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Jonesborough distiller, alderman buys Parson’s Table

The Parson’s Table is getting new life.

Jonesborough Alderman and Tennessee Hills Distillery owner Stephen Callahan, along with business partner Scott Andrew, purchased the historic building overlooking downtown Jonesborough for $372,000 with hopes of restoring it to a fine dining restaurant.

Jonathan Roberts / Jonathan Roberts 


“I feel great about it,” Callahan said of the purchase, which he announced at Monday’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting. “It’s something that, since I came to town and put roots down with the distillery — having to look at it for seven years, it’s was a longtime dream of mine to be able to acquire that property and really just keep it in a Jonesborough native’s hands.

“Hopefully we can take it back to its former glory, and do a higher-end restaurant and fine dining experience and keep adding class to Jonesborough,” Callahan continued.

What became the Parson’s Table was initially founded in the 1870s as a church, falling into a state of disrepair in the 1900s before the building was sold in the 1950s. In 1972, International Storytelling Center Founder and former Town Mayor Jimmy Neil Smith bought the property with the goal of turning it into a restaurant, which opened as Widow Brown’s in 1973 before becoming the Parson’s Table sometime later.

In the 1980s, the property was sold again and continued to operate as restaurant until the mid-2000s when it was reborn as an event venue.

Heritage Alliance archives 

Jimmy Neil Smith posing with the Parson's Table sign in this undated photo courtesy of the Heritage Alliance archives. 

In the 2010s, the event venue closed, and the Parson’s Table building has sat vacant since. Andrew said renovations will likely cost more than a million dollars, and that they are seeking grant funding to help cover some of the cost. Callahan said the overall structure of the building is in good shape, though Andrew conceded the inside will need some work.

“It should be a fun project,” Callahan said.

Callahan and Scott said work on the Parson’s Table isn’t likely to begin in earnest until next summer, as they work to complete work on a series of projects along West Walnut Street in Johnson City, including the Tennessee Hills Brewstillery, which is scheduled to open next month in the former JRH Brewing building in Johnson City.

And though the Parson’s Table won’t open to the public for a while, its kitchen will begin operation next week as a prep station for the Brewstillery’s food truck, Tennessee Hills Whiskey Kitchen.

“This really shows our commitment to Jonesborough,” Callahan said. “Even though we’re moving a large part of our company up to Johnson City, we are still in Jonesborough at the distillery and we want to see Jonesborough do good, and revitalizing the Parson’s Table back to its former glory will definitely be a special project for us to take on.”

After COVID forced them online, musicians return to the limelight

In a normal year, the members of the band Scythian would play about 90 shows, which means spending anywhere from 160 to 200 days on the road.

That stopped when the COVID-19 pandemic made it to the United States in March 2020.

All of the band’s shows were canceled on March 14, but Dan Fedoryka, who founded Scythian with his brother Alexander, came up with an idea: They should host a livestream on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I ordered the gear, and luckily I got some before everything sold out,” Fedoryka said.

At the same time, the band was also crowdfunding for its album and needed to raise $7,000 in three days to meet its goal. The results were encouraging. The band’s stream amassed more than 50,000 views, and their fans provided a total of $14,000.

Scythian decided to start “quaranstreams” every two weeks to connect directly with their fans and offer some comfort to people during the outbreak. They also asked festivals and music venues around the country to cross-post their shows on their social media platforms.

The members of Scythian are among a host of musicians across the United States who turned to alternative outlets to connect with audiences and survive the pandemic.

The band will perform a show at the Down Home on Saturday, July 10, as part of the release of its new CD, Roots & Stones. The show will have a limited capacity, and if it sells out, a second show will be added.

Scythian has frequently performed at Bristol’s Rhythm & Roots and has played the Blue Plum Festival twice.

For the first three months of their quaranstreams, the band averaged about 40,000 views per stream, and across more than 30 streams, Scythian accumulated more than 600,000 views. During that time, it survived off Venmo tips and merchandise orders.

“We would take my living room apart, we would move everything out of my living room and we would do a seven-camera shoot with lights, fog, a fog machine and full sound,” Fedoryka said.

