By Jeff Keeling
Founders Park’s first-ever concert series was such a success that many folks were calling for an encore when “Founders After 5” wrapped up its short run May 29. They’ll get one, as a longer series kicks off Friday, Aug. 21 and runs through Oct. 16.
Most of the bands are already lined up, and they include Fat Cheek Kat, the Red Dirt Revelators, Big Daddy Love, Sam Lewis, the ETSU Bluegrass Band and local products this mountain. The free concerts also offer draft beer for purchase, with proceeds benefiting local non-profits and civic clubs.
“In May it was just a leap of faith to see if people would come out on Friday nights and enjoy the music,” said Dianna Cantler, downtown development manager of the Washington County Economic Development Council. With bands including Dangermuffin and .38 Winchester recruited by Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room owner Teri Dosher, the evening concerts were drawing hundreds when they concluded.
“It was so well-received that people were asking whether we could continue through the summer,” Cantler said.
After early June’s Blue Plum Festival, Cantler got to work trying to give the people what they wanted. The late summer to early fall series will again feature an array of popular bands booked by Dosher, who said the free concerts are complementary and not competitive with local music venues.
“As someone who has discovered so much live music by getting to go to free shows, I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” Dosher said. “It puts these amazing bands in front of a free audience who may not have paid originally, and they get to see them and fall in love with them, so when they go into venues they’ll be more apt to pay money for them.”
She’s expecting that to be the case at her own downtown Johnson City venue this Friday, when Dangermuffin, an eclectic band out of Folly Beach, S.C., returns to the Willow Tree having reached many more local people than before thanks to their Founders After 5 appearance in May.
The fall series commences Aug. 21 with Fat Cheek Kat, whom Dosher describes as a “jazzy, soulful band” from Winston-Salem, N.C. The Red Dirt Revelators, a Hickory, N.C. Outfit will bring a bluesier sound than any of the May acts when they perform Aug. 28. The ETSU Bluegrass Band plays Sept. 4. Sept. 11’s show will feature an as-yet unbooked jazz band.
Sept. 18 will bring Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Big Daddy Love and their “Appalachian Rock” to the amphitheater stage.
East Tennessee State University’s homecoming weekend will feature a popular cover band out of Atlanta, The Breakfast Club. Their Sept. 25 concert will follow the homecoming parade, which precedes the Sept. 26 homecoming game against Emory & Henry College.
Sam Lewis, whom Dosher called “just a huge catch,” is a singer-songwriter out of Nashville who will take the amphitheatre stage Oct. 2. “He’s a wonderful storyteller with his songs,” Dosher said.
Oct. 9 remains an open date, and the series will wrap up with six-piece Johnson City band this mountain. With two full-length CDs and two EP discs of original music under their belts, the band’s blend of rock and folk has brought acclaim around the Southeast, with multiple appearances at the Bristol Rhythm and Roots and Savannah Stopover festivals, among others.
“I think people are going to be really excited about this series,” Dosher said, “especially after the excitement that was generated in May.”
The concert series is supported by sponsors including Yee-Haw Brewing Co./Cherokee Distributing, the Chamber of Commerce serving Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County, TPI Corp., Courtyard by Marriott and the DoubleTree Hotel.