published Friday, December 9th, 2011

Phillips: Drafting a Dear Jane letter to Bessie Smith Strut

For the last five years, the Bessie Smith Strut has been the undisputed high point of my year. I assumed it always would be. After all, who could argue with a ginormous block party celebrating a local music legend with free blues music and barbecued everything?

Unfortunately, this year's MainX24 was just so awesome that the Queen of Blues' barbecue bonanza is in danger of being second in my affections.

Oh, MainX24, you offered so much and asked so little in return.

As I wrote in this column a couple of weeks ago, my first MainX24 experience was a smorgasbord of eclectic events, all mashed into a -- for me, at least -- 12-hour period.

Since the offerings this year were even more varied than last year, I was unsure I'd be able to see nearly enough, but with one MainX24 under my belt, I was able to budget my time and ticked a lot off my list.

Regrettably, Link 41's lard-fried doughnuts were already off the menu by the time I arrived on Main Street, but I was able to grab a prime viewing spot for the EPB Southside Parade.

With the exception of the cheers that greeted the stellar marching band from Howard School of Academics and Technology, the parade received a somewhat lukewarm response from the crowd with the exception of one dog that went ballistic as the martial-arts demonstrators walked by. Still, that taught us the valuable lesson that dogs and nunchaku are mortal enemies. Good to know.

The rest of the day was a blur as I discovered new Southside personalities and businesses. It was also a bad day for dieting.

I devoured delicious almond biscotti at the newly relocated Hot Chocolatier, ate chicken tacos at Conga Latin Food and -- despite their lack of lard-fried goodness -- snagged a sausage from artisan meatery Link 41.

Later, I heard blues singer/songwriter Lon Eldridge during my first visit to The Camp House. Just down the street, I got a sneak peek at Camp House's nearby competitor Mean Mug, the fourth business being opened by the operating partners responsible for Hair of the Dog Pub, The Honest Pint and Terminal Brewhouse.

By the time I joined the hundreds who gathered to watch the immolation of Andrew Nigh's wooden sculpture, "Sanctuary," my feet were killing me, but I already knew I had a serious contender for Event of the Year.

As I think about it, though, that kind of thinking is a mistake.

They may appear to be completely different events, but the Strut and MainX24 share a lot in common. Both are free and bring a potluck of Chattanoogans together to celebrate the diversity and sense of community that defines the Scenic City. Granted, they may get to that point by different means, but they both showcase how, despite being the state's fourth largest city, Chattanooga is really its biggest small town.

As a result, they're really more in collaboration than in competition. So on second thought, declaring one of them my favorite would be a fundamental mistake.

Scratch that. Call it a two-way tie.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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