This year, April showers bring The Black Lillies, Brett Dennen, Shovels & Rope and the best roots music has to offer.
This year's Rhythm N' Blooms Festival will take place April 4-6 as produced by Dogwood Arts in partnership with Attack Monkey Productions and presented by Samuel Adams. Music and art will be located throughout the Old City on Friday and Saturday and in the Knoxville Botanical Gardens Sunday.
Six years ago, Dogwood Arts sought to integrate a musical element to the Dogwood Arts Festival. This resulted in changing the original festival's first weekend to Rhythm N' Blooms, and the next year, seeking to transform the festival into a stand-alone, ticketed event. Chyna Brackeen, president of Attack Monkey Productions and co-producer of Rhythm N' Blooms, was brought in to handle all artist bookings and create a vision for the festival each year.
Once considered an Americana festival, Rhythm N' Blooms adopted the term "roots" to present the diversity in their lineup. From The Wild Feathers' southern rock to Cereus Bright's take on traditional folk music, genres from every corner of the country will be showcased.
"Americana means something different depending where you are in the country," Brackeen said. "Some people think of it as just strictly bluegrass, but if you go to New Orleans, they consider jazz as Americana. We're using the term 'roots' now to be more inclusive."
In her search for the right acts, Brackeen keeps an ever expanding list of musicians she would like to book for the festival.
"We want to show that our local musicians can stand toe-to-toe with bigger, national acts," Brackeen said. "Outside of here, Knoxville isn't really thought to have a great music scene, but it does, and we want to showcase it as a music destination."
This year, the majority of the festival will take place in the Old City. Formerly bouncing across the city from the Tennessee and Bijou Theatres to Barley's, Brackeen sought to play up the atmosphere sometimes neglected in "The Village."
"Knoxville has a ton of great venues all within a few blocks of each other," Brackeen said. "This year, we moved the festival entirely to the Old City because people really liked the vibe there last year. Market Square and Gay Street have been getting all this love lately, which is great, but it's time for the Old City to get a chance."
By putting artists in smaller venues such as Barley's, Boyd's Jig & Reel, Remedy Coffee and the Standard, Benny Smith, WUTK general manager and a committee member for Rhythm N' Blooms, said he believes this allows for more intimate performances and discovery of new music that develops a relationship between the artist and fans that will bring them back to Knoxville.
"It lets people get up close and personal with the acts," Smith said. "If you go somewhere early to get close to a later band you want to see, then that gives you an opportunity to hear music you've never heard before and hopefully end up really liking. Then, that hopefully creates a fan base in Knoxville that will bring the artist back."
While not quite at the size of larger festivals in the region such as Forecastle or Bonnaroo, Rhythm N' Blooms gives Knoxville residents a chance to access acts that play at other festivals for a smaller price.
"I look at it as more similar to Rhythm N' Roots in Bristol," Smith said. "It's cool because you don't have to travel to Louisville or Manchester to go see these acts. Instead, they're five or 10 miles away, so it puts the festival almost in attendees' backyard."
While a local favorite, more than half of Rhythm N' Blooms' attendees are from outside the area, a trend Brackeen said she hopes will continue.
"It has the potential to put us on the map as a musical machine," Brackeen said. "When I moved here 15 years ago, the last word I would have used to describe Knoxville was cool, and now people are seeing that it really is."
The festival has also worked to introduce other changes. Whiskey and moonshine have been added to the usual wine and beer menu and trolleys will be available to transport people from various parking locations across the city. In addition to the artist-led music workshops, this year will also see yoga and rock climbing clinics along with a group bike ride led by cellist Ben Sollee on the Urban Wilderness trails totaling 42 miles.
Rhythm N' Blooms takes place the opening weekend of the Dogwood Arts Festival which Erin Solcum, the marketing manager for Dogwood Arts, said means art is still an important component of the festival despite the addition of musical acts in recent years.
"Our Americana roots music festival spotlights storied songwriters and rich performances from jazz to world-class bluegrass to indie – and everything in between," Solcum said. "We're working together with the hundreds of artists, venues, vendors, volunteers, sponsors and logistical teams to promote and celebrate our region's arts, culture and breathtaking natural beauty to not only our residents, but also our visitors."
Along with art found along the festival grounds, there are also five other art exhibit openings happening throughout Knoxville at the same time. Last year kicked off the first Knox County Schools Guitar Design Contest, which was received with great popularity and will be returning again this year.
"We're also working with many local artists, design firms, architects and visionaries who are helping us transform historic Jackson Avenue and Knoxville Botanical Garden & Arboretum with art installations, signature looks, entrances and warmth," Solcum said.
Always looking toward making the festival bigger and better each year, Brackeen listed Jack White, Willie Nelson and The Black Keys as dream acts to play Rhythm N' Blooms at some point. And Smith?
"Personally, I'd want the Stones," Smith joked. "But if we could get an act like Mumford & Sons or The Avett Brothers to come, then I would know the festival had made it big."