Two top-notch — but very different — concerts and an excellent, thought-provoking play reinforced to Alan and me this past weekend what a great and diverse cultural city Knoxville has become.
Hot country singer Keith Urban, winner of dozens of awards including Grammys, Golden Globes and CMT honors, absolutely rocked Thompson-Boling Arena Friday night with an amazing display of virtuoso guitar and piano playing, singing, and affection for his 10,500 or so fans on hand.
Saturday night, folk and pop legend Art Garfunkel turned the Bijou Theatre into a quiet listening room and amazed with his lilting vocals, poetry reading and candid Q&A session with the audience, which was four tickets short of a sellout at the some 750-seat venue.
On Sunday, prior to the disastrous Super Bowl, we attended a matinee performance at Clarence Brown Theatre‘s Carousel Theatre of the post-Civil War play, “The Whipping Man,” about two former slaves who return to the Richmond home of their former master and find his son there gravely wounded. The play is amazing, the acting and sets near perfect, and the subject matter deep and fresh. Because of strong language, it is not recommended for anyone younger than high school age.
I knew Keith Urban would give a good performance when his Light the Fuse tour came to Knoxville. But I didn’t think the 46-year-old Aussie would absolutely tear up the place!
He literally ran all over the huge basketball arena, performing at times from an extra stage set up in the back, going down both sides of the floor shaking hands and giving hugs, even running up the right side seats to about the 20th row where he signed and gave his guitar to a stunned young woman.
In another sweet move, he invited two teenage girls onto the stage and serenaded them after taking selfies with them and autographing a sign they had brought.
I was just so touched by the superstar’s humility and humanity. “I know there are a lot of shows out there and you probably can’t go to all of them that you’d like to see,” he said at one point near the end. “But I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for choosing to come to this one.”
Urban, who also is a panelist on the TV show “American Idol,” repeatedly asked the audience to sing along with him and, although the tickets said video and audio recordings were not allowed, he posed numerous times for fans making videos on their cell phones. Large screen messages invited fans to use hashtags #keithurban and #lightthefuse to post their photos to social media sites. I’ve never seen an entertainer engage more enthusiastically with an audience.
The music came from all the records in his 15-year recording career. My favorites were “You Look Good in My Shirt” and “Raining on Sunday.” Opening acts Dustin Lynch and Little Big Town were great, as well, and the gracious headliner invited them back on stage to collaborate on several songs. Knoxville was the second-to-last stop on the Light the Fuse tour, which concluded the following night in Nashville.
Click here for a link to some great photos of the Knoxville show by News Sentinel photographer Adam Lau.
Click here for a review and photo gallery by The Tennessean of Urban’s show in Nashville the following night.
Art Garfunkel is a monumental artist of our time. The winner of six Grammy Awards and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his role in 1972’s “Carnal Knowledge,” Garfunkel has just gotten his remarkable voice back after a three-year battle with paresis sidelined him.
I feel lucky to have seen him and was truly blown away by his performances of such classics as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Sound of Silence.” However, just to be honest, I found the 72-year-old to be a bit of a prima donna. I guess it’s understandable. But it was more noticeable to Alan and me because of the humility of Keith Urban the prior evening.
Like many older artists who have come through Knoxville, Garfunkel had “Absolutely No Photography” signs posted on all the Bijou doors. To make the point, when a woman on the front row snapped a picture of a friend before Garfunkel even came on stage, an usher came down and told her that if she pulled the camera out again, the whole show would be shut down. (No, it wasn’t me!)
Also, near the end of the show, which started at 8 and concluded at 9:30, Garfunkel complained that the light coming in when folks opened the doors in the back of the theater was distracting to him. My friends at the Bijou said he actually asked them to turn off the lights in the lobby, but they were unable to comply with that request due to safety concerns.
We enjoyed his poems, which were written on the fronts of white envelopes, and the clear, high voice of his 23-year-old son, who was introduced to sing one solo number and also performed an Everly Brothers duet with his father. Garfunkel mentioned that the duo with Knoxville connections had been an important influence on him.
Our friend Martha Boggs, who owns the Bistro restaurant next door, said Garfunkel ordered from her menu — ginger chicken — and had it delivered to him prior to the show.
“THE WHIPPING MAN”
Go see it. You’ll be glad you did. I don’t want to give away too much about it because it does contain some surprises, but you will thank me if you decide to go. Truly, I didn’t think there could be an original take on the Civil War at this point. But, I have to admit, this play provided new insights.
The Clarence Brown Theatre, a professional company housed at the University of Tennessee, is well known for its excellent costumes, scenery and staging. All are superb in “The Whipping Man,” as are actors Daver Morrison, Steve Sherman and Tramell Tillman.
Click here for a review of the play by the News Sentinel’s Amy McRary.
(Photo of Keith Urban came from American Songwriter. Photo of Art Garfunkel came from The Telegraph. Photo of “The Whipping Man” cast came from Clarence Brown Theatre.)
Keith Urban is easier on the eyes, too. Thanks for a great report, Mox!
Katie: When I called him a “hot country singer,” I meant it in every way!
You’ve made me Love Keith Urban even more! Nicole Kidman is one lucky woman.
I encourage all to go see “The Whipping Man” one of CBT best. A first rate production!
I was at the Keith Urban concert (thanks to free tickets from Q100) and I was also touched by the superstar’s humility and humanity. I loved how he let his band members sing solos. The show was just amazing. I also went to see “The Whipping Man” on Saturday night and was very moved. It was a first rate production!
Ellen: I know you enjoy what Knoxville has to offer as much as we do!
So glad you enjoyed our production of “The Whipping Man.” Thanks for posting about it!
Robin: It is fantastic!
I really want to see this play. What a great weekend you had! And, yes, the photo of Keith Urban is smoking hot.
What a fun weekend! John and a friend who came in from Chattanooga went to see Queens of the Stone Age at the Tennessee Theatre on Saturday night, and they said it was phenomenal. The concert goers to either side of them had traveled in from Kentucky and Atlanta for the show and raved about seeing it there. Hope even more folks enjoy coming to Knoxville for shows and concerts in the future — and that those of us who live here, including me, take advantage of more of what’s available to us right here in town!
Agree, Lauren. I heard that show was a total sellout. What a great thing that is for Knoxville!
Maria: Do try to make it to the play. It runs through Feb. 16.
Love our city!
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