Tivoli Theatre Opens A Full House To Jason Isbell And Cory Branan

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 - by Mark A. Herndon

The Tivoli Theatre - how many can say I have never seen a performance there? Perhaps not too many Chattanoogans anyway. Living in the Chattanooga area so far all my born days, I was most aware of this place since the 60’s. For decades, also known as the  "Jewel of the South", it is an historic theatre that opened on March 19, 1921. The historians say it was built between 1919 and 1921 at a cost of $750,000, designed by famed Chicago-based architectural firm Rapp and Rapp and well-known Chattanooga architect Reuben H. Hunt, and constructed by the John Parks Company (general contractors). The theatre was one of the first air-conditioned public buildings in the United States. The theatre was named Tivoli after Tivoli, Italy, has cream tiles and beige terra-cotta bricks, has a large red, black, and white marquee with 1,000 chaser lights, and has a large black neon sign that displays TIVOLI with still more chaser lights. (read more of the historic meaning at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tivoli_Theatre_(Chattanooga,_Tennessee)

So what does it really mean to Chattanooga, probably the first public place under roof to allow assembling of large number of people for live music, plays, movies and meetings. Today, it’s still a “Jewel of the South”  as countless local, national and international performers have entertained Chattanoogans, tourists and friends. This year the city of Chattanooga made a commitment to go beyond and bring more entertainment to the Tivoli house but not as the caretaker and administrator but as a supporter.  In an effort to maintain the integrity, profitability and growth of providing quality live entertainment and best use of the city-owned Tivoli Theatre and historic Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Auditorium, also built in the 1920’s, the city looked for a lead partner willing to take the risk and rewards of future successes.

This past Spring it was announced the city government formed Tivoli Theatre Foundation who selected a valued and profit-driven company to take the keys of these buildings. After careful review of all the parties who expressed interest in the day-to-day management of these venues, one company stood tall that met all the objectives of caretaker of these historic places.  In the Summer AC Entertainment was selected after their plans for operation and development proposal closely met the Tivoli Theatre Foundation’s objectives. 

In September the Tivoli Theatre Foundation appointed Chattanooga native Ashley McCue as its first director. She attended school at Chattanooga Baylor, and Southern Methodist University. Ms. McCue has a background in film and photography, as well as marketing and fundraising. Most recently she has been the director of market development for MomSource, a company that helps find work for people with marketable skills but a desire to work from home or during non-traditional hours.

AC Entertainment (ACE) is a music promotion company based in Knoxville. They are the co-producers of the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival with Superfly Productions and the producers of the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, WayHome Music & Arts in Barrie, ON, theForecastle Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit in Asheville, North Carolina. They also specialize in venue management and services, event booking and production and event marketing and sponsorships. They are also talent-buyers for several venues across the Southeast.

AC Entertainment is no stranger to the Chattanooga Live Music scene as they often support local venues such as Track 29, Revelry Room, provided talent to other venues and festivals in the southeast.  In addition to the festivals, ACE connects to venues in more than seven eastern U.S. cities.

Now all that being said … The Sunday night event with Jason Isbell opened as Ashley McCue welcomed the full house and shared the delight and defining moment for Chattanooga’s Music Entertainment growth. The crowd responded with applause and cheers.  So let’s talk quality entertainment, as Jason Isbell was flawless with almost two hours of music from his songwriting collection.  It was from my perspective the event was sold out.    Michael Jason Isbell is an American singer-songwriter and gifted guitarist from Green Hill, Ala. He is best known for his solo career and as a former member of the Drive-By Truckers for six years, from 2001 to 2007.  Jason is no stranger to Chattanooga, as his first visit was years ago at Rhythm & Brews with his former bandmates of Drive-By Truckers.  He has since returned to perform at Track 29 on a regular schedule.

Sunday, Jason was on tour with a concert stop at the Historic Tivoli Theatre.  His band was extremely tight, choreographed flawless through each song, even with Jason’s  changing of guitars, quick tuning checks and mostly nonstop singing/playing.   Jason shared a personal perspective about his songwriting as something real and part of his upbringing in rural Alabama. His best material was from his family secrets and life experiences growing up in the country.  He gives appreciation of things most never consider.  Jason Isbell is a GOOD person, taking moments to share with the audience little-known facts about his music, life and passion. He is young, talented and gifted with sharing his music and the way it was growing up in the South.

He pays respect and recognition by always mentioning the band 400 Unit. Members include: Jason Isbell - guitar, keys, vocals; Jimbo Hart - bass, vocals; Sadler Vaden - guitar, vocals; Derry deBorja - keys; Chad Gamble - drums, vocals,  Amanda Shires- fiddle, (Jason’s spouse).

Also joining as opening artist was Cory Branan, an American singer-songwriter, born in Southaven, Miss. The following bio has been crafted by others and more can be shared from Wikipedia sources.  "With immeasurable talent, the freedom to follow his muse and a growing number of devout fans, Cory Branan is poised to attain that which eludes even the most successful musicians, a career marked by longevity." 

By his teens, Cory was playing hard rock and heavy metal, eventually fronting a Black Sabbath cover band. In his early 20's he began to explore the music of John Prine, a move which urged him to pick up a guitar and start writing songs. In 2000, the Memphis chapter of NARAS awarded Branan with the Phillips Award for “Newcomer of the Year.” He didn’t even have a recording contract yet, and the acclaim started rolling in. Two years later, Branan made his label debut with Memphis’ MADJACK Records with the release of The Hell You Say. In 2003 he appeared on both The Late Show with David Letterman and Last Call With Carson Daly.

"Cory Branan is a natural-born storyteller, his seemingly conversational, painstakingly crafted anecdotes benefitting from a hard-eyed stare at hydra-headed life experiences. Not unlike his musical and literary pedestal sitters, from John Prine and Leonard Cohen to Raymond Carver and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cory's gift for detail and phrase-turning is a thing of wonder."

Cory provided a storytelling singers style of music, standing tall and leaning into the mic sharing his music writing experiences. Cory is a true southern Mississippi country boy too.   He and Jason are friends with great respect for one another’s talent.  Jason and his band joined Cory on a couple of songs closing out his set.

Check out the event photos, both Jason and Cory can be found on social media, Facebook, Tweeter, Instagram, Music site web pages and YouTube channels.  The music published on CDs, and digital download from iTunes, Amazon and other sources. The Chattanooga performance was arranged by AC Entertainment and the Tivoli Theatre Foundation. All photos/ videos © 2015 reserved w/ Chattanooga Live Music.


Mark A Herndon, certified professional geologist and professional photographer grew up in Chattanooga area, graduated from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.  He is the Entertainment and Chattanooga cityscape/event photographer affiliated with Chattanoogan.com and contributor to magazines, venues and various festivals including Riverbend Festival, Nightfall Music Series, Road To Nightfall, Riverfront Nights, Southern Brewery Festival, Roof Top Hop, Wine Over Water and other events.  Email at MAHerndon@ChattanoogaLiveMusic.com

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