Chattanooga has repeatedly been recognized on a national level as one of the top places to live and visit in the country. Many factors contribute to this, like the city’s great outdoors and enviable economic progress. But another factor in particular has started to leave its lively mark on what makes the Scenic City so desirable: the entertainment scene.
Sandwiched between Nashville and Atlanta, Chattanooga has landed on the map for major acts to perform. With the introduction of trendy venues and new companies managing existing spaces, the city’s entertainment options are skyrocketing. Chattanooga offers five 500-plus-capacity venues that proactively seek out the best talent to perform in our hometown. Here’s what these great entertainment venues are bringing to our community today and what their leaders say we have to look forward to in the future.
A Beast of a Stage
Located on the campus of the historic Chattanooga Choo Choo, Track 29 has become a staple for entertainment in the Scenic City. The popular space is a beast of a stage, says Monica Kinsey, general manager and co-owner of Track 29 and the Revelry Room. She and her husband, Choo Choo president Adam Kinsey, opened Track 29’s doors to the public on September 1, 2011. Drawing in more than 100,000 patrons per year, the 22,000-square-foot venue hosts well-known bands and acts like Jack White, The Flaming Lips, Grace Potter, and The Avett Brothers.
“We selfishly and unapologetically went into this for our own love of music,” Monica Kinsey says of their efforts to open Track 29.
The two used to travel to see concerts and began to wonder why people passed up Chattanooga as a place to hear good music. There were clubs in town, like Rhythm and Brews and JJ’s Bohemia, and then there were more traditional performance halls like theTivoli. But there was nothing in between to accommodate established artists in a club-like atmosphere.
As a result, the Kinseys came up with Track 29 to fill Chattanooga’s venue gap. The capacity is similar to that of the Tivoli – approximately 1,800 people. But Track 29 differs in that it is a standing room with a full bar.
It was the missing link in Chattanooga’s music scene, Kinsey says of Track 29. When she and her husband opened the fun, industrial space they thought it would draw in a local and regional crowd. As it turned out, people from all over the nation started coming to check out the hit venue in the heart of downtown, which offers a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system.
Knoxville-based AC Entertainment handles the programming for Track 29, with the goal of providing an exceptional concert experience to every guest and act. In 54 months of being open, the club has sold out 52 shows. It was recently announced that Track 29 would be moving to the Centennial Theater – a venue closer to the Choo Choo’s entrance. Kinsey expects the relocation to take place by next fall. She says the new space will hold about the same amount of people but be a more intimate experience that can let Track 29 host certain acts it couldn’t accommodate in the past.
An Iconic Staple in the Works
To complement Track 29, the Kinseys opened the Revelry Room in September 2015 – a vintage-themed, eclectic music venue on the Choo Choo’s campus. Whereas Track 29 is a watch-the-show-then-leave type of establishment, the 500-seat Revelry Room serves as a hangout both before and after shows.
“It’s a different animal than Track,” Kinsey says.
The venue, which books artists through AC Entertainment, opened the same weekend the popular Rhythm and Brews closed. Mike Dougher, former manager of Rhythm and Brews since it was established in 1999, moved over to work as music buyer along with Kinsey for the Revelry Room, a way to keep current with the emerging entertainment district on the Southside.
Along with smaller acts, Revelry aims to bring in more local and regional artists and allow for more of a walk-up crowd. The space forecasts at least 200 shows a year – more than doubling the annual number of acts at Track 29. A bar next to the venue called Hush Lounge, expected to open this spring, will open nightly. According to Kinsey, Hush is more formal with a white marble bar to complement Revelry’s edgier vibe. A roll-up door between the two will lift to make one space on show nights.
The hope for the Revelry Room is that it will become an iconic staple on the Southside. Kinsey says the business she’s in works to create an experience, and that going to a show in Chattanooga is still a very attainable and personal activity. Because the talent pool of creative artists in Chattanooga is incredible, Kinsey wants the Revelry Room to be the stage that showcases local talent in a fun and exciting light.
Breathing New Life into the Classics
Known as the “Jewel of the South,’’ the Tivoli Theatre opened in 1921 on Broad Street. With its chic Beaux-Arts and movie palace style, the Tivoli stunningly served as Chattanooga’s premier movie and variety theater from the 1920s to the 1940s. With seating for 1,750, the space has since operated as the home of the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera Association, as well as an elegant venue for the Best of Broadway and classical, blues, and country concerts.
In 1973 the Tivoli made the National Register of Historic Places, followed by the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium, which made the list in 1980. Opening in 1924, The Memorial Auditorium served as a living memorial to Hamilton County war veterans in the form of a municipal auditorium and all-purpose exhibition hall. The auditorium has seating for 3,866 and has seen its engaging share of Broadway and theatrical productions, music concerts, comedy shows, and community events.
“Chattanooga will begin to have the kind of music and performances that in the past you may have driven to Atlanta and Nashville to see.”
– Ashley McCue, executive
director of The Tivoli Foundation
On a Bigger Scale
Functioning as a multi-purpose facility since 1982, UTC’s McKenzie Arena’s size surpasses all other venues in town with its ability to serve a concert audience of 10,500. Though it serves primarily as the basketball arena for the UTC Mocs, the mighty space has seen much more than basketballs swishing through hoops. The arena has hosted Disney on Ice, WWE Professional Wrestling, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and mega stars from Elton John to Diana Ross.
According to Obie Webster, executive director of the McKenzie Arena’s entertainment and sports venues, the arena has evolved from being primarily used for basketball to being a place for major acts to shine. Webster says the space impacted the entertainment scene in Chattanooga because it allowed for a much larger audience.
“The ability to allow 10,000 people to see an event is unique by itself,” Webster says.
Entertainment is prime for the Chattanooga area, he says. “It’s an important part of our culture because it gives people something else to do other than go to work and come home. It gives them joy and excitement!”
Hopes for the Future
With fresh venues and new companies managing existing venues, the future of Chattanooga’s entertainment scene looks extremely bright.
According to Ashley Capps, president of AC Entertainment, there’s huge growth potential in the coming years for Chattanooga’s music industry. Capps believes as the city grows and the music market evolves, AC Entertainment will work with more artists, managers, and agents to have them consider Chattanooga in their touring plans.
“It’s a process and will take some time to evolve, and having audiences come out to support the shows is key to that process,” he says. “But we’re very bullish about Chattanooga. It’s a dynamic and exciting city with a lot of entrepreneurial and creative energy.”
The hope is for Chattanooga’s venues to continue to grow and help portray what the Scenic City is all about: a community working together to continually bring about new and exciting changes. And what better way to showcase a city and its people than through its lively and engaging entertainment scene? In the words of Monica Kinsey, “This is a very pivotal time for Chattanooga.” Fortunately, the Scenic City’s entertainment industry is only opening more doors.
“I think the vision and energy in the community is tangible and very much sets the city apart in general. In terms of entertainment, having these venues is a huge asset – and especially that they are all in the downtown area and within walking distance of one another as well the hotels, restaurants, and shops. What has been lacking is someone to really nurture and develop the entertainment and cultural offerings in the community, but that’s the opportunity – and it’s an opportunity that really excites us at AC Entertainment. It’s what we do. It feels that all of the pieces are coming together in Chattanooga to make it possible for us to help and be successful in building an active and thriving cultural scene.”
–Ashley Capps, president
of AC Entertainment