Knoxville's music scene is notorious for its seasonal and longer-term fluctuations, but presently it seems to be in an upswing. Venues like The Well, with shows seven days a week, have provided an outlet for local bands beyond the confines of the Old City, and out-of-town bands have been passing through with increased frequency. Thanks in part should go to Steven May, who comprises the one-man booking and promotion agency Stay True Music.
Reliability is a rare trait in aspiring entertainers, and as May admits, good promoters are hard to find. Having been raised on local shows, May got his start in promotion casually, helping out friends who were struggling to secure shows. In 2007 he began booking more frequently, and through word of mouth, his reputation has spread. Despite never officially performing in a band himself, May says that his experience with touring bands gives him insight into what acts need from a promoter.
"I've always been an outgoing person, so spreading the word about shows was something I enjoyed," says May of his beginnings. "I went to Warped Tour that summer (2007) to check out random bands and came across a small band — The Riot Before from Richmond, Virginia. After their set we all talked about their upcoming tour and how they wanted to play Tennessee. I really wanted to see them live in Knoxville, so I told them I would set something up even though I had minimal experience. I ended up setting up the show with friends' bands and had a great turnout. All of the bands had a blast and everyone enjoyed the show. With continued support from local and out-of-town bands, I've been able to continue my journey.
"Once you find a promoter who is willing to put on solid shows for touring acts without any issues, they tell their friends. ... I have toured with a few independent bands and have learned the ins and outs of life on the road. You can go from making a little bit of money at a show to having shows cancelled last-minute to promoters disappearing and leaving you without a show or any money. I totally understand how it feels to tour, so knowing I can provide something for these touring acts and receive positive feedback from them really motivates me to make each show as amazing as possible."
When asked whether his booking activities are more of a hobby or a profession, May describes his work under Stay True Music as something in between. He hasn't quit his day job yet but wouldn't mind seeing its continued growth. Currently, Stay True Music is a go-to booker for The Longbranch Saloon and The Well and frequently lands out-of-town gigs for touring locals.
Although not exclusive, Stay True shows have a pattern of lining up pop-punk bills. May says this is no coincidence as he has long been a fan of the genre. It has worked out well, as many of the bands of this style are younger and less acclimated to the business end of the industry. May laments the loss of Knoxville's all-ages venues. Growing up on the angsty shows of Old City Java, May says there is little he can do to influence a resurgence in all-ages shows without a partnering venue but points out that Longbranch hosts these shows on occasion. Overall May's view on the scene is optimistic, noting the swelling of support for local and out-of-town performers.
"Knoxville has an incredible music scene filled with unbelievable talent," May assesses. "The attendance for shows is at its best, and we are pulling bigger independent bands than we ever have. Between Will to Die in the hardcore scene, Your Favorite Hero and On My Honor in the pop-punk, and Lions for the indie scene, Knoxville has a lot of talent. We are really starting to make a name for ourselves here. Knoxville is a great location because it's located in between two major interstates, so it's an easy stop for touring bands, which also pulls out-of-town crowds.
"I just want to continue seeing bigger crowds and pulling bigger bands into Knoxville. One of my favorite shows was a reunion by local band Paper Monsters. We had over 150 people in the upstairs of The Longbranch. Just seeing how happy the bands and the crowd were that night definitely left an impression on me. There's no better feeling than seeing people so excited and happy over something you were able to put together."
Monday night will mark the first Stay True Music Halloween show. With this show at The Well, May demonstrates his aptitude for bringing together balanced lineups of like-minded locals and outsiders from different regions. The show will feature Mixtapes (Cincinnati), The Fake Boys (Lowell, Mass.), We Are the Union (Detroit) and local acts Your Favorite Hero and Bad Ideas (formerly Chokeslam). Music kicks off at 8 p.m. and admission is $7 or $5 with costume.
Stay True Music will present another loaded show at The Well on Saturday, Nov. 10. This bill includes Lions, The Hotshot Freight Train, The Mallet Brothers and The Future Now (Gainesville, Florida).
Marinoween: Friday night Barley's Taproom hosts 90.3's Hondoween. Marina Orchestra opens the show for Shifty and the Headmasters at 10 p.m.
Weensday: The Pilot Light hosts its ever-popular and 12th annual Halloween Masquerade show Wednesday night. The show will feature local performers costumed as the acts they are covering. The show kicks off at 9 p.m. and costs $10.
Stay True Halloween show
With: Mixtapes, The Fake Boys, We Are the Union, Your Favorite Hero and Bad Ideas
When: 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 29
Where: The Well, 4620 Kingston Pike
Cost: $7 or $5 with costume
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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