Several venues were considered to celebrate last Friday’s release of The Trouble With the Truth, Bear Family’s Arthur Q. Smith CD set, with an accompanying book by Wayne Bledsoe and Bradley Reeves, but only one location seemed truly fitting. The Emporium sits directly across the street from the former Three Feathers tavern, where Smith (real name James Arthur Pritchett) did much of his drinking—while also selling songs to local country musicians. The WNOX studios once sat next to the Emporium, but burned down in the 1970s and is now the site of a courtyard.
Earlier in the day, Tennessee Commissioner of Tourism Development Kevin Triplett showed up to dedicate the Arthur Q. Smith marker, part of the downtown Cradle of Country Music tour, at the corner of Gay and Jackson. Given the history of that end of Gay Street’s 100 block, Reeves, who programmed the event, booked the cozy Black Box Theatre on the Emporium’s bottom floor.
The Black Box ended up being far too small for the 200 or so people who came out to the free event. Folks waited outside the entrance or milled about in the gallery. The Tennessee Stifflegs, who were scheduled for a brief 10-15 minute set later in the evening, agreed to perform on the third floor and give the overflow crowd some entertainment. Following an hour-long program of Smith- and WNOX-related films from TAMIS and a 20-minute set of Chet Atkins tunes, the remainder of the show was moved to the large gallery space outside the theater.
It was the right move. The show continued with Nancy Brennan Strange and Steve Horton performing a few songs by Carl and Pearl Butler. Jesse McReynolds of legendary bluegrass duo Jim and Jesse was scheduled to perform but had to cancel at the last minute. Smith fan Tim Stafford of Grammy-nominated bluegrass band Blue Highway agreed to perform in his place, alongside songwriting partner Bobby Starnes. Honky-tonk rock-and-rollers the Barstool Romeos closed out the evening with an electrified, up-tempo set.
Several of Pritchett’s children and grandchildren were in attendance. Son James Pritchett purchased artist Amy Campbell’s portrait of Arthur Q. Smith, and the beaming extended family posed for a picture with the painting. The entire evening was worth it for that photograph.
Eric Dawson is Audio-Visual Archivist with the Knox County Public Library's Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, and with Inside the Vault combs the archive for nuggets of lost Knoxville music and film history to share with us. He's also a longtime local music journalist, former A&E editor of the Knoxville Voice and a board member of the nonprofit performance venue Pilot Light.
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