Chattanooga’s Live Music Scene –Merry Christmas To Those Who Book Talent

Thursday, December 19, 2013 - by Bob Payne
Bob Payne
Bob Payne
- photo by Santa's Helper

Musicians in Chattanooga are really great folks, but another group of people go unheralded, yet provide great service to our community and to musicians. They are the talent bookers, and we are fortunate enough to have some really good ones in town. 

We’ll start with one of the deans of the talent booking world – Mike Dougher, from Rhythm & Brews. For many years now, Mike has booked hundreds, probably thousands of musical acts. He’s got a good ear for music, too. Many of this city’s favorite bands got their big start with Mike Dougher. R & B has played host to many successful bands, including Here Come The Mummies, Richie Havens, Zac Brown, Tony Joe White, and many more. Mike has helped local bands get on the music radar, as well. Local bands feel like they have “made it” when Mike Dougher books them, and they are right. 

Another long-time talent booker has been Carla Pritchard, along with Jonathan Susman, booking talent for the quarter century old Nightfall Concert Series. Like Mike Dougher, they have featured many, many acts that have gone on to national and worldwide prominence. Local bands get their shots at Nightfall, too. They even took it a step farther the past couple of years by allowing a local band to headline Nightfall. Pretty darn cool, I say.

Jeff Styles, WGOW’s morning talk show host, also books bands in his “other” job. He is the one responsible for bringing the really cool side-stage acts to Riverbend, like Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, The Royal Southern Brotherhood, and about 25 more each year for over a decade. He does a spectacular job finding little known acts, minutes before they hit it big. 

Andy Dillon, along with Tara Streck, has been booking talent for Bud’s Sportsbar for 34 years. They have music there 3 nights per week and have provided a good venue for many a local musician to show off their skills. Bud’s remains one of the most successful restaurants in town, and has live music to boot.

John Shoemaker is another in the class of find em’ right before they hit it big. JJ’s Bohemia has hosted many bands that were rising stars and John Shoemaker was able to get them before they hit the big time. JJ’s has been a Chattanooga staple for a long time, both to touring acts and to local bands. Most recently, a JJ’s band, Shovels & Rope, appeared on David Letterman’s show – just a few weeks after playing at JJ’s Bohemia. 

George Parker has been booking bands in Chattanooga for a long time. He continues to show wy he is one of the best each year at the Southern Brew Fest, and this year may have been his best effort ever. He gets better with age.

A newer venue, Track 29, has opened up Chattanooga to many bands that previously had no place to play. With 1,800 as capacity, Track 29 can bring in excellent talent and Chattanooga has supported the venue. They get professional help with booking from AC Entertainment, but Adam and Monica Kinsey have done a fantastic job of making Track 29 a venue that the big stars and touring acts want to play.

There are many more places in Chattanooga that book talent, too. Places like the Tremont Tavern, Honest Pint, Ziggy’s, Sugar’s Downtown, T-Bones, and the Palms. 

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another “senior” talent booker – Joe “Dixie” Fuller. Dixie is the Talent Director for Riverbend and has been booking the big talent there for many years. He is responsible for bringing big-time acts like Kid Rock, Alan Jackson, Eric Church, Cee Lo Green, Foreigner, The Allman Brothers, FL-GA Line, and so many more. With a limited budget due to the incredibly value-priced festival (Averages less than $5 per day for 8 days), Dixie always manages to score some acts that would cost more to see at an arena than the price of a weekly Riverbend pin.

What about me? Yes, I help with the bookings at a few places, too. But, comparing me to the folks listed above would be like comparing the creek behind my house to the Atlantic Ocean. I try hard, but I’m not in that ballpark. I do pride myself on one thing, however. In five years of booking bands for Riverbend, I have booked over 120 acts. All but 19 had never played Riverbend before or had not played in at least 5 years. Gone are the days where the same bands got to play every year or two. I suppose if I live long enough and learn from the masters listed above, I may eventually catch on, as well. 

Next time you are out at a venue that has live music, be sure and thank the owner or manager for providing the entertainment. They don’t get many thanks, but they sure deserve it.

For more local music info, try www.chattanoogaentertainers.com. You will find great local music info and schedules. For local info on Country music, try Jim Boles’ site www.chattacountry.ning.com.

Email Bob Payne at davrik2000@yahoo.com or catch him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/davrik2000.


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