Saturday brought a mix of anticipation and layers (and layers) of clothes as Rhythm N’ Blooms once again was ready to rock the chill off Knoxville’s Old City. It was such a busy day, we needed to just jump right into the music.
At every festival, a few acts emerge from their sets leaving a buzz in the crowd that lasts the rest of the weekend. After taking over the festival’s Cripple Creek Stage with their rock-fueled and folk-influenced set, it was impossible to go more than a few minutes without hearing someone talking about The Accidentals. Brimming with bright personality, fast picking, and desire to jam, their sound went forth like a beacon for those festival goers straggling in on an unseasonably afternoon as the crowd at least tripled in size during their set. The Michigan-based duo joked that the chilly air was like a summer day back home and encouraged people to keep warm by dancing to the music.
Not ready to slow down, but ready to get a respite from the cold, I was thankful that the festival mixes indoor and outdoor stages. At the local Scottish watering hole, Boyd’s Jig and Reel, I was just in time to catch Knoxville’s Ancient Cities take the stage. Featuring fuzzy guitar riffs, with touches of moody synth, capped with brighter than expected vocals, the crowd frequently clapped along with the band’s blend of modern-retro and alternative rock sound.
Upon returning to the Cripple Creek Stage, I found fellow Nashvillian Lilly Hiatt doing her part to warm the afternoon with some fiery rock. Grinding guitar, thunderous bass, and driving drums echoed off surrounding buildings as the band tore through a blazing setlist featuring songs from her latest album, Trinity Lane. With raw, heartfelt lyrics and a delivery as gritty as deep East Nashville, Hiatt had the crowd’s heads nodding along in unison.
I was finally ready to slow down and enjoy some calm after three straight pulse-racing sets. Featuring tender harmonies accompanied by one acoustic guitar, Penny & Sparrow turned the Jackson Terminal into a listening room experience. In a venue with exposed rafters and several hundred (drinking) humans, it was impressive how the duo kept the crowd under their spell, absorbed in each note and word. Between songs, the pair thanked the crowd for their attention, acknowledging that their gentle folk style is not the current musical norm. Prior to ending their set, the duo attempted to have the room add in sound effects to their cover of “The Boxer.” While the audience’s timing was a little off, the effects caught on beyond Penny & Sparrow’s set and were randomly heard the rest of the weekend. I imagine bands scheduled later in the day and on Sunday were puzzled when audience members added in the sounds of a whip and “tasteful moan.”
One of the special features of Rhythm N’ Blooms are the “secret shows,” which give fans a chance to see bands that have already performed their lineup set in a smaller, more intimate setting. I also found that the secret shows proved a lifesaver for missed opportunities. Moving over to local craft brewer and artisan glassware maker (with onsite glassblowing), The Pretentious Beer Company, I finally caught up with Early James & The Latest. After only catching a few songs of the band’s’s main stage set, I was determined to find the group at a secret show. Arriving early for the later Early show (ahem), I recognized faces in the crowd from the band’s prior set—evidence of a quickly expanding fanbase. With a mix of guitar thumping blues and outlaw folk, the duo filled the Beer Company’s patio with toe-tapping tunes.
Back at The Jackson Terminal, I found the king of storytelling, Hayes Carll, already on stage. At a Carll show, the banter is almost as anticipated as the music. Tales are told in a way that you feel like you are part of the story, even if the story isn’t completely true. Alone on stage with only his acoustic guitar, Carll kept the room under his bewitching blend of Americana-country wordsmithing.
Somewhere under layers of coats and beanies, Philadelphia rockers Dr. Dog braved the dropping temperatures as the Rhythm N’ Blooms faithful filtered out of surrounding venues and filled the Cripple Creek Stage. Huddled together, the full festival crowd willed the band through the chill and were rewarded with a set ranging from new works to classics. Proving that the audience was filled with true fans of the band, even a deep cut like “Nellie” turned into a giant sing-along.
Back in the warmth of Boyd’s Jig and Reel, there was time to take in some gentle Americana from Virginia singer-songwriter Dori Freeman. Accompanied by her acoustic guitar and sometimes by brush-stroked drums, other times by banjo, Freeman shared her Appalachian-inspired stories of love, heartache, and longing.
Just like Friday night, Rhythm N’ Blooms kicked into a higher gear as the evening continued. With all the chairs removed, the Jackson Terminal venue was now one big dance floor. The Midnight Merry-Go-Round: One Hit Wonder Edition was led by Knoxville’s electro-pop favorites Hudson K, who were accompanied by rotating guests including The Accidentals, Luthi Music, Thrift Store Cowboys, The Brother Brothers, and many Knoxville artists. The party featured a string of one-hit wonder songs ranging from Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” to Modern English’s “I Melt With You.”
I was able to find one more party still going strong with Nashville’s Luthi Music. With horns, saxophone, keys, and a ton of energy, the band had the crowd packed into the Old City stalwart, Barley’s Pizza. Drawing from influences as diverse as soul, R&B, new wave, and dance, Luthi capped off the night with a fun energy that helped those that wanted to keep going stay moving, while the rest of us could kick back and enjoy the ride. With their funky beat firmly planted in my mind, it was time to head home and prepare for the final day of Rhythm N’ Blooms.
[This coverage was provided by Eo8’s own George Maifair. Stay tuned for coverage from Day 3’s festivities!]