What happened, Chattanooga? Track 29 has only been open two weeks, but it's not off to the best start.
During the new venue's debut concert Sept. 1 by country artist Jamey Johnson, police were called to address two 43-year-old unruly patrons. Richard Wetherbee was booked Sept. 2 on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. His friend, Timothy Hicks, was booked Sept. 4 on charges of assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and public intoxication.
Of course, aggressive conduct at a concert is nothing new, and disorderly patrons aren't endemic to Track 29. That doesn't mean it's not sad Track 29 couldn't get through its first show without problems.
If that were the only incident to mar the venue's first week, it wouldn't bear discussion. Unfortunately, a second incident during a sold-out Sept. 9 show by singer/songwriter Corey Smith casts a more significant pall on the venue.
Before launching into his crowd favorite "F--- the Po Po," Smith explained that the song was about his dissatisfaction with a previous run-in with the police but that he ultimately respected them.
"If anyone finds this offensive, I'm very sorry," Smith was recorded saying in a fan video of the event posted online. "If anyone listens to the song, they'll see that I'm not trying to offend anyone, just explain the story."
In the video, the crowd is screaming with excitement as he launches into the song before his mike is abruptly turned off and the venue's lights come on. Then, there was screaming of a different kind altogether.
Saturday, Track 29 managers issued an apology to "our friends, family and fans" explaining that the decision to cut the show short was made "for safety and safety alone" and without intent to censor Smith.
Intended or not, censorship is exactly what took place, and fans and Smith are understandably upset. Whether there were extenuating circumstances or not, a packed-out house was shortchanged of a song people clearly wanted to hear. Based on the crowd's reaction, the decision to cut Smith off stirred people up worse than his song ever could.
The incident spawned a defiant response from Smith in a lengthy post on his website and a new song, "Chattanooga." A Facebook page dubbed "Track 29 Haters" was also formed and had 114 fans, as of Tuesday.
Whether this ends up being a flash-in-the-pan incident or has longer-lasting repercussions for the venue and its reputation among touring artists and fans remains to be seen. Either way, it's a black mark that's going to take some scrubbing to clean off.
Smith, for one, seems bent on coming back. In "Chattanooga," the final line begins:
"Corey was in the corner, now he's on the attack / He ain't backing down 'til he gets his way / He vows to go back to Chattanooga some day."
Here's hoping the mike stays on next time.
Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...