Chattanooga’s music and entertainment scene may be smaller than Nashville’s or Austin’s, but it certainly can compete with the best of them in the artists that it hosts every year. For decades, top-of-the-line entertainers have been performing at the city’s most celebrated venues—the Tivoli Theatre and Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium—and you can typically expect a line-up of 10+ big name performers at the Riverbend Festival every summer.
By Katy Mena
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But if you think those are the only venues or institutions working to satiate Chattanooga’s taste for the finest in entertainment, think again. Throughout the year, local private venues regularly welcome musicians of national and international renown in seasonal concert series or ongoing lineups of famous bands.
From Adam and Monica Kinsey accommodating rock/pop/alternative fans with Track 29’s line up, to Dr. Paul and Darlia Conn of Lee University meeting the needs of classical music fans with the Presidential Series, these concerts welcome some of the most revered names in their respective genres.
Who said you have to travel to see a good performance? The best of the best can be seen right here in town.
String Theory at the Hunter Museum
One of the most inspiring places to hear music in downtown Chattanooga is where you would usually go to enjoy traditional art and traveling visual exhibits. In partnership with Lee University, the Hunter Museum of American Art is celebrating the 5th anniversary of its String Theory concert series.
Created by Lee University’s Gloria Chien, associate professor of music, the series features chamber musicians from around the globe in one-hour performances each month during the winter and spring.
But why bring them to an art museum instead of one of the city’s many auditoriums? “The idea of having concerts at the museum is very appealing to me,” said Chien, who often went to concerts at the Gardner Museum when she studied in Boston. “I love the idea of integrating the different art forms and stimulating all the senses.”
Concerts take place in the museum lobby, with majestic views of the Tennessee River and valley in the background. “We often have the gorgeous sunset or the colors of post-thunder storms or the twinkling lights of the riverboat as our backdrop,” Chien says.
But the sound of String Theory is still the star of the series. More than 80 celebrated musicians have been showcased, including current and former artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the president of the Curtis Institute of Music, Grammy Award winners, and Avery Fisher Grant winners.
Since its inception, the average String Theory audience has steadily grown to about 180 per show. In response to the warm welcome, String Theory is expanding its reach. This season will feature the first family concert geared towards children. There will also be collaborations with the CSO and master classes at Lee University.
“We want to expand our demographic and cultivate the next generation of classical music lovers,” says Chien. “We are excited to celebrate our 5th season this year, and we are looking forward to many more to come.”
For tickets and info, visit stringtheorymusic.org or call 423.267.0968.
Presidential Concert Series at Lee University’s Dixon Center
Lee University’s impact on the musical community is not limited to downtown Chattanooga. The school’s music program is recognized as one of the finest in the Southeast.
Lee University president Dr. Paul Conn and his wife Darlia, a pianist and adjunct music professor at Lee, are passionate about sharing the school’s love for music through the Presidential Concert Series.
Now in its 22nd year, the series was born in conjunction with the opening of the Dixon Center, a 500-seat auditorium on Lee’s campus. Originally, the Presidential Concert Series was only intended to be held for one year. But decades later, it’s still thriving. “The series was filling a need in the community, so we just kept doing it,” says Dr. Conn.
The series focuses mainly on chamber music, but jazz artists, pianists, and small theater groups have been known to make appearances every now and then.
Conn says he is proud of what his colleagues have accomplished a few miles down the road—both he and Darlia are huge fans of the CSO and String Theory. However, what is unique about the Presidential Series, Conn says, is its distinct collegiate setting.
“With this series, we provide a level of classical music in the community that has never existed before and wouldn’t exist any other way,” says Conn.
In addition to the Presidential Concert Series, the Lee School of Music also hosts the Squires Recital Series. Held in a 200-seat hall, it brings exquisite music to a more intimate audience.
Lee University students have the benefit of meeting the artists who come to perform in these two series. They even get to take master classes with some of the finest performers in their field of study.
“The artists take great pleasure in playing for the student crowd,” says Dr. Conn. “They enjoy playing the music they love with serious young students.”
For tickets and info, call Kristi Vanoy at 423.614.8243 or visit leeuniversity.edu/pcs.
Patten Performance Series at the UTC Fine Arts Center
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga also embraces the opportunity to fuse the worlds of academia and performing arts through its Patten Performance Series.
Established in 1980 in celebration of the newly constructed UTC Fine Arts Center, the series was originally called the “Dorothy Patten Fine Arts Series” in honor of the Chattanooga performer who appeared in more than 30 Broadway plays.
“The goal is to present an eclectic series of performers,” says Robert Boyer, director of Patten Performances. “We also try to make sure there is an opportunity for students to interact with the performers.”
There are certainly many opportunities for collaboration and learning. The series spans three semesters, and features musical, dance, and theater presentations. The musical portion of the series, comprised of three different acts each season, has an impressive lineup of past performers, including Lady Smith Black Mambazo, the Tokyo String Quartet, and the Vienna Boys Choir. And the community has taken note of the outstanding roster.
“This series has attracted Chattanooga’s movers and shakers from the beginning—the upper crust of Chattanooga, culturally speaking,” says Boyer. “Our musical performances are strongly attended by students, faculty, and veterans who have been coming for 30 years.”
Boyer believes the rising-star quality of the Patten performers keeps audiences coming back for more year after year.
“It’s the kind of talent that will make you say, ‘I saw them when,’” says Boyer, noting performers like Lon Eldridge and the Blind Boys of Alabama. “This is a true performance series, and the direction of the art will lead you where it will. If we stay aware of what’s happening in music, this series will just keep getting better and better.”
For tickets and info, visit utc.edu/fine-arts-center/pattenperformances or call 423.425.4269.
Track 29 on Chattanooga’s Southside
“We simply wanted to see great music come to Chattanooga on a regular basis,” says Kinsey. “The goal was simply to try and connect the correct people who we thought could make that happen.”
Though the pair didn’t originally have their sights set on opening a venue, the demand for great music in Chattanooga made the decision for them. A business plan was written, and the Track 29 concert venue was born.
Formerly an ice skating rink at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the 22,000 square foot space was retrofitted to fit up to 1,700 people. Complete with a movable stage to adjust the size of the room according to the audience, the space is perfect for a wide variety of performers.
Since its inception, the venue has played host to shows by the Black Crowes, Dwight Yoakam, Jack White, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Concerts are usually standing-room only, but past performers, such as Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac fame, have played to a seated crowd.
The response to Track 29 has been so enthusiastic that the venue was named the third most attended club venue in the Southeast by trade publication Pollstar. Adam Kinsey couldn’t be happier.
“We’ve been able to regularly attract customers from much larger cities, such as Atlanta and Nashville,” says Adam. “To put it simply, we’ve been blown away by the demand that Chattanooga has shown for live music.”
For tickets and info, visit track29.co or call 423.521.2929.