Sitting here in my Tennessee home tonight, with an ice storm having passed through the area today and being on our 3rd consecutive week of snow events that included “Thunder Snow” last week, the mind wanders to happier times when the sun is shining, the temps are warm and the bluegrass bands play late into the weekend nights.
It’s with these thoughts that we bring you this month’s installment of LocalGrass, focusing on one of the best community venues where the bands do indeed play into the night, every Friday night from May to August in downtown Kingsport, TN. The venue, actually a kind of street festival, is one at which all are welcome, there’s no cover, and all you need is your lawn chair. Hailed as an area favorite, the festival is known as Bluegrass on Broad.
Most all great events begin with a visionary, somewhere, thinking that something needs to be done to champion a cause or to promote a particular something. In the case of Bluegrass on Broad, there were actually two visionaries. Area business man, Thomas Keller, had been a former hotdog street vendor in downtown Kingsport, and was now in a brick and mortar business. Keller had been one of the community’s unsung heroes early in his entrepreneurial venture as a street vendor, bringing change to government in the downtown area by bolstering new ordinances to allow street vending.
Keller’s efforts and delectable offerings of New York style hot dogs brought great support to his business venture, and he soon found himself with enough business to support a brick and mortar transition. TK’s Big Dog was born and housed at 160 Broad Street in the heart of downtown Kingsport where it still operates today.
As many folks reading may recognize, life has its own way of bringing events about in what seems like its own time. Keller and his wife were just getting started at the new business when a friend’s 8 year old son had decided to take guitar lessons. Keller was along for the ride when the son was taken to sign up, and decided he’d like to sign up as well. The lessons just happened to be with community music icon, G.C. Matlock.
That first night in January at TK’s Big Dog changed the city history forever, and was the start of one of the largest consecutive weekly running concert series in the south. Being fresh from working with the city on changing city ordinances, Keller was able to approach city government, and obtain the needed permits and secure the backing the series needed.
Matlock had a huge contact list for bands being in the area music arena for many years, and booked the bands for the first season that summer. The 100 people who crowded into TK’s that January night now had a larger home, a stage, sound system, and lots of company. It was an instant success, and has featured some of the best in regional bluegrass bands, as well as national acts through the years, like Bobby Osborne & Rocky Top Express, Marty Raybon, and just last year, the US Navy Band, Country Current.
That humble crowd of 100, has grown to well over 1,000 most Friday nights, and has been as large at 3,000. Keller has truly adapted the series to have a spirit of community support, encouraging special events within the series to benefit American Veterans, The American Cancer Society, local Food Banks, and supports ETSU Pride week during the last show of August, which always ends with a great show from the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Band, which is a part of the Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music Studies program at the University.
The Bluegrass on Broad Concert Series can be heard during it’s summer season as rebroadcast on The LocalGrass Radio Show at www.localgrass.com, via 90.7 FM, WEHC in Emory, VA, and as part of the new Tennessee Saturday Night on www.thisisgreeneville.com.