5 Really Interesting Knoxvillians 2015

In Cover Stories by Team Effortleave a COMMENT

Here are some of the most colorful personalities we met in 2015.

See Also: 2015 Year in Review—Well, Most of It

RANDY BOYDMatthew Foltz-Gray
Randy Boyd

Consider the life of Knoxville business man Randy Boyd. But do so carefully, because there’s an awful lot to assimilate.

Boyd is an animal-loving multi-millionaire business magnate philanthropist who, by the way, owns a minor league baseball team, climbs mountains, runs marathons, and works for the governor. In discussing Boyd’s multi-faceted career, it’s easy to start off on one track, switch back onto another, only to wind up smack dab in the middle of some-place-else.

And that’s it, in a nutshell; or at least, as close to a nutshell as one can get in describing something as voluminous and unwieldy as Randy Boyd’s life—the life of a family man, pet parent, amateur athlete, team owner, business mogul, and burgeoning politico.

Did someone say politics? That discussion is unavoidable, given what is now his second role in the Bill Haslam gubernatorial administration. It’s led to speculation that Boyd might harbor political aspirations of his own, that maybe he has an eye on running for governor himself one day.

Boyd rejects the notion that he has any larger political aspirations. Mostly. “First, I’d need one vote, and I would not be able to get it,” he says, chuckling. “My wife would not support me.”

—Mike Gibson, April 2, Vol. 1, #4

Read more: Who Is Randy Boyd? Knoxville’s Least-Known Animal-Loving Multi-Millionaire Business Magnate Philanthropist

DSC0656David Luttrell
John Coykendall

John Coykendall seeks heirloom seeds to preserve from many different sources: childhood friends and seed-saving pen pals, visitors to the Walland, Tenn. Blackberry Farm luxury hotel and restaurant where he works as master gardener, and gardeners from his travels to Austria and Hungary and Romania.

But this time the colorful mix of dried heirloom beans came to him in a paper sack. In his dog’s mouth.

“We were at the farm I own in Bybee, Tenn., about 200 acres near Newport, and I was planting potatoes one March. I looked up and here comes my dog Socks with that bag, trotting down the farm road. It had all different color of cornfield beans—a neighbor probably left them out to plant. Socks never did say where she found them.”

Coykendall planted the beans—of course he did—and still has a large enough supply of Socks Beans to assure their continuation as a bean variety 17 years later.

But that is a mere footnote in his seed-saving career. He has preserved or “grown out” some 500 varieties of heirlooms, the seeds from old-time and open-pollinated varieties that are able to regenerate from their own seeds with each new planting. His focus is Appalachian-region beans, which account for 275 of his saved seed varieties.

He is part of a circle of 13,000 international members of the Iowa-based Seed Savers Exchange (SSE), a group celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. He’s one of the group’s—and the nation’s—most prolific seed savers, yet he’s much more than that in the seed-saving community, says SSE Executive Director John Torgrimson.

“He has often gone in search of the rare varieties that a small group might be saving or sharing—he’s a great proponent of making sure those varieties are not lost,” Torgrimson says. “He understands these varieties were important to someone—or a family, or a clan—as part of their heritage. He has a tremendous reservoir of knowledge, and he’ll share it willingly with anyone. That’s what makes John special. How to save seeds, why to save seeds—he understands it all.”

And though he may look like an ordinary East Tennessee country fellow in his overalls and work boots, Coykendall and his seed-saving peers may have the preservation of the world’s food supply in their dirt-stained, gardening hands.

—Rose Kennedy, April 16, Vol. 1, #4

Read more: John Coykendall, Knoxville’s Seed Savior to the World

Chyna Brackeen OSMFContributed Photo
Chyna Brackeen

The history of the Rhythm N’ Blooms Music Festival—Knoxville’s biggest music fest, and now an unofficial civic marker of the arrival of spring—is dotted with happenstance and luck, both good and bad. In fact, its evolution over the course of six years, from a well-intended roots-music complement to the Dogwood Arts Festival to a stand-alone event expected this year to draw 20,000 people from around the country, parallels pretty closely the career of its creator, Chyna Brackeen—a series of gambles that paid off and bad fortune turned to good, all inspired by unerring instincts and a passion for music.

Brackeen, the owner of Attack Monkey Productions, started Rhythm N’ Blooms in 2010 on a shoestring budget. It was a rocky beginning, with sparse attendance and a headliner stranded across the Atlantic Ocean. But the festival took hold that year and has grown exponentially since, spreading across downtown with an increasingly impressive range of local, regional, and national Americana performers (and rock, pop, soul, R&B, and otherwise uncategorizable acts).

The roots of Rhythm N’ Blooms go back to 2009. After a brief career as an opera singer and a stint at AC Entertainment, Brackeen found herself working at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum in East Knoxville. As soon as she saw the site, she knew she wanted to stage a concert series there.

