>UT Architecture, Old City, Robinella and Bubble Tea

>The final day of my weekend in Knoxville arrived on Sunday… another morning of sleeping in, more of my daughter’s yummy by-the-cup (pod) coffee, a trip to Target (where we ran into Missy,the daughter of our old next-door-neighbor, Jim Meng, the architect who designed the house we lived in at one time! Missy’s a student at UT now) and delicious veggie sandwiches on 9-grain bread for lunch. Another swim in her apartment complex pool (for me, while she watched football on TV–we know what we like!) and we’re off.

First stop is the University of Tennessee’s College of Architecture and Design (Beth’s a second year grad student) building which, in my opinion, wasn’t photo-worthy on the outside, but oh, my gosh, the inside was awesome. You can’t quite get the overall look of the place from the downstairs level. First I took a picture of just the lobby itself, But then, thinking about Brooks and Dunn’s song, “Put a Girl In It,” I cajoled Beth into being in the shot. Okay, maybe I wasn’t really thinking about the song at the time, but the next day (today) driving home from Memphis listening to their new CD, “Cowboy Town,” when they got to that song, I thought about putting Beth in the picture. Huge leap from architecture to Ronnie Dunn, right? But he’s kinda’ nicely designed, don’t you think?

And here’s one of the art student’s designs that I particularly liked (the skirt)…

But upstairs, check out the view! The professor’s offices are the wings that jut out over the atrium. The studios are along one side of the upstairs. I didn’t take any pictures inside the studio, since quite a few students were busy working on a Sunday afternoon. Or any day of the week. Pretty much 24/7.

Next we headed downtown to Market Square, which has a few cute shops, (I liked one called “Earth to Old City,“) bars and restaurants all around a walking square. Then on to “Old City,” for our final destination, Barley’s Taproom and Pizzaria . We had planned to arrive just ahead of the 8 p.m. show, but got there at 6, so we enjoyed the outdoor patio, some of the best pizza I’ve ever tasted, and a couple of drinks, until the drizzle chased us inside.

Here’s what Barley’s looks like inside. Finally 8 p.m. came, and with it, one of my favorite musicians, Robinella Contreres . Her web site is fun… you can click here and then click on an “ornament” on the tree to hear a sample lyric.

She’s also an artist, and designs her own tee-shirts. With new designs underway, she was selling out old ones for $5 each at the show Sunday night, so of course I grabbed one up. I like the design. (and it’s soft—very important feature)

I already had one of her CDs, “Solace For the Lonely,” and was thrilled when she played the title song at my request. (You can listen to it here .) I got two more CDs at the show, “no saint no prize” and her first CD, “Robinella and the CC String Band.” If you’ve never heard her, I recommend “Solace For the Lonely,”but they’re all great. Her music has been described as Appalachian church music, straight bluegrass, honky-tonk, jazz, blues and more. On Sunday nights Barley’s isn’t crowded, so we sat fairly near the stage where we could actually see her expressions.

During the band’s break, I went to buy tee shirts and CDs, and did the ultimate groupie thing–getting my picture made with Robinella…

and then Robinella said, “Hey, wanna’ go with me down the street to get a bubble tea?” (It was really hard not to look over my shoulder and ask, “me?”….)

So of course I did and off we went to this cool little place called The Knoxville Pearl. It’s a CEREAL BAR! Yes. That’s what they’ve got… rows and rows of cereal. And great retro furniture, like a coffee shop for high school kids or health nuts. Cool atmosphere.

And while we were at the counter waiting on Robinella’s bubble tea (also known as boba tea or pearl tea, because of the tapioca “balls” in the bottom which bubble up) to brew,

she grabbed a Sharpie and autographed my tee shirt (and one for a friend) and we chatted about our lives.

“I’m just an ordinary girl,” she began. “I grew up in Maryville, where I live now with my four-year-old son Cash and my husband.”

She asked what I did and when I mentioned writing of course she wanted to know about that but when I mentioned art she said what medium and then told me about her art, which you can see some of on her web site. She designs her own CD covers, too.

As we walked back to Barley’s, I felt like I had made a new friend. Her voice has star quality, and of course I asked her how much she was touring, making plans for more CDs and all that stuff. “Some folks are pushing me to tour more, and all that, but I really want to spend more time with my family,” she says in her hillbilly accent with her charming, innocent smile.

When we got back to Barley’s and she headed to the stage for the second half of her show, I sat back down at our booth with Beth, who’s a good sport about her aging mother’s embarrassing groupie adventures. I think she’s just grateful that I didn’t get up and dance when Robinella started singing again. I wanted to, but I was a bit intimidated by the professional-looking group who danced nonstop in front of the stage all night.

I didn’t take photos of them (again, trying to keep my groupie-ish and tourist-esqu activities to a minimum for Beth’s sake) doing some quick-stepping moves … not sure what you’d call it… looked like a combination of the Two-Step, the Quick Step and the Jitterbug! It was really fun living vicariously through them…and much safer for my knees!

I’ll leave you with a few of my favorites lines from “Solace For the Lonely”:

Some glad morning when I rise,
See the light and shed this disguise
I’ll become what I envisioned in a far away dream
And I will smile and I will sing…

When I go the last mile of the way
Tired and trembling from life’s long day
Farther along the lonely will see
Nothin but the blood can set you free

Cause there’s power in the blood
And solace for the lonely….

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