“You can have 2 wives; but you can’t have a double!”

Balance Rock, located in Arches National Park. When our guide, Marsha, said the rock has been there millions of years, I asked her if, at some point, it would fall. Her answer: Absolutely. Yikes!

Alan and I and two close friends, Dawn and Richard Ford, have just returned from our first — and likely last — visit to Utah. I wanted to see the proverbial dark skies there and we chose our timing to coincide with a new moon when we were told we would be able to see the most stars.

Richard, a huge fan of John Wayne and classic Western movies, wanted to see Monument Valley where many iconic scenes were filmed. All four of us had heard great things about Moab and we were fascinated by photos of Arches National Park. So, off we went. We flew into Salt Lake City and drove four hours to Moab for four nights at the highly rated Red Cliffs Lodge.

The trip was filled with absolutely breathtaking vistas. You can’t adequately describe the scenery, it’s so stunningly beautiful. Our star-gazing outing was canceled due to freezing temperatures and cloudy skies, but everything else from the natural world exceeded our high expectations.

The only downers — and the things that made us feel unwelcome and generally hassled — were the draconian liquor laws. Continue reading

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Gwen McKenzie honored by Ethel Beck Society

Knoxville City Council Member Gwen McKenzie was honored last Saturday at the Ethel Beck Society Brunch, a sold-out female-only event hosted by the Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

Council Member Gwen McKenzie, center, with Monica Reed, left, and Cynthia Finch.

McKenzie was the first Black woman to be elected to Knoxville City Council (2019-present) and the first Black female to be Knoxville vice mayor (2019-2021). Even more notably, she was the author of the African American Restoration Resolution, a measure that passed City Council unanimously and designated $100 million to be raised and spent on repairing some of the damage done to African American neighborhoods in the name of urban renewal in Knoxville several decades ago. Continue reading

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The biggest star of the Big Ears Festival? Knoxville.

Steven Matijcio, left, executive director of the Knoxville Museum of Art, and Ashley Capps, founder, artistic and executive director of Big Ears at the opening reception of this year’s festival held at the museum.

The 11th Big Ears festival ended its 4-day run late Sunday and one thing was very clear. Although there were quite a few musical and creative luminaries on the playbill, the biggest star of all was the city of Knoxville.

“I can’t believe all the beautiful venues — all the historic buildings you all have,” said a man from Asheville with whom we shared a drink at Five Thirty Lounge. “We don’t have that.”

Two older guys from Connecticut said the same thing. “Your downtown is just so walkable,” one noted. “It’s great that all the venues are so close together.” These two had flown to Knoxville, booked a room at the Hyatt Place for four days, and ate every meal out. Multiply that by the thousands of visitors who came for the long weekend. (Big Ears has not yet released official attendance numbers for this year, but four-day passes sold out before the festival started.)

Of course, almost everyone commented on the friendliness of the people. Continue reading

Filed under: Downtown, Knoxville, Music | 6 Comments

A joyful smorgasbord of food and music

Nancy Anzalone with a small sampling of the delicious dishes prepared by members of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for “Symphony Soiree.”

I think of the Knoxville Symphony League‘s “Symphony Soiree” every year as an elevated potuck — in both the dinner and the entertainment departments. You never know what you are going to get — but you know it’s going to be good!

The party, one of the League’s “Elegant Dining” series of fundraisers, is held in the community room of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Knoxville. Cost is $85 per person and it’s always a sellout with a waiting list. With good reason.

The Symphony’s musicians — themselves a virtual United Nations due to their wide variety of histories and heritages — prepare the dinner dishes themselves. They also select and perform the musical after-dinner entertainment — and it’s not necessarily classical music. Members of the League are responsible for desserts.

This year, the emcee, KSO percussionist Michael Combs, had each performer tell us a bit about his or her instrument. I was amazed by how complicated some of them are – the harp, in particular. Continue reading

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Even non-scotch drinkers like “Scotch & Strings!”

KSO violinist Sean Claire was a guest — not a performer — at the most recent Scotch & Strings. He’s pictured here with his friend, Mary Knepper.

I have come to really look forward to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra‘s lively little fundraiser called “Scotch & Strings” — even though I’m not a scotch drinker.

A sellout every year, it’s a friendly gathering of 90 folks who throw themselves into the food, whisky and camaraderie of the cozy event held at Boyd’s Jig & Reel in Knoxville’s Old City. And the music — provided this year by the KSO’s principal string quartet — is an eclectic mix of Scottish tunes, Appalachian folk, and classic rock-and-roll narrated by the four players in an approachable, casual manner. And you can’t beat the price — $75 includes tastings of four Scotch whiskies plus a bounteous buffet of Scotch fare.

As for me, I usually give away my scotch tasting tickets to someone who seems to enjoy the beverage and spring for — what else? — Pinot Grigio. Continue reading

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Appalachian neighbors gather to honor Alex Haley

Bear Stephenson, left, a member of the Museum of Appalachia Board of Directors, poses with Bill Haley, the grandson of author Alex Haley, at an event honoring Haley this month.

About 150 Alex Haley fans packed into the cozy banquet hall at the Museum of Appalachia earlier this month to see the late “Roots” author awarded the museum’s “Heroes of Southern Appalachia” honor.

