Happy Holler is probably my least favorite name for a neighborhood in Knoxville. First off, because it is actually Happy Hollow if you look up the neighborhood's history. That must have just sounded too much like Sleepy Hollow. When you allow a local dialect, that I don't even find until I get outside of the city, the word hollow becomes holler and it sounds way less threatening. I mean, Sleepy Holler doesn't sound scary at all, let's be honest.
This neighborhood in Old North Knoxville used to be bustling in the 1930s into the '50s with grocery stores and electric street cars that brought people from North Knoxville to downtown. One of those old grocery stores, at 1208 N. Central St., was what would later become Relix Variety Theatre, years after White's Grocery Store closed, leaving the space vacant. Eventually, current building owner Daniel Schuh, a local architect and advocate for historical preservation in Knoxville, purchased the space and renovated it to its current state. Evidence Schuh's attempt to balance renovation and preservation are evident when you arrive and still see White Stores in faded chipped paint on the front of the building.
This venue has been covered before by Greg Wood, my nightlife predecessor back in August 2010. At that time the venue was very much new and still a work in progress. After a few years of making enough money to invest back into the space through its operation as a music venue, rental space and art space, Relix has become a great live entertainment venue. Its signature church pews lack a little bit in terms of seating (they just seem less convenient then seats) but are something everyone remembers when visiting the venue. The kitchen is now fully functional and open, which was not the case back in 2010.
On the night I arrived, Relix was having an All-Star Variety show featuring music from Hudson K and HuDost along with acrobatic and performance art from The Wing Project and Biz Cirque. I walked up the street past a recent bar I had reviewed (Central Flats and Taps) and entered the front door at Relix. A large canvas/tarp shielded a view of the stage even after entering the building. As I entered the room I was immediately intrigued as HuDost was playing some tribal piece while a girl spun while hanging from a large silver ring attached to ropes tied to the rafters. I made my way to the bar and noticed another improvement since even my own last visit to the venue: liquor. Previously the bar only served beer. The sound and lighting system was upgraded from my previous visit as well. One of the things that makes the venue unique as well is that Daniel built mobile stage platforms in dimensions that can be arranged all around the room, changing the overall capacity and layout of the venue almost entirely, so as to customize it for each event.
The crowd watched attentively from their churchy seating, as well as standing at the bar and throughout the room due to the amount of folks who came out to see the show. Girls twisted up and down as the music momentarily became Arabic. The sound man had apparently been stricken with the flu or some type of sickness but was weathering it and making the best of his dulled senses. There was a point where the singer from HuDost had a mini-meltdown because the sound she was hearing through the monitors on a sample loop vocal song was not to her liking. She nearly abandoned the song but came right back to it after some crowd encouragement. Hudson K took the stage as I finished my last beer. As always, they put on a great show. Before I had visited the venue this time around, I had already heard of a new comedy spot opening up with a supposed opening date of May 19; however, I attempted to contact the promoter several times to no avail. When I asked Daniel about The Laugh Trap, he also knew very little. Other than that the venue has a Monster Brawl presented by Knoxville Horror Film Fest on Friday May 4. This apparently will feature people wrestling dressed like monsters then some old monster movies. Nice. Keep it weird, Relix. Keep it weird.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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