March 7, 2013

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If you’re well north of 40 and grew up in Chattanooga, you’ll recall the many great concerts that visited the Scenic City in its rock ‘n’ roll heyday—and the one place you could see them. Before The Roundhouse and Riverbend, the Memorial Auditorium was Chattanooga’s only venue capable of hosting touring bands of regional and national stature from the 1960s through the early 1980s. During that era, the Auditorium—and Chattanooga—did indeed rock.

Fast forward 30 years. Only two notable rock acts appeared at the Auditorium last year—Crosby, Stills & Nash and Hall & Oates— both still worth seeing, but obviously well past their prime. The Tivoli continues to play host to a string of legacy artists—Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, George Jones—all worth seeing, but each has limited appeal to younger audiences. Besides the infrequent Pops performance featuring such older acts as The Indigo Girls, only The Black Jacket Symphony’s tribute performances come close to rocking the ornate theatre—and that is a generous assessment. As for UTC’s McKenzie Arena, only Elton John—whose November 2010 show was the last of note—stands out. He will visit again on March 23 for a sold-out show marking the 40th anniversary of “Rocket Man” tour. A legend, an icon, great fun? Yes, but hardly cutting edge.

Meanwhile, Track 29 continues to serve up an exciting and eclectic schedule of bands from diverse genres, from rock to country, electronic to Americana.

So what happened? The answer seems obvious, but we turned to Ben Jumper, a former staffer with Sound Seventy (the Nashville-based booking agency that brought Chattanooga the hottest touring bands in the ’70s) and owner of SoundCheck Nashville, one of the nation’s largest rehearsal and production studios, for a professional opinion.

Jumper began his career in the early 1970s working with Sound Seventy, which promoted and produced many memorable shows in that decade—from Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Mother’s Finest, to hot rock acts such as Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates, Foreigner, Peter Frampton and Roxy Music, to name but a few.

Jumper went on to join the Charlie Daniels Band on the road from 1976-80, returned to Chattanooga and formed ChattaTik, a concert-ticketing operation. He simultaneously launched Catering to the Stars and Mid-America Entertainment, sold them and launched Crew One Productions in 1992. In 2004, he purchased SoundCheck Nashville and has since expanded its operations to Austin, Texas, where I caught up with him recently prior to the launch of the annual South by Southwest Music & Film Festival.

Jumper is busy man, but he was eager to hear about the recent controversies swirling about his old stomping grounds. As he reminisced about the many concerts he’d witnessed at the Auditorium—Paul Revere & The Raiders was his first show, he said, which also featured The Who on their first U.S. tour—I provided him a brief synopsis of the troubles surrounding the Auditorium and the Tivoli. We also discussed McKenzie Arena and the general concert situation then and now in Chattanooga. As a highly regarded music industry professional with many years of experience under his belt—including a wealth of knowledge of the concert tour business here and elsewhere—Jumper has valuable advice to share.

“The whole industry has been in a major shakeup with all the downloads,” Jumper said, referring to the demise of physical album sales. “Touring has become a main revenue stream. The Memorial Auditorium needs an active manager, a member of IAVM [International Association of Venue Managers], someone who knows the promoters and seeks out concerts.”

The Auditorium began life as a community civic center, but following decades of neglect the facility underwent a $2.1 million renovation in the mid-1960s, reopening in 1966 with such amenities as escalators and air conditioning. As rock ‘n’ roll took hold, followed by the British Invasion and the rise of American soul, the Auditorium became ground zero for touring acts visiting Chattanooga. Jumper himself was in the audience during those years. “I remember being one of about 10 white folks at a James Brown show,” he said.


March 7, 2013

Comments (4)

Comment Feed

when Chattanooga rocked

Excellent article !!!! Very well Done

Greg Goodman 359 days ago

Article Points

Intrigued Reader: Thanks for reading, commenting and the compliment. With regard to your question, I was unaware that Jumper's daughter worked at Track 29, nor did he mention that fact. If he had, I would have noted it, but would have also found it irrelevant. By "political or business interests," I meant merely that Jumper was uninvolved in, nor is he interested in booking any venue in Chattanooga. He also professed a lack of in-depth knowledge about the controversies swirling about the Auditorium. I sought him out because of his long history and expertise in the live music business and his role with Sound Seventy Productions in the 1970s and his concert businesses here in the 1980s. While he is well-connected, it's clear that Track 29 is the only venue in the city booking (via AC Entertainment) new and popular regional and national acts of any scale on a regular basis, thus the only venue to compare to the city's civic venues.

Bill Ramsey more than 1 years ago


The Byrds played the auditorium in 68-69 great show.

vic more than 1 years ago

Article Points

This article was really super insightful to a past that has been long forgotten. Just some feedback on some points that I saw in this article. You wrote this in the article:

"His answer? While he has no political or business interests in Chattanooga or it’s venues, Jumper’s formidable experience and instincts all point to one key message and the missing element: management."

Now, I know political or business interests can mean different things to different people. But doesn't Mr. Jumper's daughter work hospitality at Track 29? Doesn't this by default make him want to talk about specific venues doing well? Isn't talking about one venue over another technically political?

I am not disagreeing with Mr. Jumper and this is by no means anyway to knock anyone down. Track29 has done an amazing job to fill in a much needed void. Just wanted to point this out as feedback. As I said, political or business can mean different things to different people.

Great job overall on the article. Lovin' it!

Intrigued Reader more than 1 years ago

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