The Knoxville Opera sings most of its notes in a venue befitting the regality of its material: the Tennessee Theatre. The former movie-house and decades-old stage swathes performers in Spanish-Moorish design, a strikingly blue domed ceiling, burgundy velvet seats, and gold accents. But the opera singers don't keep their voices contained there. Education and outreach programs send them throughout the community, performing at schools, shaking the downtown streets during themed festivals, and aiding local construction companies by shattering old glass buildings.
The Bijou’s origins stretch back through American history, but it didn’t become a theater until relatively recently: 1908. For nearly a century prior to its dramaturgical reinvention, the building was a high-class hotel that housed high-ranking military commanders, influential civic leaders, and even President Andrew Jackson for a spell in 1819. When General Ambrose Burnside took the town of Knoxville during the Civil War, the hotel was converted into a hospital, makeshift war room, and oil-wrestling arena for Generals William Sherman and Phil Sheridan. The latter portion of the 19th century showed the building more favor, and during the lavish 1870s another president—Rutherford B. Hayes—paid call, and delivered a speech from the hotel’s balcony.
The early 1900s saw the hotel’s biggest renovation to date when it was purchased and upgraded by the Auditorium Company. The newly rechristened Bijou Theatre opened to a sellout crowd, and was a major outlet for vaudeville from 1913 to 1926. Hard times began to pile up soon afterward, and the lapsed theater would have been demolished in 1975 were it not for its eleventh-hour listing on the National Historic Record. Since its most recent renovation in 2006, the stage has hosted pop stars and musical blockbusters.
Cirque de Chine assembles acrobatic troupes from China's finest showmen to enthrall all ages with two hours of derring-do. Integrating aerial arts, illusion, and data learned from studying flying squirrels, shows parade a dynamic blend of spectacle onstage, from jar jugglers and dragon dancers to circus artists who dive through hoops 10 feet high. Further thrills include the five flying motorcyclists defying gravity in a 26-foot steel sphere. Admission is valid for any spot at the 1,746-seat Smoky Mountain Palace, assigned upon reserving by phone or sending a robotic butler to the theater.
Now in its 34th season, Sweet Fanny Adams continues to sledgehammer its audience's funny bones with its inimitable blend of Old English music hall, American vaudeville, Monty Python, and Broadway musical. Owners Pat and Don MacPherson have written, produced, and directed more than 30 original, offbeat musical comedies for the theatre, in spite of constant heckling from the two elderly Muppets in the balcony seats. Several of these inspired originals have gone on to play in cities throughout the country, including the musical Tom Jones, which ran for more than two years at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. Ticket holders can choose from any show on the 2010 calendar, including Not Quite a Fairy Tale, a madcap medieval fable. Don't Worry…It's Nothing Serious presents a variety show of comic routines, including screwball magic from the "Great Stupino and Trudy." Closer to the holidays, Sweet Fanny Adams will "tickle your fancy and jingle your bells" with Yuletide Madness, featuring holiday-themed mayhem and merriment that will remind audiences of the Christmas they gifted their uncle with a bottle of port and a nail gun.
A two-day spree of exhibits and performances, this year's Secret City Festival hosts outdoor concerts featuring Village People and Ricky Skaggs. Disco-era icons Village People perform spirited hits such as "Macho Man" and "YMCA," which have instigated more dance-offs than gang violence and British Parliamentary debates combined. Village People follow funky rock n' rollers Dishwater Blonde, a regional act that lays down agreeable grooves.
Oskie's Sports Bar & Grill is known for its live music and cold drinks, but there's another compelling reason to visit: the spot also serves up high-quality nourishment ranging from fresh oysters to gourmet pizzas. Cuban sandwiches, lightly fried frog legs, and loaded burgers also show up on the menu. Smoking is permitted at the bar.