Music matters at Troubadour Roadhouse and Performance Hall. A raised stage dominates one end of the rustic dining hall, and a festival-worthy soundboard sits in the middle of the room. The red brick interior walls are lined with framed photos of some of America’s best singer-songwriters: Woody Guthrie, John Prine, Emmylou Harris.
Musicians and business partners Kit Rodgers and Cullen Kehoe are bringing live music, food and drink to 4705 Old Kingston Pike in Bearden. It’s the landmark spot that most recently held the restaurant The Grill at Highlands Row, which closed two years ago. Troubadour fired up its kitchen for a soft opening beginning Jan. 29, serving burgers, Texas brisket and more. On Feb. 5, they’ll begin a regular program of performances at lunch and dinner.
“We want you to know it’s a music venue as soon as you walk in,” Rodgers says.
Music will go from about noon to 2 p.m. and again from 5 p.m. into the night. The mid-day break is to allow opportunities for soundchecks for any touring acts that the venue books. Most performers will be from Knoxville’s deep music scene.
Performers will also be able to sell recordings and other merchandise.
“We want people to show love to the artists,” Rodgers says.
Future plans also include a weekly competitive songwriters night. In this scenario, the evening’s best performers have an opportunity to come back and compete against each other on future dates.
“It’s a way to get the owners’ attention for future bookings,” says Rodgers, who used to play similar nights at Eddie’s Attic near Atlanta. (An early publicity still of Rodgers can be spied near the Troubadour entrance.) “We want to give performers a reason to come in and get better.”
As a singer-songwriter and member of various bands, Rodgers played professionally – and still does – then earned his law degree. He has lightened his case load to pursue this opportunity. Co-owner Kehoe broke into the ranks of Nashville songwriters in his own music career and later worked for the West family with their hospitality properties downtown.
The two have an established radio app, Troubadour Radio, with listeners all over the world, showcasing singer-songwriters and original Americana music. While trying to organize songwriter nights at various venues across town, it occurred to them to create their own. They were originally looking for something smaller, but they couldn’t resist the rich history and great bones of this place.
Originally opened as the Highlands Grill in the 1930s, the spot was a favorite place for musicians on their way from upper East Tennessee and Virginia to Nashville. There were bungalows in the back where players could grab a rest.
“I’m not saying Hank Williams slept here, but he could have,” Rodgers says.
In later years, after a retail shop opened there, a popular jazz lounge operated in the basement. Future plans include bringing a jazz lounge back.
Even before the music starts, buzz about the food has been good. Kehoe is in charge of the menu, which features his own dry rub recipe for Texas brisket. There are also a couple of vegetarian options.
The partners can’t wait for the roomy Troubadour to be filled with crowds enjoying the food, the beer and the music.
“Big ideas need big places,” Rodgers says.