Bald Eagle Refugees sail ahead in land-locked Knoxville

PHoto by LISA BETH/Special to
Feeling fleshy: The Bald Eagle Refugees are, from left, Scrappie, Carter, Gary, Glennon and Lee.

PHoto by LISA BETH/Special to Feeling fleshy: The Bald Eagle Refugees are, from left, Scrappie, Carter, Gary, Glennon and Lee.

PHoto by LISA BETH/Special to
Feeling fleshy: The Bald Eagle Refugees are, from left, Scrappie, Carter, Gary, Glennon and Lee.

PHoto by LISA BETH/Special to Feeling fleshy: The Bald Eagle Refugees are, from left, Scrappie, Carter, Gary, Glennon and Lee.

Bald Eagle Refugees

  • Also on the bill: Dr. Manhattan
  • When: 10 p.m. Saturday, March 13
  • Where: Pilot Light, 106 E. Jackson Ave.
  • Admission: $5

Knoxville-based ensemble Bald Eagle Refugees, formerly and occasionally still known as I Need Sleep, is as much a cult as it is a band. Constantly recruiting members to its already sizable roster, the band sells new players and fans on its unconventional music and goals.

As I Need Sleep, the group's membership was divided between Knoxville and Chicago, but for the sake of consistency, the excessive commute was eliminated when the Chi-town faction migrated south to Knoxville. With connections across the United States, the travel-bugged Bald Eagle Refugees have been joined on stage by friends in other states and now have begun importing freelance West Coast members to fill more significant roles. Performing with as many as eight members at a time already, the band looks to continue its expansion, filling its 15-passenger touring van to capacity.

"I'm not exactly sure how we're getting this many people into it," says Glennon (bass, banjo, horns). "These are all people we've played music with in the past, and I thought they could barely tolerate us. Somehow it's working out. There's a certain appeal maybe these days in a smaller, non-coastal town. Everyone talks about Brooklyn or Chicago or Portland, L.A., San Francisco, but I think more people are getting interested in these odd places and second-tier cities that are off the beaten path. I get that sense from talking to people on the road."

"We want to be involved in the Knoxville music scene because we were involved in the Chicago music scene for so long," adds Lee (vocals,keys, drums). "It's different. Here, I think the music community is more tight-knit and willing to work with people and experiment. That's how I've been selling it to our other musician friends who are frustrated in L.A. or frustrated in Portland. I think Knoxville is a good place to be doing crazy stuff right now."

The "crazy stuff" put on by Bald Eagle refugees follows a tropical odyssey. Writing its songs "with the beach in mind," the group performs in swim trunks amid a forest of artificial plant life. The band's aspirations follow suit as it is currently planning a boat tour that will take the Refugees from port to port sharing their on-stage parties with America's oceanside villas and retirement communities. The boat tour will serve as a precursor to the band's dream of ultimately performing on a cruise ship, where the group points out, "Once we get on, they can't really kick us off."

"It's a pretty strange beach we're coming from," Glennon explains. "We tell people there's a beach in Knoxville when we go to other towns, and they believe it. It's not your Jimmy Buffett, although there is a similar bar orientation, and we have some of that Southeastern Asian stuff going on. Imagine a beach strewn with oil drums, land mines, liquor and strange drugs. It's kind of nautical."

"We're planning a boat tour probably within the next year, renting out a boat somewhere in the Gulf," Lee elaborates. "That's ultimately to get some experience, because we want to play on cruise ships. I've been looking into auditioning for some cruises. Basically you've got to put a DVD together and stuff. We might play some weddings, do the boat tour and then we'll be ready for the cruise."

For Bald Eagle Refugees, the venue is never a concern. Whether playing on a boat or someone's garage, the result is the same - debauchery. In addition to the tropical music and visuals, the charismatic act incorporates audience participation and percussion, filling the stage and blurring the lines between show and after party.

"The live aspect is what we've been focusing on in the past year," says Glennon. "It's the aesthetic of it all. Plants and stuff take up half the van. There's almost a sense of danger whenever we play, at least that's what I get from promoters and sound guys. No one knows what's about to happen when we start bringing in our weird gear, including ourselves."

Saturday night Bald Eagle Refugees perform with Dr. Manhattan at Pilot Light. The show is scheduled to kick off at 10 p.m., and admission is $5.

THE HILL'S ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUSIC: Monogold, Jackboots, The Stationary Set and Mother Mange perform a free show at The Hill tonight. The show is slated for 10 p.m.

TWO MINI-DISCS ON THE DANCEFLOOR: Senryu holds its CD release show tonight at Pilot Light. Also on the bill are Katie and the Bass Drums and Lizzie Wright Super Spaceship. The show starts at 10 p.m. and costs $5. Buyers of the new Senryu album will receive a free six-song bonus EP.

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