Old friends hail “Caesar’s Garden!”

The breathtaking view from Caesar and Dorothy Stair’s home on Lyons View Pike.

When Dr. Doug Leahy recently attended an auction at his church, the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, he placed the winning bid on a private tour for 16 people of Dorothy and Caesar Stair III’s beautiful garden.  Of the two of them, Caesar is the gardener. At age 80, he says he still spends at least 10 hours every weekend working on some part of the oasis. I guess that’s why Dorothy calls it “Caesar’s Garden.”
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Partying with the preservationists!

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon presenting Lawrence Eaton with the City of Knoxville Mayor’s Award for his work preserving the Knaffl House on Speedway Circle.

For 50 years now, starting with the Bijou Theatre, Knox Heritage has been working to preserve historic buildings in the Greater Knoxville area. As someone who lives downtown and who is actively involved with the annual Big Ears Festival, I know firsthand what an important activity that has turned out to be.

I have my residence and my office in historic buildings downtown. But, also important for Knoxville’s success, people who DON’T live or work downtown town love the way our city looks because of the history we have preserved.

During the recent Big Ears Festival, which attracted visitors from almost every state and scores of foreign countries, I heard over and over folks commenting on our town’s looks and charm. They were absolutely enchanted.

Last week, Knox Heritage celebrated the latest successes with its annual East Tennessee Preservation Awards. The reception and ceremony, held in The Emporium Center on Gay Street — itself a historic structure — were an upbeat affirmation of Knoxville moving in the right direction by not wiping out our past.

Cheers to the 2024 award winners! Continue reading

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Clarence Brown boosters: big time in the Big Apple

Clarence Brown Artistic Director Ken Martin and supporter Pandy Anderson during a group lunch at Sardi’s.

One of the best things about being a supporter of the University of Tennessee’s Clarence Brown Theatre is going on the annual trip to New York City the staff organizes. About 30 supporters made the trek earlier this month, along with a sizeable group of grad students and faculty members.

 The assemblage saw four Broadway productions selected by Clarence Brown’s artistic director Ken Martin and his team. The day before the trip, the 2024 Tony Award nominations were announced and we were delighted to see that three of those four plays received multiple nominations: The Outsiders (12 nominations); Mother Play (4); and Mary Jane (4). The fourth, the revival of The Wiz on the 50th anniversary of its original production, received a lot of publicity for being noticeably snubbed. Continue reading

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Conductor’s Circle dinner: “Just a thank you.”

Knoxville Symphony Music Director Aram Demirjian welcomes supporters to the Conductor’s Circle dinner this past Sunday night.

As thank yous go, you could do worse than a steak dinner and beautiful music on a Sunday evening. That’s what the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s “Conductor’s Circle” dinner is all about.

“It is literally a thank you,” explained Rachel Ford, the Symphony’s chief executive officer. “There’s no agenda. We want our guests to enjoy a chance to talk to one another and to the musicians, to enjoy good food and some great music. That’s it!”

The Conductor’s Circle dinner was back this past weekend for the first time since it was suspended during the pandemic. The site was Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar located in Turkey Creek. And you didn’t have to eat steak — other options were chicken, fish, or a vegetarian entree. Anyone who donates $5,000 or more to the KSO during a year receives an invitation.

Musicians on Sunday were Edward Pulgar, principal second violin; Kathryn Gawne, principal viola; Sean Claire, violin; and Andy Bryenton, principal cello. The music ranged from classical to popular. It was fun! Continue reading

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Knox Symphony makes good on its “License to Trill”

David and Sandy Martin attended the Knoxville Symphony Ball. And so did a pretty good photobomber, Dr. Ted Tsaltas.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a fancy fundraiser at a swanky country club as much as the next person. But sometimes, let’s be honest, they can get a little stale. That’s why I thought it was refreshing last year when the Knoxville Symphony moved its annual ball from the traditional country club location to a new venue called The Quarry Venue. It turned out to be a blast!

This year, under the direction of Adrian Jay, who was the mastermind behind the event last year as well, the ball was held at the Mill and Mine in Knoxville’s Old City. Again, it was charming — and different.

The theme, “Symphony of Spies: License to Trill,” led to a great series of tunes from James Bond movies played by the Knoxville Symphony, which had a stage and plenty of room to set up. Guest vocalist Morgan James, who flew in from New York for the performance, was fantastic. The weather cooperated for a comfortable outdoor cocktail hour and the decor by All Occasions Party Rentals made for a stunning visual display inside. And, best of all, there was plenty of room to spread the tables out a little more than usual. Continue reading

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Day drinking for a good cause — and hats!

I love polka dots, so I couldn’t resist taking this photo of Allyn Purvis Schwartz, left, and Tasha Blakney enjoying themselves at Hats in Bloom!

The Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum has pretty much cornered the market on the best party in town! Who can beat the beautiful location, a delicious lunch catered by Holly Hambright, champagne, mimosas and Bloody Marys? Oh, and the chance to buy the loveliest and newest hats of the season!

Last Friday for the 11th year, milliner Patricia Frankum filled a tent at the historic East Knoxville garden with scores of unique and stunning hats, donating a portion of the sales proceeds to the non-profit.

And the sellout crowd of more than 200 was positively joyous! From the noise level during the shopping and lunch in the garden’s pretty Dogwood Center, you would have thought these folks had not been to a social occasion in months!

The Botanical Garden is located less than five minutes from downtown Knoxville and encompasses 44 beautiful acres of the former Howell Nurseries. It features walking trails, display gardens, unique and historic horticulture and over two miles of distinctive stone walls and charmingly preserved buildings.

But, let’s look at those hats! Continue reading

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“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

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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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