The Bijou Theatre was packed with people in plaid and cowboy boots Saturday night waiting to hear Grammy and Academy Award winning singer/songwriter Ryan Bingham. Americana band honeyhoney opened for Bingham and set the tone for the concert with their set.
"It's a really rewarding thing to say that this is something that I put so much into and now I get to perform and see the energy that everyone gives back," said Ben Jaffe, drummer and vocalist of honeyhoney.
Bingham is best known for his song "The Weary Kind," written with renowned music producer T-Bone Burnett for the film "Crazy Heart." The singer's raspy voice, paired with his skinny jeans and feathered hat, provided Knoxville with some true Americana flavor. His presence in the theater had the audience revved up from the moment he took the stage to after he walked off. Bingham performed several songs from his most recently released album, "Tomorrowland," and other crowd pleasers.
Both Bingham and honeyhoney were full of energy, encouraging the audience to clap their hands and stomp their feet to the upbeat music. Jaffe joked and said that his favorite part of performing is "the free beer," but then went into a little more detail.
"It's like the icing to the cake to all the work that you put in the music," Jaffe said after the performance. "Whether you're an athlete, a performer, whatever, you invest all this time into something that you love and we're really lucky to get to share it in front of a lot of people."
Beer cans littered the floor by the time everyone had found their seats as Bingham was about to take the stage. Two songs into Bingham's set, drunk couples were dancing intimately in front of the stage, interrupted only as a drunken man kissed random girls' hands. This character and the festive setting only added to the experience.
"It was awesome," Emily Currence said, Knoxville resident and fan of Bingham. "I've seen four shows and this was the best one. He involves the entire group and everyone stands up and participates."
The two original members of honeyhoney include Jaffe and Suzanne Santo on lead vocals, banjo and violin. Jaffe and Santo are young musicians who showed off their musical skills as they were constantly picking up different instruments and adding different elements to the music, making it more dynamic and ultimately more enjoyable to listen to.
"My (expletive) gear kept on breaking," Jaffe said after taking a swig of beer and belching. "(The audience) got real excited. It felt like we were working with the crowd. Some shows you're working by yourself and you're trying to get them going but tonight it was a team."
The Bijou Theatre is merely an afterthought when compared to the Tennessee Theatre just a block down Gay Street, but for concerts like Saturday night's, it provided for the perfect location.
"It's a beautiful room, and it's kind of rare that the theatres in this style aren't usually this small so it's kind of intimate with an awesome crowd," Jaffe said. "They were quiet and attentive but also really responsive."
Honeyhoney, although young in age but wise in musical years, still has its tour and managing foundation to be set. While touring with Bingham, though, they felt secure.
"Bingham is the (expletive)," Jaffe said, and afterward apologized for his use of profanity. "The band would help us out during the tour. We slowed down a lot on this tour, as just a three piece and no tour manager, and we're doing all this work ourselves. We need a lot of help, and they just help us out."
As Bingham left the stage amid chants for an encore, the audience got a little more than they expected. Out came a dog and a cake topped with candles, along with a chorus of "the birthday song" all around.
"I didn't know it was his birthday, but that was great and very sweet," Currence said after the show. "Dog plus cake equals awesome. Always."
As the last date of their tour together, Bingham and honeyhoney shared two last songs in the encore wrapping up what was a solid night of Americana/folk music. Jaffe said that the last concert was in a nutshell, bittersweet.
"We love being on the road, but it's brutally hard sometimes. Only sleeping five hours a night, drinking every night, and that's the truth," Jaffe said while seated at the merchandising table. "Working, working, working all the time. It's really grueling physically, but it's such a rewarding feeling mentally and emotionally. It is a bummer, but we need to rest and drink some smoothies and do some yoga."