Former Tennessee governor and U.S. senator Lamar Alexander presented the award. The writer’s grandson, Bill Haley, and nephew, Chris Haley, attended and accepted the distinction on their family’s behalf.

“No one told it like Alex did,” Alexander said during his remarks. “Alex Hailey changed the way people of all families talk about Black history. He died relatively young because I think we just used him up!”

Haley is best known for his 1976 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” The book sold more than 15 million copies in seven months and its television adaptation was watched by a record breaking 130 million people. Haley’s work is credited with cultivating a widespread interest in genealogy and an appreciation for African American history. Continue reading

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An evening of excess — in food, wine, and fun!

KMA’s new executive director, Steven Matijcio, with his wife, Anita Hollmann-Matijcio, left, and Natalie Dowling, a KMA board member.

As usual, the annual L’Amour du Vin fundraiser at the Knoxville Museum of Art was over the top this past Saturday. In the food, wine, fun — and noise level — departments.

I guess that’s to be expected. “L’Amour du Vin” is French for “the love of wine,” after all. And everyone in attendance seemed to want to live up to the motto!

The event, in its 21st year, has raised more than $8 million since KMA’s former development director Susan Hyde and some colleagues came up with the concept. The museum hasn’t released its ultimate fundraising results this year, but the “Fund a Cause” section of the auction alone raised $100,000 on Saturday.

That’s the part of most charity auctions when folks who’ve already paid handsomely to attend the event — in this case the lowest price for two tickets was $2,500 — are asked to hold up their paddles and donate even more! Hey, it sure seemed to work!

The featured chef this year was Mitsunobu Nagae, the executive chef and part owner of l’abeille a 48-seat French restaurant at 423 Greenwich Street in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood. It has earned a Michelin One Star designation. Here’s a great story about it. Continue reading

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Beloved manager of downtown theaters retires big!

Longtime Tennessee Theatre and Bijou General Manager Tom Bugg poses with the Tennessee’s executive director, Becky Hancock, at his retirement party earlier this month.

The hardest working man in show business retired earlier this month and, boy, what a party that generated!

Tom Bugg was general manager of both the Bijou and Tennessee Theatres for nearly two decades doing everything from dealing with artists — and their managers — to literally standing on a ladder and changing the letters on the marquee. (That’s what he was doing not too long ago when he fell and broke his arm!)

The sweet farewell event originally was planned to take place at the Bijou Theatre, but so many folks RSVPd to come, that the party was moved to the much larger Tennessee Theatre. More than 600 people came by to wish Bugg the best and share in a little walk down memory lane. Old friends came from as far away as Key West and California for the special night.

Vendors generously donated libations for the celebration: Cherokee Distributing and Eagle Distributing provided beer; TheoLeo gave wine; and bourbon came from Company Distilling. Needless to day, a fun time was had by all! Continue reading

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Great news! “Knoxville” is coming to Knoxville!

A poster for the Clarence Brown Theatre production of “Knoxville: The Musical.”

In a sweet little lunch gathering this past Saturday, Clarence Brown Theatre leadership gave supporters an update on construction on the new Jenny Boyd Carousel Theatre and announced plans for the upcoming theater season.

And that’s where the big news occurred. The play, “Knoxville: The Musical,” which was commissioned by Knoxville’s own lottery winner, Roy Cockrum, will be the season opener this fall.

The play, a moving musical based on the James Agee novel “A Death in the Family” and a subsequent movie, “All the Way Home,” had its debut in Sarasota, Florida, two years ago. Alan and I were on that fantastic trip and Cockrum said at the time that he would like to see the play come to Knoxville and then, hopefully, go on to Broadway. So, this is perhaps the beginning of that dream coming true!

Ken Martin, artistic director of the Clarence Brown Theatre and head of the University of Tennessee’s Department of Theatre, described the play as a powerful examination “of the forces that shape who we are.”

“It’s a sweeping musical, must-see event,” he said. Martin also said the cast has not yet been finalized, but will include “top-level acting talent.” Continue reading

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Painter John Woodrow Kelley returns to Knoxville after 45 years; is this year’s L’Amour du Vin featured artist

Artist John Kelley with Knoxville Museum of Art supporters Susan Farris, left, and Jackie Wilson at the Artist’s Luncheon last week.

Beloved Knoxville artist John Woodrow Kelley, who has been splitting his time between Knoxville and New York for the past 45 years, has finally returned to Knoxville full time and will be the featured artist at next month’s L’Amour du Vin, the largest fundraiser for the Knoxville Museum of Art.

Kelley was the centerpiece last week of the Artist’s Luncheon, a signature part of L’Amour du Vin, at the new location of Bistro by the Tracks in Bearden (in the former location of The Orangery).

“The Knoxville Museum of Art is one of the most important regional museums in America,” Kelley told those at the luncheon. He said that, as a former architecture student, he knows well the work of the late architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, who was commissioned to design the Knoxville Museum of Art. “KMA is one of his best,” Kelley said. The KMA opened in its current building in 1990.

Kelley, a West Knoxville native and Webb School of Knoxville graduate, said that, as a child, he took art classes at the Dulin Gallery of Art, then located at 3100 Kingston Pike and the precursor to the KMA. “Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were spent sitting on those steps overlooking the river and drawing and painting,” Kelley said. Continue reading

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