The Square Room, which has been generating buzz around town for its intimate atmosphere and support of local artists, is a venue that believes in thinking outside of the box when it comes to booking entertainment.
Nestled down a cobbled alley in Market Square, the venue's lit sign, reminiscent of what might have highlighted the entrance to a 1940's night club, hints at the old-school charm awaiting inside.
Dark curtains flank a stage whose grand piano serves as focal point; large linen-clad tables dot the dance floor; a bar offering beer and wine borders the back of the room. A bygone audience of dapper dans and dames, puffing on cigars and pinching cigarette holders between gloved fingers, easily could fit in here.
It is exactly this cozy and nostalgic charm that The Square Room, which shares a mutual building and owner with Café 4, prides itself on.
"One thing that's unique is that it is smaller and intimate," said Kenny Woodhull, director of public shows and ticketed events. "We really strive to create a listening environment. Other small rooms have more of a bar scene, and the music can become second priority."
That's not the case at The Square Room, where the artist on stage is clearly the focus, Woodhull said.
"Some clubs you go to for the night and it's a cool thing, but you wake up in the morning and don't really remember the band you heard," he said. "We want you to wake up in the morning and think, 'Wow, that was one of the best concerts I've ever been to.'"
The range of performances seen on The Square Room's main stage run an impressive array of genres.
"We try to create programming that is consistently excellent and reaches a diverse audience," Woodhull said. "Our audience demographic runs the gamut from UT students, to people in their mid-20s and 30s, to alternative folks, the jazz community and classical enthusiasts. In addition to musical diversity, we've also hosted storytelling and small theater productions.
"We have an eclectic nature to our programming, but the common thread is quality and the listening environment."
For Tyler Anthony, a 2011 psychology grad and lead singer of local band Cereus Bright, that "listening environment" proves beneficial both on and off the stage.
"From the beginning, the mission behind The Square Room really was to facilitate listening," Anthony said. "The art isn't background entertainment. It's about the music when you go there. As a musician, that's really important."
Anthony can attest to this importance first-hand after taking the stage at the Square Room last month.
"We'd been traveling a lot and came back to play The Square Room two weeks ago," he said. "It was so nice to be in a place where you don't have to fight for the audience's attention."
After having experienced the struggles bands often face when trying to take off on the local level, Anthony partnered with The Square Room to find a way to facilitate the careers of his fellow Knoxville artists. On the first Wednesday of every month, the Square Room Showcase will feature up-and-coming local acts.
"When we first started Cereus Bright, we found that the road to grow and develop a local fan base for certain kinds of music was not best served in bars," Anthony said. "Kenny gave us The Square Room as a place to dream. It will be a kind of stepping stone for local bands to play bigger gigs, including at The Square Room."
The venue also seeks to cultivate the local music scene through its weekly Singer-Songwriter Night.
"On Thursdays, we recognize local singer-songwriters through a friendly competition," Woodhull said. "Weekly winners get $50, while monthly winners get $100 and a chance to compete for the $250 Best of Season spot. Whoever is identified as the best will go on to the national competition and the chance to work with music producer Ed Cash."
While listening to local and nationally touring artists alike, audience members at the Square Room can reap the culinary rewards of the venue's unique partnership with Café 4.
"We're not just The Square Room, we're the Square Room in Café 4," said Woodhull. "Because of this, we're able to do so many unique things with food and beverage and offer special combinations of food and entertainment, like our lunches with the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra."
On the first Wednesday of every month, the KJO Jazz Lunch features Vance Thompson leading the jazz orchestra in a Café 4 catered luncheon for the cost of a $15 ticket. This is just one example of the Square Room's commitment to providing a platform for Knoxville's musicians, Anthony said.
"The vibe is incredible and the kinds of bands just keep getting better and better," he said. "In terms of size, it's definitely the best venue in Knoxville. You won't be disappointed."