You might think that the bottom-line pressures Prichard faces would lead to her making concessions to the marketplace. But everyone interviewed for this story insisted that nothing has changed in her approach to the series. “Why would we change it when it seems to be working so well?” asked Prichard. “It really is a tradition for our city.”
Pritchard has established a remarkable bond with Nightfall’s audience, which, over the years has grown from a few hundred to a few thousand. Fans anxiously await the series and attend nearly all of the shows even though they’ve often never heard of the performers.
Pritchard insists the success of the series is largely due to her democratic approach to choosing the acts; but according to Ann Ball, one of the two people working full-time with Pritchard at Chattanooga Presents!, that’s not really true. “There’s a joke around the office that we have a music committee and everybody gets one vote except Carla, she gets as many votes as she wants,” she said, chuckling.
“ The committee is where she gets a lot of ideas,” Ball said of Pritchard. “No one person is going to like every kind of music…It’s great to get a range of opinions, listening lists and so on from the committee.”
But in the end, it’s Pritchard’s booking talents that have brought acts like Nickel Creek to Miller Plaza just as their reputation was exploding. “That’s one of the scariest shows I’ve been to,” said Rawlston, who has been the stage manager at Nightfall since its beginning. “They were blowing up big between the time we booked them and the time they played the show. It was almost like Beatle-mania. The crowd of young people literally rushed to the front of the stage, and I was worried that we might not be able to protect the band.”
There are numerous other examples of bands who had outgrown the series by the time they played, but who nevertheless honored their contracts. Alison Krauss was awarded her first Grammy between the time she signed the contract and performed at Nightfall. Bela Fleck & The Flecktones played their first show there as relative unknowns, but then agreed to come back to play a second show for the same fee despite the fact that their fame had exploded and their asking price had quadrupled by their second performance. Like many other acts who’ve played at Nightfall over the years, according to Rawlston, they loved the venue and the enthusiastic welcome they received.
So now another season is beginning. Another list of largely unfamiliar name. But both Rawlston and Pritchard are excited about seeing one of the bands, in particular, in this season’s lineup, scheduled to play at the end of June.
Called Lake Street Dive, it’s a quartet composed of drummer Mike Calabrese, bassist Bridget Kearney, vocalist Rachael Price, and trumpet-wielding guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson. According to their bio, when they first formed they “intended to play country music in an improvised, avant-garde style—like Loretta Lynn meets Ornette Coleman. It sounded terrible! But the combination of people and personalities actually made a lot of sense and we had a great time being around each other and making music together.”
“ It’s kinda funky, it’s kind of acoustic, it’s got some soul, it’s got some spunk…It’s just good music, it can’t be pigeonholed,” said Rawlston. The same could be said of almost any of the bands on this or any year’s Nightfall schedule. And that, in the end, may well be why it’s been such a success.