The eclectic sights and sounds of Knoxville, Tennessee were on full display for the opening night of the Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival; taking place in the historic Old City portion of Knoxville, Rhythm N’ Blooms is as unique and diverse as the city it represents. Set up like a bar crawl, festivalgoers can jump from packed-out bars to the main Cripple Creek stage, and then back— each venue offers its own unique addition to the festival’s spirit.

The event kicked off at the Cripple Creek stage with Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line. Country music and rock n’ roll have always had a close relationship and Nora Jane and the band straddled the line between the two for the majority of their set. The band was in symmetry and each song was performed with simultaneous grace and grit. The vocals shined in Nora’s higher range and growled when the notes came back down to earth, a great start to the first day.

Nikki Lane was up next and kept things rolling on this day of kick-ass country women. Dialing in that classic country sound with the best of ‘em, Nikki Lane and company got the crowd on their feet and grooving. Song after song was performed with style and intensity as Nikki sang about ex-lovers, drinking, and more of those two things. Playing a mix of songs from her new album, Highway Queenalong with old favorites, the show never lost momentum and only grew with each new song.

From the main stage to the venues, the standout and favorite performance of the day came from the Jon Stickley Trio. Comprised of acoustic guitar, fiddle, and drums, this group stole the show. Each member of the band played like their life depended on it, as each song jumped from one place to another like a tug of war between the three players—some of the best guitar picking and fiddle playing I have ever seen as they wrapped the crowd around their musical fingers. The Jon Stickley Trio left a lasting impression on everyone in attendance, one that has already been quite hard to shake, and we were lucky to stumble upon their brilliance.

Back on the main stage, Nashville artist Dave Barnes charmed with his genre-bending pop sound; Dave and the band were moving and grooving, and brought some much-appreciated heat to the chilly spring night. The band performed each song to perfection as Dave’s voice rang out underneath the bridge we under which we stood, and inspired many feels. The Knoxville native had a smile on the whole set and really, and the crowd reflected it back to him, a fun and heartwarming change of pace among the Americana and country-heavy festival bands of the day.

As we made our way back into the night, we happened upon local Knoxville band Three Star Revival, a six piece band packed onto a stage comfortable for three, and got right into the jams. Three Star Revival played a wonderful mix of songs that refused to be defined by any genre. The guys moved and grooved to every song and the crowd was happily along for the ride. With wonderful guitar and saxophone solos, each song took on a life of its own as the energy grew in the crowd. The band fed off of the room’s energy, erupted with each new line, and left it all onstage.

We were delighted by another local favorite William Wild—whose frontman Garrett Sale has made a name for himself over the past couple years in the scene, and the band proved that they belonged among the top of the lineup. With a full band, the sound of each instrument greatly accompanied each song with perfection as beautiful melodies rang out through the venue. The wonderfully-written and poetic lyrics about love, loss, longing, and questions were perfectly accompanied by a lush musical landscape, a perfect ending to the first day.

[These reviews were crafted by the multi-talented James Farley; you can follow him at jamesfarleymusic.wordpress.com. These lovely photos were provided by the incomparable Nathan Pirkle; you can see more of his genius on display at nathanpirklephotography.pixieset.com.]

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