(photo: Xinyi Tang)

The frozen air immediately slapped me in the face as I stepped out of the car into Old City, Knoxville on my way to Rhythm N’ Blooms. In the same vein, watching the groups of festival goers walking around the neighborhood I wondered what conditions in the world would permit so many people to leave the comforts of their home to fare this kind of tortuous weather. I’ve always been fascinated by the culture of festivals. My fondest music memories as a teen involved violently moshing to the likes of post-hardcore bands Counterparts and Dance Gavin Dance. The collective being near-death experience that I shared with the concert goers gave me an emotional outlet; more importantly, being at hardcore shows gave me a sense of belonging in a community who also found value in these types of experiences. This near-death feeling — the screaming, fist throwing, violent thrashing — became a part of my conception of “a fun concert-going experience.” So needless to say, a festival that seeks to honor the identity and spirit of East Tennessee feel a little out of my traditional conception of “a fun concert-going experience.” However, after a weekend of exploring this new conception of “fun,” I quickly discovered the quirks of this intimate festival. Here is a list of rad things I encountered during my time at Rhythm N’ Blooms:

(photo: Xinyi Tang)
  1. The venue, consisting of various local bars and restaurants in the local area, with a main stage underneath a giant highways bridge (slightly grungy and I’m not mad about it)
  2. The Knoxville-native business and festival venue called Pretentious Beer Company that produces craft beer, soda, and kombucha in hand-blown glassware – the small, intimate The Young Fables show brought to you by speakers supported by kegs, the smell of beer and warm coffee, and the man with unwavering will to give every listener at the venue a free beer koozie.
  3. The soulful rendition of Prince’s Purple Rain by the amazingly enthusiastic crowd and The Young Fables, the crowd collectively swinging side to side, up and down in perfect harmony
  4. The horn and saxophone trio accompanying DK the Drummer (former member of Mutemath) as they covered EDM artist Sam Gellaitry and hip-hop legends Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West
  5. The small group of festival goers who decided to start a dance party with DK the Drummer (don’t worry, he had a disco ball helmet on)
  6. The Broadcast vocalist’s candidness in response to her break during the band’s set: “I’m not going to try to do the rockstar thing and pretend that everything is okay with it’s not”
  7. The diverse talent in The Broadcast’s band who held their own in response to the departure of their vocalist — insane instrumentals made possible through solos by the guitarist the keyboardist paired soulfully with the drummer (s/o to traditional grip drummers!!)
  8. The collective, warm cheer that The Broadcast’s vocalist received as she emerged from backstage – beer in her hand
  9. The hauntingly beautiful note high note in her performance afterwards which garnered the same response
    1. (photo: Xinyi Tang)
  10. The perfectly positioned Enos under the highway bridge where my friend and I sat, people watching and with music from the stage playing softly in the background
  11. The “look at the young John Mayer, the next Van Halen,” said by guitarist of Art Smashes Records to the little boy who brought his electric guitar to festival. (s/o to your parents for being so cool) (he was approached by folk artist Danny Donato and was asked to perform on stage)
  12. The fact that there was a giant mural being painted live the entire time that the festival was happening
  13. The dancing soccer moms and dads – no explanation necessary (if you fall into this category and are reading this, you are awesome)
(photo: Xinyi Tang)

It is with my experience at RnB that I truly began to understand the essence of why I found hardcore shows so fun in the first place. Once I removed the intense thrashing, emotional lyricism, and face-melting breakdowns, the thing I truly yearned for through music lay in the connectedness I had with the artists and those around me. The Knoxville tradition of candidness, soul, and companionship shine through in their careful selection of artists, venues, and décor. There something about singing a song in unison with another human in the same space can make you feel full. In times of extreme cold, it may see counterintuitive for any sane human to choose (let alone pay), to stand outside for 3 days. However, I think I’ve come to the realization that perhaps Knoxville native and non-native festival goers — in unobtrusive opposition to the intuitive — sought refuge from the frigid temperature by embracing the coldness, bringing to light a new, exciting, and inviting sense of warmth.

Rating: 240 bopping soccer moms / 52 microbrews, would do again.