Singer and songwriter Karen E. Reynolds has deep roots in Fountain City.
The self-described “Fountain City girl” remembers playing at Fountain City Park as a child, and she enjoys the park as an adult today. On top of that, Fountain City Lions Club, which maintains the park and lake, gave Reynolds’ eldest sister Joyce her first pair of eyeglasses.
So she was thrilled when the Fountain City Lions asked her to perform at the next concert in Fountain City Park, set for 6-9 p.m. Friday, July 13. The concert is free. Food vendors will be present, and the club will accept donations for park upkeep and other community projects.
“To be supportive of that organization just feels like paying back to me,” said Reynolds. “This is my hometown, and no place else has ever felt like home.”
Reynolds grew up in a musical family, the youngest of seven kids, on Dutch Valley Road. Her sister and brother made a name for themselves locally as part of the Knoxville musical group Joyce, Jerry and the Jades. Reynolds didn’t think she wanted to be a professional musician when she was growing up.
“In our household, it wasn’t unique to be a musician, but in all honesty I couldn’t have escaped it. It’s in my blood, it’s who I am, and I’ve made it my living for the last 27 years,” she said.
When Reynolds was 7 years old, her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, for her father’s work, but “all I ever wanted to do was come home.” She moved back in 1982, on opening day of the World’s Fair. Today, she lives about a mile and a half from the house where she lived as a child.
Along with performing, she became an expert on songwriting and the music business, teaching at University of Tennessee and Kent State University.
“I’ve always been sort of an educator personality,” she said. “Everything in the arts is a difficult career choice. It’s always going to be an uphill climb. My sister Joyce always believed in helping other artists, so I’ve spent a lot of my career actually working with other artists.”
Reynolds has hosted the local radio program “Writers Block” for 19 years, first on WDVX and later on WFIV, dedicating the show to independent singer/songwriters.
She is also the director of in-school educational outreach for the Frank Brown International Songwriters Festival, using songwriting to teach young people self esteem and coping skills, because “this world is tough enough on adults.” She said she’d like to start the curriculum locally, too.
“I believe it helps them help themselves, gives them skill sets that can help outside the classroom,” she said. “It’s something I’ve worked hard to develop, and I believe it reaches a lot of young people.”
Reynolds describes her style of music as Americana, “kind of the stewpot of the music business.” Her performance is just her and a guitar, and she tries to keep her music original and from the heart.
One song, “Little Itty Bitty East Tennessee Town,” was a co-writing project and originally about Mississippi. Kenny Chesney considered recording the Tennessee version. Reynolds said the song reflects one of the cores of songwriting.
“You hope that the song, not only that you can perform it and it’s something that you’ve written from your heart, but that it’s relatable to enough people to have a life beyond you. That’s the craft of songwriting, truly an art form and a craft. Sometimes you’ve got to separate the business aspect and write something that means something to you,” she said.
Music, she said, is a great connector of people, and that’s what Reynolds hopes to bring to Fountain City Park July 13.
“I want people to come to the park and bring their families and enjoy a day of community,” she said. “We’ve got a lot that separates us. If there’s a common theme in my music, it’s that it connects people. I just wan’t wait. I think it will be a blast.”