The Secret City Festival 2016, Tennessee

in Festivals by

During World War II there was a secret so well-kept that many people still do not know about it.

In 1942 the U.S. government chose the site of Oak Ridge, Tennessee to house a uranium producing plant that would be a staple in the Manhattan Project and help build the first atomic bomb. It was a dangerous attempt, and in order for it to work, the entire city would have to keep a secret.

Thanks to the tight lips of the people in the city, the effort was a success. In honour of the dedication of the people of the city and their success, The Secret City Festival is held every year for the past 14 years.

At this point in the game, the two-day festival attracts some big talent and this year that talent was the very versatile and energetic Charlie Daniels Band and opening for him was the Southern Drawl Band on the first night. The second night was the sometimes jam band, sometimes jazzy, but always rock n roll sounds of the Atlanta Rhythm Section, and the fierce rock n roll of Grand Funk Railroad.

First up on the list was Southern Drawl Band. I had never heard of them, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. This is for people who like a little country with their Southern rock.

They worked the stage like seasoned rock stars. I was surprised to find out they only formed in 2012. They have won several awards and have toured extensively. Tonight they opened the show with Rocky Top and performed Whiskey Road off their new CD. They ended the show with a cover of The Allman Brothers Bands hit song, Midnight Rider. After hearing their set, it made sense for them to open for the Charlie Daniels Band.

The entire crowd stood when Charlie Daniels exploded on to stage nearly running to the microphone with his bow drawn ready for a duel. Charlie will be 80 years old this October but you would never know it. He seems ageless and his gray hair is just a sign of his experience in this world.

Charlie Daniels is best known for his cross-over country mega-hit, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, but Charlie’s musical journey stretches far and wide. You cannot box him into one or two musical categories.

He shared stories of his life and told us about being a young man and earning a huge confidence boost when Bob Dylan wanted him to play bass on a few of his albums. It instantly gained him attention and respect in Nashville, Tennessee. He went on to play with Hank Williams, Leonard Cohen, The Marshall Tucker Band, and much more.

He was nostalgic with us several more times and once spoke of his youth in North Carolina. He told us about sitting and listening to the radio with his family and hearing of Pearl Harbor being attacked. All eyes were on him and you could hear a pin drop.

We got to hear a tremendous version of Fire on the Mountain, originally by The Marshal Tucker Band. He paid homage to Johnny Cash by playing Folsom County Blues. The band played Long Haired Country Boy and the crowd couldn’t stop cheering for the first few seconds of the song before they started singing over Charlie.

They treated us jazzy song showcasing all the talent he had on stage with him called Black Ice. He had played for well over an hour and closed the show with The Devil Went Down to Georgia. It seemed he had more energy by the time it was over than he did when he opened, he was explosive! When the song was over the crowd erupted in cheers that lasted minutes.

The second night brought the two phenomenal 70’s bands and a little different crowd. Despite the 90 degrees heat, in an open field with no shade; there was still an enormous turn out to see these bands.

Atlanta Rhythm Section uncorked the night with Champagne Jam to a well-received crowd. The band had a good time on stage; always laughing and cracking up with each other. Founding member and Keyboardist, Dean Daughtry, was still rolling the keys and singing along with the band.

Fans enjoyed hearing I’m not Gonna Let it Bother Me Tonight and Homesick. They performed their well-loved tunes Spooky and So Into You. They closed the show with Imaginary Lover. The crowd really enjoyed the show and cheered for more.

As soon as Grand Funk Railroad was introduced, they had a standing ovation. The members came out one at a time and the fans never stopped cheering. They opened their set with Bottle Rocket.
Animated drummer Don Brewer gave his traditional drum solo and kept the crowd completely hyped up with his infectious energy. The band played the .38 Special tune Second Chance, which was excellent to hear the original voice of Max Carl. Max was flawless and powerful, never missing a note.

Bruce Kulick got a solo in when he shredded The Star Spangled Banner, by the time he was done with the song it was renamed The Guitar Spangled Banner.

As soon as Mel Schacher started hitting the bass licks of Some Kind of Wonderful, everyone stood up, danced, and clapped. And when it was time, you better believe everyone was in character to sing that one part of the song that everyone sings, “can I get a witness”.

They changed the pace for their last song with an acapella intro into I’m Your Captain. Their harmony was spotless. There was second of dead silence in the crowd before they couldn’t contain their selves anymore and began to sing along. The song came in at its normal pace and people used cell phones in replace of lighters and nearly the entire crowds arms were raised, swaying in unison.

The crowd demanded an encore, and as if they knew the crowd would, the band took to their instruments one last time and rocked the stars out of the sky with American Band. Tim Cashion tied everything together and showed us how to rock a keyboard. The crowd was going insane. By the end of the set, it looked like people were going to rush the stage. They begged for more and with regret the band had to say goodbye.

The festival was fun for all. In the day time, there was an acrobatic basketball group called Acrodunk who thrilled everyone with their soaring high flips and slam dunks. There was local talent performing different types of dance and music. There were vendors of all kinds, from elaborate hand-made vases, soap and candle makers, and heritage tracers. There was a WWII re-enactment, “The Battle of Bloody Gulch” with the only live fire German Flak 88 in the U.S. There were science and wildlife educational walk thru vans outside and Oak Ridge History inside. The festival was very patriotic and friendly.

I had heard mixed reviews about ARS and GFR concerts these past few years, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Most notable about the crowd to me was the very heavy presence of children under 15 years old who were completely captivated by the bands. I saw so many children standing next to their parents singing along. I left feeling like I had just seen one amazing show and the crowd agreed with me. They did not just walk down memory lane, they danced the whole way down.