February 23, 2012

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When Track 29 announced last week that Jack White (he of the White Stripes and erstwhile Nashville resident) would open his solo tour at the venue in support of his debut solo album, “Blunderbuss,” Facebook exploded. White doesn’t tour often, so his legion of fans were eager to procure a ticket to his brief four-show tour launching in Chattanooga and continuing to Birmingham, Memphis and Tulsa. That’s it, so far. Demand for tickets was overwhelming, if that’s not too much of an understatement, and soon exhausted, leaving those without to accuse Track 29’s servers of buckling under the substantial activity.

Not true. Even The Pulse initially bought into the accusations, but the fact is that an artist of White’s popularity quickly exceeded the availability of tickets in a matter of minutes—simple math. Many concluded the venue was not experienced nor equipped to handle such a show, but Track 29 is very much in control. While its capacity is relatively small, the venue has booked (and quickly sold out) enough concerts to earn itself a reputation for professionalism few young venues of its type can claim.

Which may be exactly why White—and before him, The Avett Brothers—chose Track 29 and Chattanooga. All things considered, it’s an extraordinary development for the city’s live music scene, and one that should be celebrated (even if you did not get a ticket). And while Track 29 is bringing touring acts previously unimaginable to town, they are not alone in transforming Chattanooga into a rock ‘n’ roll hot spot, a town once ignored but now considered not only worthy but increasingly pivotal.

Consider JJ’s Bohemia, a vital if improbably tiny club which routinely books such a wildly eclectic mix of local, regional and national acts, it’s no stretch to believe at least a few will be vaulted to stardom. In recent months, bands such as the Alabama Shakes and Cloud Nothings have graced its cramped stage. The Shakes were recently featured on Conan O’Brien’s late-night show and Cloud Nothings are gathering critical mass so quickly they are no longer likely to be seen in such an intimate space again. Need proof? About two hours before their show, the Nothings passed the Black Keys in album sales on iTunes.

Across the river at Sluggo’s, where presumably no show is too big to under promote, the Pine Hill Haints appeared seemingly out of nowhere to the amazement of a crowd who couldn’t believe such a band was playing Chattanooga with such little awareness. Indeed, a hand-scrawled handbill tacked on the wall of the Pickle Barrel was sole evidence of the band’s Valentine’s Day show.

Elsewhere, at Rhythm & Brews, long a stalwart space for numerous classic rock and tribute bands of significant popularity, continues to book outside of the box, bringing such eclectic acts as Amy Ray (of the Indigo Girls) and the enormously respected James McMurtry to its stage. The Honest Pint is yet another star in this loose configuration of hot spots, bringing such acts as The Features to town while forwarding the careers of a full slate of top-notch local bands such as The Bohannons performing to appreciative audiences.

When The Avett Brothers’ sold-out, year-end show at Track 29 was included in an online portfolio of photographs at rollingstone.com (photographed by Chattanoogan Allie Clarke and curated by Rolling Stone online editor and Chattanoogan Julie Holder), it was reported with much ado here and elsewhere. Such events have been so few and far between, the local media (including The Pulse) view them as startling national exposure. That’s changing.

Chattanooga’s strategic location between Nashville and Atlanta is one link in the chain, but that road has been well travelled by bands since the dawn of popular music. And concentrations of artists in such Tennessee cities such as Memphis and Nashville is not news. If the Noog is truly developing a reputation as the country’s best-kept music scene secret, it is because of the constellation of creative clubs and the visionary owners behind these venues who we should acknowledge.

What is also no secret but should be evident to anyone associated with the music scene in Chattanooga is that a vital, explosive, diverse group of venues—and therein lies the magical synchronicity—are bringing cutting-edge, next-big-thing bands to town on such a routine basis that many are on to that Next Big Thing before locals can say, “I saw them at JJ’s.”

Last Sunday, one Facebook friend of ours noticed (almost too late) that Kelley Deal of The Breeders was performing with Mike Montgomery in the casual duo known as R. Ring. The show was advertised in the club’s weekly ad in The Pulse, but little else was mentioned. It’s another example of the understated, unexpected and under-the-radar acts the city’s maverick clubs are bringing to town. Chattanooga doesn’t expect that. Pay attention, Rock City.

Jack White tickets, anyone?

February 23, 2012

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