Well, it’s been a week since the blockbuster news came out that the Bessie Smith Strut would not be held on MLK Boulevard. The announcement sure opened a can of worms. I was eating lunch last week with several of the Riverbend staff and one of the items of discussion was the need to finish up the 2012 event guide brochure. At that moment, the info for the Strut still contained the MLK location and nobody had any reason to think otherwise. A couple hours later, that all changed.
Unfortunately, Riverbend and Friends of the Festival have taken some pretty tough hits on this matter. The decision came from the City of Chattanooga, not Riverbend. It was never Riverbend’s intention to move the Strut to the Riverfront and make tons of money. It was never about the money. Had it been about the money, Riverbend would not have offered to “donate” the musicians to the venues for a “modified Strut” a week ago. Riverbend would not have offered to close on Monday night during the celebration planned for MLK.
I thought one of the opinion letters to the Chattanoogan.com expressed it best. Curtis A. Smith said, ”If this event belongs to the black community and should be left on MLK Boulevard with no say-so by the city of Chattanooga or the Friends of the Festival, then why is the city of Chattanooga being expected to supply all of the police officers for free? Why do all the Riverbend Festival vendors have to pay a fee to be able to sell their food to help cover the expenses of putting on the event (like security) and the vendors of the Strut pay no fee? How can the vendors of the Strut sell beer out of a cooler on the side of the road without a beer license? If this Bessie Smith Strut belongs to the merchants on MLK, then why do the Friends of the Festival pay to set up the stage for the performers? Why does Friends of the Festival pay to set up the lighting for the stage and surrounding areas? Why does the Friends of the Festival search for, book, and pay for the bands that play on stage? Why does Friends of the Festival and their volunteers have to clean up after the party is over? Why are there no cover charges to help pay for some of these expenses? What would the black community do if the Friends of the Festival simply took the night off and left the merchants on MLK to fend for themselves?
To me it seems that the merchants on MLK and the black community have had 30 years of a free ride and should be grateful for everything that has been given to them year after year after year. This mentality where some people think they “deserve” something or have a “right” to something for free that is paid for by someone else just isn’t based in reality. Somebody has to pay for this stuff.
If you are a merchant on MLK or if you are a leader of the black community, what have you paid to make the Bessie Smith Strut what it is today? What are you willing to pay to keep it? How much work are you willing to do? How many volunteers can you get to work for free to do all the jobs that need to be done? Are you merchants and vendors willing to pay for the entertainment out of the profits you make?
It’s time to step up to the plate. It’s time to take ownership of the Bessie Smith Strut and show us that you really want it to succeed. It’s time to quit expecting someone else to pay for everything and quit expecting someone else to do all the work, especially after all the bad things I have heard said about the city of Chattanooga and the Friends of the Festival this week.”
Well said, Curtis. The other problem I have with the situation is that the decision could have been discussed after last year’s Strut, maybe in June, July, August, September – well you get it. Maybe with some notice, there might have been time to work out a solution with the MLK merchants, black leaders, police, and the city. Also, where does the Sheriff stand on all this? They partner with the Friends of the Festival to provide security, too. My understanding is that Sheriff Hammond was not consulted on this matter, either. One thing is for sure – Riverbend has paid the artists for this year and it appears we will lose out on some fine performances by some really great musicians.
Perhaps we can hold the Strut at AT&T field, home of the Lookouts. The Mayor now says he may buy the ballpark. I can see it now – The Bessie Smith Strut Celebration at Ron Littlefield Park.
I was on vacation this week, so my live music schedules are available on line at the following websites- try http://chattanooganightscope.com, or http://www.chattanoogaentertainers.com. They both have great local music info and schedules. For local info on Country music, try Jim Boles’ site at http://chattacountry.ning.com .
Email Bob Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/davrik2000