rodgers, Naked Coffee
* The Opposable Thumbs, Chicks Ahoy
* Past Mistakes, Try To Blink
* The Blame, American Fool
* Pegasi 51, Space Riot

And then there were the memorable live shows of national and local artists:
* Old 97s at the Bijou
* R.B. Morris, Jodie Manross, Jag Star, and The Ghosts at Market Square Mall
* Iris Dement at Bird's Eye View
* Gillian Welch with David Rawlings at the Bijou
* Fred Eaglesmith with Caroline Aiken at Bird's Eye View
* Lucinda Williams at the Tennessee Theater
* Africa Fete at World's Fair Park
* 99-year-old fiddler Bob Douglas at Laurel Theater
* Garrison Keillor at Civic Auditorium
* Santana at World's Fair Park
* Jeff Beck at Tennessee Theater
* Merle Haggard with Kelly Willis at Tennessee Theater
* Willie Nelson at Tennessee Theater
* Shannon Wright at Tomato Head
* Fugazi at Electric Ballroom
* Low at Tomato Head
* Atombombpocketknife at Chroma
* Smokin' Dave reunion shows all over town
* Steve Earle w/R.B. Morris at Bird's Eye View
* Scott Miller's Mule Train shows
* And the year's most complementary double bill, The Kiss-Offs with the Come-Ons at Tomato Head