How Track 29 made a difference
It has been more than 20 years since I first came to Chattanooga, and a great deal has changed since then, and for the better as far as I’m concerned. The most stunning thing I recall about the local music scene in 1992 is that there wasn’t one. Now the town is bursting at the seams with talent and sharp, well-run smaller venues where they can showcase their talent. It has been a great pleasure to watch that unfold over the years but always there was this nagging question, “Why do we so rarely see big name national acts?” Chattanooga is, after all, a geographical anomaly; it’s two hours from everywhere. Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta, Huntsville, Murphy and, a little further up the road, Asheville.
It’s almost impossible for a national touring act to play in the Southeast without at least passing close by Chattanooga and for years that’s what they did. They passed us by. In 2010, when Adam and Monica Kinsey were attending Bonnaroo (an hour up the road), they asked themselves the same question and decided that perhaps it was time to do something about it.
The couple’s business backgrounds and deep and abiding passion for music proved to be a winning combination. They set about doing their homework, traveling across the country to study the most popular venues in cities with a reputation for music. Austin, Seattle, Portland and of course, all of the major metropolitan areas of the Southeast were on their itinerary. Coming home with a wealth of ideas, they scouted more than a dozen locations before settling on the one that seemed to have the best combination of elements. From there it was a matter of careful planning, prudent investment and hard work. The result is an entertainment venue on par with the best in the country and the impact that has had on our community is major.
Ben Jumper is a Chattanooga native who now resides in Nashville. Ben is President and CEO of Soundcheck Nashville, one of the largest full-production rehearsal facilities in the world. Ben has been a prominent player in the music industry since the early seventies, so I contacted him for his take on these Scenic City entrepreneurs.
“Monica and Adam have done an amazing job with Track 29. Their fresh ideas and amazing events are changing the entertainment climate in Chattanooga. They’ve gained a reputation in the industry for really taking care of their talent. The people who have played there were impressed enough not only to comment on it, but have made the point that the venue and the city is a place they look forward to playing again. They’re essentially changing the market by offering consistent entertainment, which is the key to profitability.”
Strong praise from a man who knows the business. But the couple is adamant that Chattanooga’s smaller venues play just as important a role in bringing the Scenic City recognition as a music city. Adam offers this insight:
“There are some terrific artists who might not be at a point where they’ll fill a thousand-person hall, and it would be cost prohibitive for us to bring them in, but if they’re going to draw a few hundred people then we have Rhythm & Brews. If they’re going to draw a hundred, we have JJ’s. Sluggo’s is doing great work providing a venue for new, up and coming local talent. It really takes the collective effort of all the venues. By building the scene from the ground up, we pave the way to bring in even bigger acts to fill Mckenzie Arena and beyond.”
Monica is quick to point out that the support of local fans has also been key to their success and the continued growth and diversity of the local music scene—but that there have been some “teachable moments” along the way.
“For years Chattanooga had the reputation of being a “walk-up” town, which is to say that people were used to waiting until the day of an event to purchase tickets. You just can’t sustain a large venue or big-name acts that way, so it has been a process of educating people to buy their tickets ahead of time. We have an act coming soon whose tickets have been available for four months, and now a week out, people are calling us up and finding out that the show is sold out. They try and press us to release more tickets but there aren’t any more. Sold out means sold out.”
Local music fans are learning, though and that’s good because when you have an attraction like Ttack 29 in your hometown, other people are going to notice. The couple has been surprised and pleased to see a great deal of repeat business from out-of-towners. People are driving in from Nashville, Asheville and Atlanta to see shows in Chattanooga, a thing that simply didn’t happen a few years ago. Often they come here to see acts they could see in their hometown. Why? The obvious answer is that Track 29 offers a relatively intimate experience with superb quality, yet Monica says it’s more than that.
“They see Chattanooga as a destination event. They come for the show, but they stay for the other attractions, spending the weekend seeing the sights or taking advantage of outdoor activities, good food, all sorts of things. Chattanooga has become a sort of mini-vacation or weekend getaway for a lot of the surrounding areas.” The value of that cannot be overestimated in a city that counts tourism as a local industry. The impact of the venue on the local community is manifold. Chattanooga is now on the national radar of the music industry, the local music scene continues to thrive and grow, local acts are promoted as openers for national acts (though the final decision rarely lies with the venue) local tourism is up and the significant economic influx is being felt throughout the community. For a perspective on the the cultural/artistic impact, I turned to Zach Cooper, Director of Media Design at the Association for Visual Arts (and founder and former publisher of The Pulse).
He told me, “The importance of artistic and cultural fare in Chattanooga is talked about often and we have much to be proud of, but that conversation is mostly connected with the "fine arts" and excludes popular music. Track 29, JJ's Bohemia, Rhythm & Brews, Sluggo's…our live music venues should be at the table of Chattanooga's artistic and cultural conversations with as much clout as any other organization. I think Track 29 has pushed that fact forward.”
He goes on to suggest that some of Chattanooga’s more venerable institutions would do well to take note of the success of the Kinseys’ business model and approach to entertainment, lessons that could only benefit Chattanooga as a whole and the arts in particular.
In the last two years, Chattanooga has consistently made headlines in national magazines, polls and websites that trumpet “Best Place to Live,” “Best Place to Retire,” “Best Place for Young Entrepreneurs” and even the dubious designation, “Top Emerging Hipster City.” The city is lauded for its “green” achievements, not the least of which is the Volkswagen plant’s recent EPA award. It is a rising center of technology, boasting an unrivalled fiber-optic network. So where does Track 29 fit in that picture? Is its success a result of progress or a causative agent? I submit that it is both. Certainly Chattanooga’s star was already rising, providing a foundation upon which the venue has been able to flourish, but the Kinseys’ vision, daring and smart planning have helped to burnish the city’s reputation as not only a “cool place to be” but a place where anyone with a good idea and a clear and intelligent business model can thrive.
And the music kicks ass.
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