“The first show I promoted there was Dar Williams,” Brackeen says. “She said to me, ‘You can’t name one plant on this property. I do shows at zoos and gardens and these sorts of places all the time, and usually they’re a total cluster—really nice people, but they don’t know how to produce a concert. You know how to produce a concert, but you don’t know anything about botany. What are you doing? You’re in the wrong line of work.’”

Brackeen followed Williams’ advice—and her own instincts.

—Matthew Everett, April 23, Vol. 1, #5

Read more: Rhythm N’ Blooms 2015: A Brief History of Knoxville’s Biggest Music Festival

Charlotte_Tolley_0473Shawn Poynter
Charlotte Tolley

It’s the first Saturday of May at Market Square, not quite 8:30 a.m. The sunlight is still horizontal and shadows are long. There is an air of not-unpleasant chaos as farmers and food vendors and sundry volunteers hustle to prepare for day one of the 12th year of the Market Square Farmers’ Market. You can smell coffee and breakfast offered by both food trucks and resident restaurants, as well as cut flowers and the tang of fecund dirt and clay still clinging to roots unearthed maybe an hour or two earlier. The market is not even open yet and Market Square and adjacent environs already contain more people than most farm-dwellers are able to be comfortable around.

Welcome to Crazy Town.

“The farmers’ market has just exploded in the last couple years,” says Charlotte Tolley, who along with others helped to conceive the market in 2003. “For the first five years we were begging people to come. The next five years were good, manageable growth. Now it’s just crazy town. We have waiting lists for all of our vendors. We have to be more stringent about everything that we do. And downtown, when we started 12 years ago, no one gave a crap what we did. Most of the buildings were empty.”

Tolley is soft-spoken, thoughtful and articulate, slim and tall yet somehow still diminutive. If she is on the bus or among those in the elevator with you now, you might not notice her. But she gets things done and makes things happen, most often as an orchestrator and collaborator or person who makes sensible suggestions. Thank or blame her for this mob scene.

The MSFM has become so successful today that it’s experiencing the sort of growing pains its originators may have only dreamed of at the market’s start. It now typically hosts over 120 vendors on any given Saturday (plus a smaller number on Wednesdays), drawing thousands of shoppers to the Square and its adjoining streets for a festival of tamales, gourmet dog biscuits, gluten-free baked goods, and homemade ice pops, not to mention street performers, potters, and jewelry designers. But it’s also spurred a mini-industry of local growers and food providers that hearkens to an earlier era in Knoxville’s food history.

—Chris Barrett, May 14, Vol. 1, #10

Read more: Charlotte Tolley Has Made the Market Square Farmers’ Market —and Local Food — Wildly Popular Again

UFC Light Heavyweight Ovince St Preux for Knoxville Mercury Magazine photographed by Tyler OxendineTyler Oxendine
Ovince Saint Preux

On the front lawn of the old Sevier Heights Baptist Church recreation building, nestled off a side road near a Marathon gas station in South Knoxville, is a small black sign for Knoxville Martial Arts Academy. Through the front doors, tagged with pages advertising fights and a KMAA class schedule, a foyer-like room with booths and tables resembling those of a TV-show diner fuses into a basketball court used on the last weekend of every month by an independent church that ministers to the homeless.

The stairwell just before the basketball court leads down to the gym where Ovince Saint Preux, the first Knoxville fighter to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and a dozen professional and amateur fighters train five to six days a week, surrounded by motivational quotes pasted on walls and in picture frames. One sign, a 9-foot tall banner with a superimposed picture of Saint Preux staring blankly forward, hovers over the entrance to the gym: “UFC Superstar Ovince Saint Preux trains at KMAA. Why don’t you?”

“Sometimes I forget about that sign,” Saint Preux says with a laugh. “I’ll be walking around the gym and one or two of the new guys are staring and I’m like, do I know you? And they look at me like I’m crazy.”

Saint Preux, 18-6 as a professional, with a 6-1 UFC record, doesn’t like to think of himself as famous. In fact, the No. 6-ranked light heavyweight fighter in the world, who meets No. 5-ranked Glover Teixeira in Nashville on Aug. 8, chuckles at the word “fame” when it’s used to refer to him.

Still, the upcoming match against Teixeira will be the third time in his last four fights that the 32-year-old Saint Preux headlines a UFC card.

“Right now, people keep telling me I’m living the dream,” Saint Preux says. “And to be quite honest, I am.”

—Brian Canever, July 23, Vol. 1, #20

Read more: MMA Fighter Ovince Saint Preux Prepares for his Biggest Battle Yet

We banded together to make a united effort in the name of fine journalism.

Share this Post