The city will have a spring music festival after all — a virtual one. Welcome to this Saturday’s Sofa Soirée.
by jesse fox mayshark • March 27, 2020
Rusty Odom has devoted the past 13 years of his life to promoting and cheerleading for the Knoxville music scene, as publisher of the monthly Blank Newspaper and also as producer of a series of progressively more ambitious music festivals featuring local and national talent.
“We thought, you know what, let’s just go ahead and do a festival while we’re waiting.”
But he’s never produced anything quite like the Second Bell Sofa Soirée that he is engineering this Saturday, March 28, featuring 15 to 20 local acts all playing remotely and streamed online. As the name suggests, you can watch it from your couch.
“It’s 100 percent local,” Odom said during a phone interview Thursday. “We want people to see exactly what we’ve got here.”
The festival is slated to run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, on an online platform that Odom was still finalizing yesterday. He said all viewing information along with a final roster of acts will be available on the event’s social media on Facebook and Twitter. It will spotlight short sets submitted by performers from their living rooms, porches, studios and wherever else they happen to be.
Besides musicians, Odom plans to break up the flow with comedians and even a magician performing card tricks. Odom will emcee the event live along with local vocalist and man-about-town Brandon Gibson.
It will be free to watch as long as you have an internet connection. Odom said artists will be able to display links to their Venmo, PayPal or CashApp accounts so viewers can tip them directly. He will also spotlight local businesses that have been supporters of Blank and are struggling with the current coronavirus shutdown.
“All of the money is going straight to the performers, businesses and artists,” Odom said. “Absolutely none of it is going through us. We are not making a penny from this. We just wanted to help out.
“Plus,” he added, “it gives us something to do.”
Missing the Action
Not having something to do has been a major loss in recent weeks for people involved in the local music scene. The entire spring season of festivals and tours has been canceled. (It is hard to remember that this weekend was supposed to be Big Ears.)
“Concerts are a big part of my life, I’m always at the Pilot Light,” said local singer-songwriter Daje, who is on the roster for the Sofa Soirée. “I think it’s affecting a lot of people to not be able to go out and see people perform.”
Daje, who has performed at more traditional festivals like Knoxville’s Rhythm ‘n’ Blooms, said she was happy to take part when Odom approached her. She recorded herself playing solo acoustic guitar and singing on her porch.
She said she was looking forward to seeing the other performances streamed Saturday, many of them by friends she misses.
“It’s the people we know, people that we’re used to seeing at the coffeehouse,” Daje said. “The arts community in Knoxville is so tight-knit that it’ll be cool to see everyone.”
Susan Bauer Lee agrees. She and her husband, Tim, are the two halves of the band Bark, which is also performing. They’ll be doing two songs from last year’s album Terminal Everything and two new songs that have yet to be recorded.
“So many artists had to cancel gigs and stuff like that, we had to cancel gigs,” Lee said. “So hopefully that’ll help some people.”
In the case of Bark, Lee said they’ll be donating any money they receive Saturday to the Service Industry Tips Knoxville website, which directs funds to local bartenders, wait staff and other service workers.
Lee acknowledged that performing at home didn’t feel the same as taking the stage at a local club. “We dimmed the lights, but it still felt weird to us,” she said of their video session. “But we had a good time anyway.”
A Community Effort
The Lees have been involved in organizing a number of local music festivals and celebrations of the local scene, including the annual Waynestock charity concerts. Odom said it was a conversation a few weeks ago with Waynestock’s namesake, music writer Wayne Bledsoe, that prompted the idea of a virtual festival.
Odom has been putting together real-world music festivals for several years, first with three editions of Blank Fest — in partnership with Scott and Bernadette West of Preservation Pub — and for the last two years as producer of Second Bell Music Festival at Suttree Landing on the South Waterfront. He’s currently working on the third iteration, which will expand from one to two nights, Aug. 28-29.
But he didn’t know anything about video streaming.
“I did a bunch of research and tried to figure it out as best I could,” he said. “I realized it was kind of an uphill battle.”
Still, when he put out a call on social media for interest in an online festival, the response overwhelmed him and compelled him to follow through. “My phone just blew up,” he said. “I’ve been on my phone ever since, to be honest.”
Some of those calls led to sponsorships. Cherokee Distributing Company, Sierra Nevada, Blue Sky Insurance, Visit Knoxville and Inside of Knoxville have all contributed.
Odom spends a lot of time at other music festivals when he’s not organizing his own, and he said the current shutdown of local arts and culture scene feels to him like a weather delay at a festival.
“Everybody’s just kind of waiting to get the green light,” he said. “So we thought, you know what, let’s just go ahead and do a festival while we’re waiting.”
Lee said the DIY, everyone-pitch-in nature of the enterprise would give it a community vibe even mediated through video streams.
“It will still feel like Knoxville,” she said. “It will still feel like home.”