Big Ears Part Two

The festival opened Friday afternoon in the Ann and Steve Bailey Hall in the Knoxville Gallery. The Gallery is part of the World Fair Park, built in 1982. The Park lies between the UTenn campus and downtown Knoxville, and features a domed, mirrored tower.

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Following a surprise set by Kronos with Terry Riley at the festival opening, the shows started for reals. We elected to stick to one stage for the first night. In part because mobility issues preclude my sliding in and out of venues easily mid-set; in part because there were so many favourites playing consecutively in one spot.
The Square Room is a medium-sized performance space in Market Square in Knoxville, at the rear of Café 4, a fine bistro/bar/restaurant. Most buildings in MS date back to 1850s or so, though I could find no info on what this building’s original purpose was. At some point someone put in a purpose-built permanent stage; there is a bar connected to restaurant at front, and very good acoustics (square plastered room). The sound was terrific for all the performances we saw there.
The first show of the evening was Ryley Walker; a 25-year-old up and coming guitarist and singer. His backing band, including guitarist Brian Sulpizio, drummer Frank Rosaly and pianist Ben Boye, rocked out in a kind of rock/folk/proggy style. The set featured a bunch from his now-released Dead Oceans LP ‘Primrose Green’, including the Canterbury-stylee title track; and reached back to his 2014 Tompkins Square debut ‘All Kinds of You’ for lots of 70s-sound goodness. The band sounded like Pentangle, Fairport, and/or CSNY at times, and Walker easily handles the bluegrass and the Fahey/Basho picking. Walker was in the middle of a Midwest tour with Steve Gunn, and you could see the baton being passed between those generations for sure. He has already sold out several dates in an upcoming April-May European tour, so you know he’s one to watch.
The next set featured a personal favourite in a new, intriguing combo. Lutist Josef van Wissem’s records over the last three years have featured film director Jim Jarmusch on electric noise guitar. Van Wissem and Jarmusch, along with drummer Carter Logan, are now recording and performing as SQURL, and rocked out a show that ranged from droney, SUNN-O/Boris psych to shoegazey versions of 60s pop songs, to Metallica-style solos. I was intrigued and pleased to see van Wissem rocking out on electric guitar. A different instrument brings out a very different Josef.
Our final show Friday night was Steve Gunn, with his ‘Way Out’ band. Gunn played mainly new tracks from his 2014 Paradise of Bachelors ‘Way Out Weather’ release. I find this LP, and this collaboration, a bit of a shift for Gunn, away from the longer journey/jams of the past to a tighter, rootsier form of songwriting. I’d hoped to interview him after the show, but it was a bit of a melee, and with my pain, fatigue, and immobility, I gave up trying to connect and went back to the hotel to rest.

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