The band would also make its own satirical commercials, turning the streams into a variety show.

“We produced a show basically every two weeks,” he said.

Like many other industries, COVID-19 ravaged the music world. Venues permanently closed, and bands hung up their instruments.

Tyrique Shahmir, a Johnson City hip hop artist, was gearing up for a tour before the pandemic and said he was in the middle of signing with a record label.

“Due to COVID and the lack of touring and the lack of traveling I strayed away from that and decided to continue the independent path,” Shahmir said.

Shahmir said he averages 25 to 30 shows a year, but COVID-19 slowed that down.

Shahmir also turned to livestreams during the pandemic.

He performed three streams to maintain contact with his fanbase, employing social media platforms like Facebook, Twitch, YouTube and Instagram.

“It definitely opened my eyes up to how there’s so many different ways and so many different outlets to get your music in front of people,” he said.

During the pandemic, Shahmir was also working on an album, “Eastside Misfit,” that will come out on Aug. 20. He’s releasing an EP, “In Between a Grey Area,” on July 20.

Fedoryka added that it’s still unknown whether many music venues will survive the pandemic. After so many months of isolation and quarantine, he’s hopeful that people will want to find an outlet.

“The margin of error is not very large for these independent music venues and independent musicians,” he said.

The Down Home, he said, is taking lingering fears about COVID-19 seriously and is hosting Scythian’s show at half capacity.

The community that sprung out of the band’s quaranstreams, Fedoryka said, has endured. Now, when the band does its CD release shows, people already know the words to the songs. Attendees know each other from the livestreams and are seeing each other in person for the first time.

“It’s really something unprecedented,” Fedoryka said.

City considers ordinance banning smoking, vaping on public property

They say smoke gets in your eyes.

Before long, it could get into your bank account, too: People caught smoking tobacco or vaping in Johnson City parks may soon face a $50 fine.

On Thursday, city commissioners approved on first reading an ordinance banning the use of tobacco or vapor products in public parks, public playgrounds, public greenways and any public property accessible to youth.

Smoking is already prohibited in parks as a result of city policy, but because it’s not an ordinance, the restrictions are not comprehensively applied and can be difficult to enforce.

Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl said tobacco was originally prohibited in the park system because officials were receiving complaints about parents smoking in the bleachers at sporting events, which would disturb other spectators and their children.

A law passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this year gives local governments the authority to prohibit the use of tobacco products on public property by ordinance. Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill on May 27, and the law becomes effective on July 1.

If commissioners approve the changes on three readings, the ordinance would become effective after July 15.

In March, Kingsport’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen passed a similar ordinance on first reading that prohibits smoking on city-owned playgrounds. It also charges a $50 fine.

Health effects of smoking

Dr. Hadii Mamudu, the director of the Center for Cardiovascular Risks Research at East Tennessee State University, said the United States does a better job than other countries at tamping down on tobacco use.

The smoking rate in the U.S. has decreased from around 45% in the 1950s-70s to about 16% now.

Federal laws passed over the past half-century have played a role in that decline, but Mamudu added that much of that trend is driven by actions taken by local governments.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, smoking can cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease and other deadly ailments. Secondhand smoke carries similar risks, with Mamudu noting that there’s no known level of safe exposure to tobacco smoke.

Cigarette smoking accounts for more than 480,000 deaths per year, and exposure to secondhand smoke contributes to about 41,000 deaths among adults and 400 deaths among infants per year.

Mamudu said the death toll associated with secondhand smoke alone is almost equivalent to the opioid crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 49,850 people died in the U.S. in 2019 of an opioid-involved overdose.

Vaping also has serious health repercussions, Mamudu added. He views tobacco harm on a spectrum.

“Somebody who smokes combustible tobacco products is at a higher risk for negative health outcomes,” Mamudu explained. “The same applies to e-cigarettes, but the level of toxicity is somewhat lesser than the level of toxicity of combustible tobaccos. But that does not mean e-cigarettes are not harmful.”