John Cowan performs in Kingsport, TNIt’s been a whirlwind the past several weeks so forgive me as I try to catch up, but I didn’t want to forget to send props out to the folks in Downtown Kingsport for the first “Racks By The Tracks” a couple of weeks ago.

The Downtown Summer Concert series and Twilight Alive takes off this Thursday. Bluegrass on Broad is already under way, but a couple of weeks ago we had a blast with beer and barbecue on a warm Spring day.

On Saturday, May 10th, about 600 people gathered at Kingsport’s old train station and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce for the first annual (we hope) “Racks by The Tracks” Micro-Brew/Barbecue sampler.

Sponsored by Citadel Broadcasting (who did a fine job) and supported by Doug Beaty and Jeff Lane with 12 Bones/Kingsport Grocery, this was a perfect day for a cookout and another chance to spend an afternoon with old friends I haven’t seen in a while and relax with new ones who are making a big difference downtown.

Truth is, I hadn’t planned to go.

I was getting ready for a convention in Las Vegas and had a lot to do that weekend, but late Friday afternoon, Jim Lauderdale cancelled the show as the main entertainment (something about nodes on his vocal cords) and was replaced last minute by John Cowan.

No disappointment here (no disrespect Jim). It wasn’t long ago John came to town and participated in a benefit for Mike Mahaffey when he passed. He’s got a terrific heart and this guy truly has a voice from The Gods. I hate really to gush, but there are few vocalists that bring me to my knees like Cowan.

John was joined by a few other acoustic artists as he walked on stage with red tennis shoes just about the time I got myself settled in a small cup of beer and a barbecue rib from one of over 20 vendors there that day.

Cowan is the former lead vocalist with New Grass Revival. He and his bandmates Bela Fleck, Sam Bush inspired a new generation of acoustic players and played all the way through to a spot on tour with The Grateful Dead – their last concert appear in December of 1989.

Since then, John has tried his hand at bluegrass, acoustic, rock – you name it! And he can sing everything too!

I noted as I got another glass of beer and ribs that we were listening to everything from Gospel to Led Zeppelin, Sinatra to Bluegrass and the little ones danced in the grass before the stage.

Carson Waugh was another reason I made it out to this year’s barbecue. He’s been working with our group at GoTriCities shooting photos around town for Spotted and he’s doing a great job too. He’s beacon among a new generation and he took some great pictures too and I always enjoy hanging with him listening to music.

We got our fill too on beer and bbq – I only wish we had remembered to bring our sun screen.

Growing up in a small town, one of the things you treasure is how often you run into high school mates and events like this take me back decades.

One of my first girlfriends, Tammy Rowland was out with her husband shooting photos of downtown entertainment. We always enjoy catching up and together they seem to enjoy every event that comes up in our city.

Hunter Bradley right at Racks By The Tracks Tammy is a familiar face and I wasn’t so surprised to see her as much as Hunter Bradley. He’s a Central graduate too and together with his brother Steve, we shared years together in Bill Canny’s marching band at Sullivan Central – learning the facts of life and breaking all the rules we could get by with.

It’s worth nothing that I need to remember to thank Bob Lawrence with Citadel. He found out we were running out of beer tickets and comped us several midway through the day. Mucho gracious Bob – I owe you one (or two).

Bob worked with both me and brother at WKPT and is certainly radio legacy here in the Tri-Cities. He’s the current marketing and promotions director for this group of radio stations, but his deep baritone and professional broadcasting style has haunted the airwaves for decades. Together with John Patrick and Jerri George, I’ve got a real respect for these radio personalties who obviously love their work.

Some folks have hinted that the prices were a bit too high for “Racks By The Tracks” @ $25, but when you sample as many drinks and food that we consumed throughout the afternoon, there’s no doubt we got our money’s worth. My favorite barbecue is from a newcomer on the scene with Phil’s Dream Pit and you can’t ever go wrong with 12 Bones. I’m still a local boy at heart when it comes to the microbrew and you can’t beat the Depot Street brew from Jonesborough on a warm day.

One of the great things about the new spirit in downtown Kingsport is the new faces who show anytime there’s a show. There are organizations like the young professional group “Knetic” who bring a large gathering of 30somethings and plenty of new organizations and initiatives from Chamber programs like Clean Kingsport, Fun Fest, many lawyers and several others.

Developers John and Angela Vachon had a good posse at the festival and it was a real pleasure to meet her brother Paul who also writes for the Downtown Kingsport Square blog. He had one of the coolest devices today too as one of his kin crocheted a special hippie pouch he had around his neck to hang on to the little six-ounce beer mug they gave as a tasting glass.

Chamber brass had on shorts and smile today too. Miles Burdine looked like he had already grabbed a tan with the National Guard and Lucy Fleming with Fun Fest seemed mesmerized like myself as Cowan wrapped up his set.

Alan Rau was with his friends later in the afternoon. He’s a new resident and son of David Rau – owner of the Kingsport Times-News. He and several other friends in sunglasses seemed to enjoy the day and it was great to share a lighter side of our city’s new entertainment ethos.

The follow-up in the paper talks about how the organizers were completely satisfied with the turnout. The weather couldn’t have been better and truly if this event grows like I believe it will next year, this inaugural event may have been the best one. Cool temperatures, cool tunes and smiling friends sharing cold beers and barbecue – Priceless.

Next year, the lines may be a little longer.