Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley - Tennessee's "Other" Music Capital?
Knoxville/Oak Ridge, Tenn. – A local renaissance in classical, opera, jazz and folk music supports the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley® claim as “Tennessee’s Other Music Capital.”
Knoxville has become hip, and that’s good news for the region’s quality of life and for the economic development community’s efforts to recruit new businesses and retain young professionals and recent college grads.
The area’s music scene has “never been stronger and more vital than it is today,” according to Ashley Capps, whose Knoxville-based AC Entertainment organizes a popular Sundown in the City series, the enormous Bonnaroo Festival and the Knoxville “Big Ears” Festival, which Rolling Stone calls “arguably the classiest, most diverse festival in the country.”
Capps also brings big name acts to Knoxville’s Bijou Theatre and to the newly-refurbished Tennessee Theatre, a 1920s-era venue that serves as home to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Knoxville Opera and a year-round series of top musical acts.
The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, now celebrating its 75th season, produces popular chamber music concerts and a masterwork series with world class soloists. The orchestra has reinvigorated its young people’s concerts, offers an extensive youth orchestra program that rivals much larger cities, and conducts an active musical outreach in which symphony musicians visit schools, libraries and hospitals.
Arts in the Innovation Valley got a major boost recently with the opening of the Clayton Center for the Arts on the campus of nearby Maryville College, and Oak Ridge, long a culturally active community, has the Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra, Oak Ridge Chorus, a chamber concert series and a new youth symphony.
Meanwhile, opera in the Innovation Valley has gained new – and often younger -- fans in recent years through the Knoxville Opera’s series and its Rossini Festival every April, and through the University of Tennessee (UT) opera theatre and the Knoxville Opera Studio, which is a cooperative effort between the university and opera company.
The university is a major player in virtually every aspect of the region’s musical scene through its award-winning WUOT FM radio station, which broadcasts UT Orchestra and Knoxville Symphony performances as well as locally produced jazz, opera and folk programs.
UT also anchors a lively local jazz scene. Internationally known performer-professors in the university’s jazz program such as pianist Donald Brown, drummer Keith Brown, bassist Rusty Holloway and newly arrived sax player Gregory Tardy perform locally nearly every week. They also attract top music students, many of whom form their own groups heard at restaurants and clubs throughout the area.
Meanwhile, the 17-piece Knoxville Jazz Orchestra features many of the region’s top professional performers. The group tours Europe and has four critically acclaimed recordings.
As one seasoned jazz musician put it, “I get more gigs here than there than in Atlanta.”
Traditional music thrives, too.
East Tennessee has always been a hotbed of Appalachian culture. Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Roy Acuff and many other local folk and country music artists got their starts on the stage of the Tennessee Theatre. Much of the live folk, country and blues scene now centers around public-supported WDVX radio, which broadcasts and webcasts live “Blue Plate Special” concerts from the downtown Knoxville Visitors Center at noon every weekday. And for the past 40 years, the non-profit Jubilee Community Arts group has sponsored weekly concerts and dances at the Laurel Theatre near the UT campus.
Live music has helped energize downtown development and build Knoxville’s reputation as an interesting and affordable place to live.
“The music scene has made living downtown a much more exciting choice,” says UT voice professor and Metropolitan Opera bass Andrew Wentzel.