Sep 28 2007
04:44 pm
By: longpauses

From singer/songwriter/artist and former Talking Head, David Byrne:

"At the Holiday Inn in Knoxville, I saw a sign for the historic town center. Thinking it might contain some character and restaurants, we head there in search of dinner. There's no one on the streets -- not metaphorically, but literally not a single soul is out and it's not even 8 o'clock. Eventually, we reach Market Square where we see people sitting at some outdoor seats. There are few restaurants, so we're in luck. They serve me wine in a tiny plastic airplane bottle and we share a nice salad and some salmon. We wonder, where is everyone? Do they come to town to work, some of them, and then go home and stay in at night? Or do they go to restaurants and bars in suburban strip malls?"

That's about right, unfortunately. I wish he'd stopped by on a busier night. More at his site, including his take on Dollywood.

Pickens's picture


Must've not been here the same time this was written for Frommer's travel guide:

Why Are They So Happy in Knoxville, TN?
By Jamie Ehrlich

Maybe there's something in the water of the Tennessee River. Wherever you go in Knoxville, Tennessee, you're bound to encounter people who are visibly, overwhelmingly happy. They're also fiercely proud of their city, and just about the nicest people you'll ever meet. Granted, Knoxvillians have a lot to be happy about: Their town boasts top-notch theater and concerts, a vibrant arts community, unique shops, and eclectic restaurants -- all in a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. The easy access to barbecue and home cooking probably doesn't hurt, either.

full report at:


calloway's picture

not my experience

Maybe it was a period piece and he was chronicling a visit in 1989. I went to Market Square on a Wednesday for the first time in several months for dinner a few weeks ago and was surprised at how many people were out and about .. even had to wait on a table.

R. Neal's picture

That was pretty cool, thanks

That was pretty cool, thanks longpauses. Interesting that nobody recognized him until he got to a bbq joint in Little Rock.

It didn't seem like he was being all that judgmental about Knoxville or Dollywood or Pigeon Forge, just writing what he saw. The whole thing is pretty interesting.

Factchecker's picture

Maybe it just depends on

Maybe it just depends on whether visitors are in sync with what's going on with the Vols. If Mr. Byrne had been here on one of the magical seven Saturdays... he would have really found little to like.

Hammersmith's picture

Nightlife and...

dining are dispersed through out the metropolitan area. And there is somewhat less of it there I suppose. For sure, Knoxville simply does not have much in the way of "downtown" night time goings on. That is that. I guess that is why people are leaving in droves at first opportunity, trying to get by to Atlanta, DC, Detroit, and Chicago. God we will miss them!

mjw's picture

Not yet a 7-day a week town

I would have been curious to know what day of the week he was here. Knoxville doesn't have enough downtown residents to keep the town going every night of the week, although the new theater should improve things. Mostly, though, downtown usage is event-driven with a bump for weekends. I suspect that dining establishments downtown on, say, a nondescript Monday thru Wednesday do most of their evening business right after business hours as some folks eat before they drive home. Also theater-driven business is going to cluster about an hour before the 5/7/9-ish start times for most shows with drop-offs in between.

longpauses's picture

And the Cowboy Junkies too . . .

It's definitely an even-handed account. Byrne's journal is worth bookmarking if you have any interest in him or in the arts, generally. He's a fantastic writer.

Unfortunately, I've seen several shows at the Bijou over the past year when the act has said more or less the same thing from the stage. "Knoxville seems like a pretty interesting town, but where is everybody?" The guitarist from the Cowboy Junkies had a much more positive review, complete with pictures (May 2007):

"We haven’t been to Knoxville since early September of 2001: back in those carefree, pre-colour coded, gel-free days. This town use to be a semi-regular fixture on our tour schedule, but somehow it has slipped off. Judging by the reaction of the audience tonight and the quality of the venue, we will have to make sure that it becomes a regular stop once again. Top notch all around.

"I remember Knoxville as being a slightly run-down, fading city, but there seems to have been an abrupt turn around over the past few years. The downtown core is bustling, there are a lot of restaurants, coffee shops and, the surest sign of modern resurgence, condos. It seems like every fifth building is being converted to condos and, just as importantly, if one reads the graffiti, there seems to be an underground opposition to the resurgence (no doubt the price of real estate and, therefore, rent has skyrocketed). You’ve got to have all strata make a city vibrant."

I just want to know where Byrne went on the Square that serves wine in a plastic bottle.

Somebody's picture

Trio. He's inaccurate in his

Trio. He's inaccurate in his description because most of the little wine bottles I've seen there are glass, but they do indeed have a salmon entree, and serve wine in little bottles.

Knoxville will have fully "made it" when we don't care what a celebrity writes in his journal about us. I feel my interest in Byrne's assessment of us waning already...

Up Goose Creek's picture


I suspect he went to Trio.

It doesn't surprise me that Clinch Ave was dead. Unless exiting or entering one of the Ys, why would anyone be on Clinch at that hour? I wonder if Byrne made it to Gay St.?

Like the Cowboy Junkies, I myself am boggled by the amount of activity compared to 5 years ago.
Less is the new More - Karrie Jacobs

michael kaplan's picture

Interesting comment and

Interesting comment and interesting subject. You need to see Byrne's film True Stories to fully understand what he is saying.

It's the last film I saw at the great Capri on Kingston Pike, and a film I used in my architecture seminar, to the delight of many of my students. I mentioned this to Byrne once, and he laughed.

Ryan Adams made a similar comment about downtown Knoxville at his Bijou show last year. He said he walked and walked and "couldn't find a place to eat eggs at midnight." It's true: where's the close-in Waffle House? I could never figure out why there wasn't one (or even a Dunkin' Donuts) across the bridge on Chapman Highway. Maybe we'll get one within the new South Waterfront Redevelopment Plan ...

Carole Borges's picture

Now we got Faisel's until 3 a.m.

See my other post about this new Market Square eating spot. I can't believe someone hasn't opened an all night Dunkins' around here. It just doesn't seem civilized without one. I guess we'll just have to wait for all the downtown condos to fill-up. There's probably not that much business late at night.

I find at 8 p.m. on the weekends most of the eateries downtown are full and some have long waiting lines. He must have been here on a week night.

SammySkull's picture

where's the close-in Waffle

where's the close-in Waffle House?

Not entirely off topic, but this reminds me of an interchange south of Atlanta, the exit before I-75 and I-675 join together. It's in Stockbridge, but I can't currently think of the road. There are three Waffle Houses within a mile of each other. You can almost see any one from any of the others. Nothing like one WH being too busy and driving 30 seconds to the next to find they are mostly dead.

Pam Strickland's picture


Yeah, there should be an all night diner of some sort. That would be great, and there could probably be a reasonable amount of business. Or maybe a late night, early morning place. There's nothing so wonderful as a good breakfast after a night on the town.

As for downtown activity, when I moved back three years ago there was promise but there still were many pockets of nothing. Now, almost every weeknight there's something going on. Yes, more some night's than others. But in early September I was downtown several nights in one week and there seemed to be lots of folks out, although we did shut down two restaurants two nights in a row because it was 10 p.m.


Pam Strickland

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." ~Kurt Vonnegut

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