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Nena Potter

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Knoxville Festivals: Second Bell Music Festival

Knoxville may be sandwiched between two heavy hitters when it comes to cities known for music (one of them is literally nicknamed Music City and the other is known as the birthplace of country music), but our Scruffy City has been making a name for itself when it comes to being a destination for live music for several years now. 

For as long as I’ve lived in Knoxville (9+ years… shew, time flies y’all!), my calendar has never been lacking for a chance to fill my ears and my soul with good tunes and good vibes. There’s truly no lack of live music experiences in Knoxville with events like Rhythm N’ Blooms and the internationally known Big Ears Festival as well as WDVX’s Ijams Meadow Lark Music Festival, Waynestock, and coming up in 2022, the inaugural Southern Skies Music Festival (with music curated by local fave The Dirty Guv’nahs). Adding to that, and one of my personal favorite fests, is Second Bell Music Festival, now in its third year (or 4th if you count 2020’s virtual Second Bell Sofa Soiree).


What started as BLANKfest in Market Square (and where the aforementioned Dirty Guv’nahs played a free show back in 2015) has morphed into something bigger and more magical than anything I could have ever imagined would be right in my own backyard. Second Bell Music Fest is the self-proclaimed waterfront celebration in South Knoxville that highlights local and regional entertainment communities. This year Rusty Odom, curator of all the Second Bell entertainment and big man on campus with equally big hair, is bringing the heat with a fire lineup that includes alt-blues band Houndmouth, indie rockers Susto and the feel-good vibes from Neil Francis (insert heart eyed emoji here). This year will be the first year the festival is expanding to two days, Friday and Saturday, and takes place at the lovely Suttree Landing Park in South Knoxville.
Fun Fact: The Park is named after Cornelius Suttree, a character in the first novel written by Knoxville author Cormac McCarthy. 

The view from Suttree Landing Park in South Knoxville

a dreamy sunset evening at Suttree Landing Park

Why Is It a Fave Fest??

Not only can you expect a great lineup of music, but this festival does something that I absolutely love and appreciate as an avid festie-goer. Second Bell doesn’t schedule acts against each other in the same time slot. (WHAT?! Mind.Blown.) When you buy a ticket to this festival, it is entirely possible to actually see all the musical artists on the lineup. This is the ONLY music festival to my knowledge that does this. No FOMO, no problem. The folks behind this fest truly appreciate both the music, artists and entertainers, as well as the community they create – and you see that come to life in all aspects of this festival. On top of all that, a portion of proceeds from the event will go to XHunger, a Scarecrow Foundation initiative devoted to eliminating hunger in America.

So, you may be thinking to yourself, “Nena, this sounds great, and it sounds like you’ve been to quite a few festivals in your day. Got any tips?” My friend, I got you.

Tips from your Festie Bestie:


– DO check out the music before you go. It’s always way more fun when you actually know the words to a few songs.

– DON’T skip out on checking out the local acts. My personal pics are Kelsi Walker (who I fell in love with when I saw her sing some of my favorite Dolly Parton covers at Dolly Fest a few months ago), local favorites Thrift Store Cowboys and Good Guy Collective who will knock your proverbial socks off.

– DO spring for the VIP tickets. I would not say this for most festivals but it’s not that expensive and gets you VIP viewing areas. We’re talkin’ multiple tented lounges, private bar access (read: no lines), a Second Bell t-shirt ($20 otherwise) and more!

– DON’T forget about the other bells (😉) and whistles of Second Bell. In addition to having a great lineup of local and regional musical acts, you also have the chance to see a plethora of live standup comedy performers AND go to a dance party. I mean, at my age with these knees I don’t even know if I can handle all of this but you can bet I’m gunna try.

– DO plan on Ubering or PRO-TIP: Park a little farther away (even downtown in a parking garage) and then take a scooter across the river because honestly, and as much as I hate to say it, riding those scooters is a good time and makes me feel like a kid again. Don’t hate.


– And now for the mother in me… DO bring a fan or something to help you stay cool. It’s late August in Tennessee, y’all. It will likely be hotter than a hoochie coochie. (I never thought I would be making an Alan Jackson reference but here we are.) But seriously, stay cool. Drink something other than beer. I’ve done enough years at Bonnaroo to know that nothing will make you more miserable than being hot and dehydrated.

– Last thing since we are living in a new normal these days – if you are planning on attending the late-night dance party, DON’T forget to bring proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 lab conducted within 48 hours of the event. 

Rhythm n Blooms Music Festival in Knoxville 2019

A pre-COVID crowd gathers at a different Knoxville festival (Rhythm n Blooms)

How to Survive Between Festivals:

If you can’t make it out this weekend, fret not – there are so many other great places to find live music all year round! Some of our faves are the historic Tennessee Theatre and the Bijou, as well as the Mill and Mine, Jig and Reel, Barley’s, Pilot Light, Pretentious Beer, Scruffy City and Preservation Pub, etc, etc. All of these fine establishments bring in local, regional and national acts that are diverse, mega-talented and a lot of the time completely freeee! In the meantime, I’ll see you on the waterfront this weekend, yeah? 😉 Cheers!

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